I like taking pictures

When I thought of the title of this blog post, I immediately remembered the guy from Idiocracy (a less well-known/liked movie from Mike Judge who brought us Office Space) who would say stuff like this in a really dumb voice:

“I like money.”


“I can’t believe you like money too. We should hang out.”

What does that have to do with this blog post? Nothing really…other than the simplicity of the quotes. If you know about the movie at all, the plot revolves around a future society where people have so much done for them, that they’ve been dumbed down to the level of children.

In a way though, that kind of parallels my point, which you’ll see below. Kids keep it simple.

Since taking up photography, I’ve explored so many different aspects of the art. I remember the first 6-8 months doing nothing but perusing through thousands of photos on JPG Mag, or Flickr, learning what people like, learning what I like, seeing different techniques, styles and processing. I tried to do a 365 self-portrait project and got to about 60 days before realizing that wasn’t important to me anymore. It probably took until the end of last summer for me to narrow down who I was and what I liked to shoot.

That is still evolving, but I feel much more focused now. I know myself better. More importantly I think, I’m confident in what I shoot and how I shoot it.

As I explored, I grew to love HDR. It’s a tool I use probably 90% of the time on my landscape, storm and urbex images. I enjoy it, I have had a lot of success in it, but it’s not who I am.  I have no desire to be known as an “HDR Photographer.” I certainly wouldn’t mind people saying they love my technique, style and processing when it comes to HDR, but I’d like it to stop there.

Since HDR is kind of new (as in more mainstream now), fun and catchy, a lot of photogs are using it as a way to identify who they are. Flickr accounts, blogs, usernames, etc…they include the words “HDR” in everything so people know that’s what they do. And I believe some of that has contributed to the love/hate debate when it comes to HDR.

I guess my point is…you don’t see a lot of people declaring themselves “Color Photographers” or “B&W Photographers”…etc. They are just photographers.  Those of us who love HDR have to constantly fight against people who hate it. We struggle to get the point across that “HDR is just a tool in my bag“, nothing more. I hear that defense all the time. And it’s a good one because it’s true.

But then we go out and call ourselves HDR photographers. If it’s just a tool, why not call yourself a “10-Stop ND Filter Photog?

I’m certainly someone who would fall into this a lot. For awhile I put information under my pictures about how many brackets I took, if it was HDR or not, etc. Even having a Flickr collection saying “HDR” is something I’m re-thinking. Or using the little #HDR hashtag on Twitter. I dunno how I feel about that yet.

I just know we struggle to get HDR accepted as a normal part of photography, but then we go out of our way identify our photos and ourselves as HDR.

If we brought less attention to the fact that a photo is HDR and more to the composition of the photo itself…I believe it would benefit everyone. To me, composition is key and trumps everything else. If you have a photo that is composed well, then it doesn’t really matter how you process it, it’s going to be a great looking picture.

I think people just love a beautiful photograph or image. When I’ve shown my work at a gallery or the farmer’s market, 98% of people just comment on how much they love a photo, without any knowledge of it being HDR or something else. A few will of course ask why it’s so detailed and then I explain the processing techniques.

As photogs who use HDR, I think it’s kind of up to us to change the way it’s viewed by using it solely as a tool and then posting our pictures as they are.

Yes, there will of course be times where posting a photo kind of demands you explain how you processed it. I get that, and will undoubtedly do the same thing here and there. I realize it’s kind of fun to explain WHY you made a photo black and white, or chose to use HDR in this instance. I know on our blogs it’s even harder because we tend to have a lot more photographers looking for technical explanations for the things they see, but that’s totally fine if people have questions. Go ahead, answer them. But wouldn’t it be awesome to just display a photo and have it judged solely on how it looks without any pre-conceived notions? Talk more about WHY you took the photo and less about the processing aspects behind it?

This is just something that has been on my mind for the last month or two. My good friend Brian and I talked about some of this stuff before Christmas and he even eluded to the same thing in his post not too long ago. Be careful about being pigeonholed as a specific type of photographer…instead, keep it simple…just BE a photographer. The more and more you put yourself in a box, the harder it will be to climb out of it.

I shoot all kinds of stuff and process photos in many different ways. Weddings, kids, families, babies, parties, storms, landscapes, urban decay, B&W, color, HDR…my photography isn’t about just one thing…it’s about a wide range of subjects that boil down to one idea: I’m a photographer.

And truly…I just like taking pictures.

19 replies
  1. Mark Blundell
    Mark Blundell says:

    I must say that I have to agree with you, and its something that I have been thinking about for a few days – HDR can often make an okay shot good to someone who doesnt really understand what we’ve done to the image. That can lead to sloppy composition / exposure etc. All of my best shots, I’ve taken time over composing, focusing and the whole process.
    Yes, I do HDR my images on the whole, but I enjoy the whole HDR thing and processing in general.
    I consider myself a fairly decent amateur photographer, the majority of my better work is currently HDR, something that may chenge over time as I try to move towards different methods and styles of post work.

  2. Brian Matiash
    Brian Matiash says:

    Great post, Mike. It’s always nice to see your passion come through as you opine.

    The more I think about it, the more I take these sorts of posts as self-serving. I include my own post that you linked to, as well. Each photographer needs to figure out for themselves how they want to ‘grow’ in their own right. I am with you on the notion that we don’t need to put a big neon arrow pointing at the three little letters of HDR, especially since we don’t label our Color or B&W as such.

    Still, HDR is a very popular style of photography (or technique or whatever, who cares) and a lot of photographers want to find their own foothold within it. I guess to that point, the best way they think it can happen is by calling out that their shot is an HDR.

    I’ve followed suit with you where I no longer specify if a shot is HDR or how many brackets it was made up of. It is irrelevant because it takes away from the shot itself. Providing EXIF is a courtesy, but I’d rather just show the bare essentials. I want the viewer to spend the majority of the time perusing the image.

    To close out my ramble, I think you’ll see a lot of photographers follow suit with your sentiment (if only because that’s the only way they know how to grow – by following suit) and eventually, we should see a normalization and less of an emphasis put on whether the shot is or is not HDR and more on whether the shot is or is not a compelling one.

  3. Mike
    Mike says:

    Chris my man, no idea…sometimes it’s like a day behind I’ve noticed. I think you can actually sign up for CommentLuv as a user and it updates faster? I never bothered 🙂

    Thank you guys for the comments and feedback. Glad I am still friends with Heath.

    Mark, totally agree. HDR is a tool to add to your already perfectly composed shot, not vice versa. That’s the big problem people probably have with HDR is that people forget how to take good pictures and let HDR be a crutch.

    Brian, people do follow suit…which in this case it might be good. Although I do appreciate people who take ideas from others to at least give credit for it. So many processing styles lately I see being obviously ripped off and used elsewhere with no courtesy given to where they discovered it.

  4. Rob Hanson
    Rob Hanson says:

    Curious… and interesting. You’d think that since HDR is usually about as obvious as a Black & White image, there’d be no need to call attention to the fact that it’s HDR. Yet many of us do, or did. Like you, I’ve been bugged by the HDR label lately, and have *tried* to move away from it. Often, as soon as I do, someone asks something like, “How many brackets did you shoot for this?”

    If there’s a ‘bright side’ to using tags and denoting brackets or technical information, it’s that many of us are excited about what we do, and are willing to freely share information and our experiences with others. Frankly, I haven’t seen this sort of openness and enthusiasm in many other venues, and I’m glad to see it amongst fellow photographers. I hope that never changes.

    All of this is really just the pendulum swinging between the new (HDR, say) and the old (photography itself.) Things will always seem slanted toward one or the other until a balance is found, but then, something else new will come along, to be sure. One can choose to follow the trends, or one can choose to set them, but it should never be in response to anything other than the calling of one’s own heart and creative vision.

  5. Justin
    Justin says:

    Enjoyed the read Mike! Personally, I always thought you were more of a storm photographer. Now I know you were once a Tacoma driving storm chaser. That is all I really need to know. I just dig your work. Today, I’m a Sea Lion photographer. Tomorrow I think I will be rural Americana photographer. Thursday, I plan on being???? But Friday….I will be strictly an iPhoneographer. You get the point. I have been at it for 22 years now, you think I would be able to pigeonhole myself by now.

    I obviously love HDR and the creative possibilities it has unleashed. However, as David over at chromasia.com has pointed out, HDR (or using post processing to extend the dynamic range) has been around since the 1800’s. It’s nothing new.

    However, I do have to check myself. When I’m out making images, I’m constantly reminding myself that I don’t have to deploy my tripod or worry about bracketing a sequence. Hand holding my camera and exposing for the highlights or shadows is just fine. I often remind others to do the same. Why? Because a lot of great images will be left on the table if we don’t.

    Thanks for the read Mike. Have a great rest of your day!


  6. Dave Wilson
    Dave Wilson says:

    Well said, Mike. I’m every bit as guilty as the next guy of jumping on the HDR bandwagon but I tend to think of this as a reaction to the anti-HDR message that others are keen to promote. I firmly believe that the final image is what matters regardless of how you produce it but I’m also keen to make people aware that HDR doesn’t necessarily automatically imply the gaudy, oversaturated images that too many naysayers assume it means. By identifying “normal” images as having been created using HDR techniques, I feel I can add weight to the argument that HDR is merely another tool in the bag.

    There is the other fact, too, that I’ve found a great community of online photographers (read the comment list for many of their names) who also enjoy HDR and produce fabulous results using the technique. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with folks like that? 🙂

  7. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Great read Mike. You know, I have to agree with most of what you said. I like taking pictures too. Of everything. Thats the best part about photography. There are SO many techniques of shooting, different subject matter, digital darkroom techniques. The field is so wide open I get my hands in everything I can. If I HAD to say what kind of photog I was, I would answer landscape/architecture solely because its what I enjoy most, not because I cant do other things. Bottom line: just keep taking pictures and pour your sole into every image because you cant go wrong doing that.

  8. Mike
    Mike says:

    Rob – I think it’s just a matter of not proclaiming you shoot HDR, but just making that a little sidenote about the overall picture. Sure, people want to know what you did and I’m all for telling them. I got tired of the label myself, tired of the arguments about HDR and just want to be a photographer.

    Justin – I got rid of the Tacoma before I was a stormchaser, so that kind of depresses me 🙁 I like your idea though…wearing different hats, doing different things. You definitely don’t have to deploy the tripod all the time…sometimes I’m the most free without it.

    Dave – Totally good point…if it wasn’t for HDR and people letting me know they did HDR, I may not have found you wonderful people 🙂

    Jesse – Exactly!

  9. Justin
    Justin says:

    Mike, I know you got rid of it before you started chasing, but someday it will be back and you will be running headlong into a thunderstorm with it! That day will come my friend.

  10. wendy
    wendy says:

    this is a deep post. it says more than what you wrote,and its a very true and great post:)
    photographers are just photographers for me. i love photography, am still trying to learn every aspect from portraiture to landscape,from b&w to hdr;they are all parts of photography. There is no need to classify which type of photographer we are. at the end of the day,we are going to apply everything we know on the paper. and then its up to the audience to decide which look appealing to them

  11. darmowy avast
    darmowy avast says:

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  12. Meggan Mongan
    Meggan Mongan says:

    Have you ever considered creating an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog centered on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e-mail.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] a HDR photographer. If I remember correctly, the whole thing was kick started by this article.Being a newbie to the world of photography, I was swayed so much by the opinions of my peers, that […]

  2. […] Mike Olbinski wrote a great post recently that I had many thoughts on, but every time I tried to compile a comment to this post I couldn’t quite get the words right. I have fallen into a lot of traps that are in the post; and the name of this blog and domain has HDR in it which is something I want to move away from – not HDR, of course, but of using that. It restricts what I can post here, which is unfortunate. I did not realise how taken I would be with photography now that I am getting out there. I owned my camera for almost a year with out really using it, or knowing how to use it. It’s a Canon 500d and the first camera I ever owned. It wasn’t until I learnt about HDR that I fell for photography. I want to do more than HDR, even if I go out there with a mind to shoot for this process, it’s not enough. […]

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scott Wyden Kivowitz, Scott Wood, CapturedGlory Images and others. CapturedGlory Images said: RT @mikeolbinski I like taking pictures http://bit.ly/eWvUKv excellent points here! […]

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