HDR: The Single Most Overlooked Aspect

There have been countless videos and articles explaining what high dynamic range is, with nearly all focusing on the technical aspects: acquisition requirements (e.g. frame rates, resolution, bit depth, color gamut, dynamic range and so forth), followed by reviews of consumer televisions (measurements of screen uniformity, peak brightness, color accuracy, etc.) and more recently, tests of HDR smartphone displays. As far as camera reviews are concerned, bewilderingly, not a single one addresses HDR image quality. There are virtually no YouTube videos describing HDR post-production workflow either.

But by far the single most glaring omission is the thorough absence of any discussion of how to light for HDR productions: a film can be shot in RAW, have fourteen stops of dynamic range and be scrupulously mastered in Dolby Vision, but if it’s not shot expressly with high dynamic range in mind, it can hardly be considered HDR at all. This pertains not only to many of our own videos that happen to trigger the HDR banner on YouTube, but to the majority of Netflix titles as well.

There may be no better illustration of what we’re talking about than to compare the gorgeously shot French crime series Lupin to the Israeli espionage mini-series The Spy, starring Sacha Baron Cohen, both currently streaming on Netflix. The former is beautifully composed and lit, but is resolutely traditional, whereas the latter is a thrilling masterclass in the art of using lighting expressively in this exciting new medium.

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