This summer’s bad weather has driven me into the outstretched arms of HDRI. I’ll explain. It all began with the usual vexing problem of trying to accommodate the scattered light of a cloudy sky and the gloom of the earth within the very cramped range of a camera sensor. This problem used to be confined to the winter months, but now, like our dreaded Hospital Bug, its contagion has spread to the summer as well.
It’s true that I could ‘expose for the shadows’, and later, with the magic of manipulation, replace my washed-out Irish sky with the gold of a tropical sunset and even add palm trees to the hilltops to complete the beauty of the scene. But how could I afterwards face the disenchanted Mountain Viewers who had set off with my splendid aesthetic vision before their eyes only to find that its charm was full of dark deceit?
Over the years I have tried all the other stratagems, of course. I have fumbled with GND filters, blended over- and under-exposed photos, and, more recently, embraced RAW with all the fervour of a Knight of the Round Table who has just found the Holy Grail. The success has been modest: about two ‘stops’ more of precious detail. But this summer I met HDRI and things haven’t been quite the same ever since.
HDRI’s full name, High Dynamic Range Imaging, isn’t the most romantic, but don’t let that fool you. Take as many bracketed shots with your camera as are necessary to cover the full dynamic range of the landscape in front of you, present them to HDRI (who dwells in many programmes, some of them freeware), and watch how they merge to form a mysterious 32-bit image - with the full tonal values of each separate photo - that can then be ‘tone-mapped’ to appear in all its vivid glory on your 8-bit monitor. Not all is perfect, perhaps. The contrast has been softened, the appearance may be ‘painterly’, but there you have your sky with all its texture and the earth with all its colour.
Now I look forward to the overcast days, full of impossible contrast. HDRI handles it all with luminous elegance. The photo I attach was taken on one such day, looking across to Ireland’s Eye from Howth Head. It was my first gauche overture to HDRI, and since then nothing has cast a shadow on our growing infatuation.