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Videoture: HDR Photography and Tone Mapping for Web Video

By: Richard Hart
richardhart.com

When I am not filming with a HD Video Camera, I am shooting photos with my High-Resolution still camera for stock work for another web video production. I just never put my camera down! And, to bring my photography to it's full potential, I always consider some element of tone mapping to increase my textures, and perhaps bring some meaningful light and dimensionality to any area of my work.

When Adobe Photoshop first announced that they were adding HDR (High Dynamic Range) to their product pack, we dashed out to be part of the action, and sampled the goodness - and frankly, were a little disappointed! Years later, and a few Plug-Ins ago, the disappointment has been replaced by a solid suite of products and techniques that really (hardly ever) disappoint. In fact, perhaps they make the work... just a little too easy.

Now I am not talking about your standard Real Estate "House for Sale" (HDR) imaging photo array. No, I mean that really illusive, fun to "taste with your eyes" kind of deep texture resolution and dimension that comes from a meaningfully staged and executed photographic shot. I long for a deep dive into the black grays of every shadow, and I will turn my head (twice) to realize a remote wisp of filtered light. I am just that kind of dude.

I didn't just get this way because I am a photo snob. No, I realized early on that every good web video needed (and cried for) great cut-away shots to keep the edit pace moving. Panning to another action scene (or video) often poses many challenges too for a story-teller (video-maker), so a static shot (photograph) often fits the bill perfectly.

When I say "static shot" I don't mean necessarily a picture that isn't moving. With modern Non-Linear edited (NLE), there is no end to the possibilities a videomaker can employ to bring his work to dynamic reality.

The movingly strange case of Ken Burns

Perhaps one of the best known and celebrated filmakers of the documentary genre is Ken Burns. He made his trademark early on by using historic photgraphy, and panning from one side of the shot to the other. This effect is now called a "Ken Burns" or "Ken Burns Effect". His films include, "Prohibition", "The Dust Bowl", "The Address", and his most celebrated "Baseball' and the upcoming "Baseball: The Tenth Inning" amongst others from PBS.

Ken Burns surmised that he had a limited pallet of possibilites as it related to the historic media surronding his work. Gauging the possibilities, he could go shoot new footage to re-enact the scenes he desired (very expensive and not always believeable), or he could use the actual documents he possessed (the photos), and find a method to bring them to life as best he cinematically could. Stated simply, "Baseball" would have been a well narrated "slide show" if he hadn't opted for a dynamic solution... and I am ever so glad he did.