HDR Photography, how far to push it?

One of the big turn-offs in photography right now is bad HDR. And the many bad HDR photos out there have really given this style of photography a bad rap. Some people just hear the term HDR and are instantly turned off. I say this because I use to be this way until I started to see some examples of good HDR.

What is Bad HDR?

Bad HDR is really subject to the viewers opinion. I could say bad HDR has terrible halos, looks too flat or doesn't look real, but I've seen many amazing HDR photos that exhibit those qualities. I think the reason for this is because the scene and subject mater of the photo called for that style which helped compliment it.

So in my opinion, bad HDR would be when you take a photo and push it to far away from what the original image represented, like it's style or mood. In other words, if you shoot something rustic and dirty and you push the tonemapping to accentuate the gritty and grungy look, then your actually helping exaggerate the mood of the image. But if you take something like a beautiful sunset while doing some beach photography and push it to far into something over saturated, gritty and dirty, then you're ruining and skewing the true nature of the scene. That's at least my take on it. 

What is Good HDR?

To me, good HDR will exaggerate the scene in a complimentary way. With my HDR photography I try to accentuate how the scene made me feel when I was there. If I can do that then I feel I was successful in my post processing. So if the clouds where dramatic I'll use my three high dynamic range photos to push the detail in the clouds as much as possible to make them even more dramatic. But that is only if I'm going for an HDR tonemapped aesthetic. Which is only sometimes. 

My personal favorite style of High Dynamic Range Photography is when you can't tell if was bracketed or not. Often when we go to the beach or walk around the city, everything will look exposed when looking around with our naked eye. This is because our eyes can always adjust on the fly to the dynamic range of what we are looking at. A camera cannot. So if we are able to capture the complete range of a scene with three or more shots so everything looks exposed as it should be, or as we saw it when we were there, then we can combine the photos so our final image can still look photo real without having that gritty nasty bad HDR look. This is what I think good HDR should look like and is usually what I aim for unless I'm going for a unique more surreal artistic look. Jay Patel and his wife Varina have a technique for this they call iHDR. You can read more about it on their post iHDR Workflow Overview.

Todays image is as about as far away from the natural look you'll see me go. The clouds at the Redondo Pier were somewhat dramatic and the pier itself was had this gritty quality. I pushed the image not only in Photomatix, but also with a detail enhancer filter in Color Efex Pro. I wanted this photo to be detailed, dramatic and dirty. After all, the Redondo pier has a crazy history. It's been beat up a few times by storms, and was burned down to the shore in the late 1980s. 

Today's Photo

Is this bad HDR and did I push it to far? Or is this good HDR that helps the drama of the scene?

Also, you can see more how I create my HDR Photography at my Photography Tips Page https://alikgriffin.com/photography-tips

Redondo Pier HDR Photo