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Reflections: HDR Travel Photography

Sunday, September 28, 2014 8:45 PM By Stephen J Christophers


Since 2008 I've been blogging travel, with my more recent articles covering the use of High Dynamic Range for professional photography. The medium of HDR is growing, and with it, more and more photographers both amateurs and professionals alike are using the process to document their travels. In this article I'm going to cover some of the best locations for making the most out of the process of High Dynamic Range.

Urban Exploration, Urbex or UE is a world wide phenomenon. It is in simple terms, the act of exploring urban relics; venturing to lost and often forgotten locations, no longer of use to society, while falling into disrepair and abandonment. HDR photography has played a role in this activity from it's early concept. And, through its use in UE, High Dynamic Range has gained a wider ordinance. Regardless of quality, UE photography makes best use of the process, with sites that often contain dark earthy tones and textures - those associated with rot and decay - make best use of the medium. There are in essence a multitude of explores world wide. Nevertheless, not all of these places are HDR friendly. Some of the best examples of this medium come out of Eastern Europe and Russia where the collapse of the Soviet Union has given rise to abandonment on a large industrial scale. The pinnacle of these explores is Chernobyl and the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine.

When photographing people, HDR can be a tricky business. The general concept of bracketing exposures - which simpily means, one should take multiple exposures on subject - often leads to blurred images that involve movement. Therefore, it has become standard practice to use the medium with stationary objects, still life and landscapes. Nevertheless, there are means by which a single exposure can be used in the process of HDR. And as such, we're able to generate exceptionally realistic portraits and group shots. Some of the best examples of HDR portrait photography come from the Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. With a unique and often other worldly charm the location attracts oddities and individuals from steam-punk enthusiasts to outlandish aesthetics of all genres. It is, one of the top locations in the U.S. to make use of HDR portrait photography outside that of professional stills for film and art photography. Asia also offers an abundance of characters from minority tribes, cultures and religious backgrounds.

I've personally spent a large portion of the past ten years living in Southeast Asia and China. It is here where I first discovered High Dynamic Range, while working as a Teacher of Visual Arts in Guangdong Province, China - also known as Canton. China is a world of undiscovered locations. A sample of these would be the Province of Chongqing and Sichuan that offer both cultural and rural vistas, with areas of large urban and industrial populations in cities that have yet to see excessive international exposure. The abundance of cultural relics and Buddhist sites are perfect for those seeking a pure Chinese aesthetic, beyond the Great wall and the modern metropolis of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

Nevertheless, the city skyline of Hong Kong is fantastic subject matter for HDR photographers. It is among one of the top destinations for cityscape photography. Hong Kong boasts a modern skyline and street level with curb-appeal. It has always been one of my favorite cities to photograph. There seems to be a conflict going on between the hustle and bustle at street level and the monolithic structures that tower above. With mountainous terrain encompassing apartment buildings, skyscrapers and housing blocks in The New Territories, there are plenty of vantage points to capture that perfect long exposure HDR image. More recently, Singapore and Dubai spearhead the modern architectural aesthetic in HDR photography. However, for a city that offers traditional culture, as well a modernism, Hong Kong is still a personal favorite.

Asia is a cultural mecca, it has a long and relatively undisturbed history; a melting pot of both modern and old world charm. I currently find myself in and among some of the best examples of religious architecture, alongside modern development and diversity of people. There is a focus on everyday life in Asia that feels far from the materialistic values that act to sterilize life as a developed world consumer. This aspect of life is best reflected in my current projects, those that cover Buddhism, and street life in Thailand. Interestingly enough, the process of High Dynamic Range works best where color, clarity and a real vibrancy of life exists. It also has a unique ability to expose the bland and mundane. Read More...

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