The Future of HDR

“Technical details aside, the most important thing to understand about HDR is that it doesn’t represent an enhancement as much as the removal of an artificial limitation. In the realm of human vision and physical light, high dynamic range is a default condition, not an added gimmick”. – Cullen Kelly

In his article entitled ‘Three Predictions on the Future of Color Correction’, Cullen Kelly touches on an issue that has long preoccupied us – the failure of filmmakers to recognize that HDR is an entirely new medium necessitating new ways of thinking.

“With the evolution of technologies like HDR, VR, and volumetric video, images are being released from their dim two-dimensional cages, creating new challenges and opportunities for the way we engage and guide the viewer’s eye. This is completely uncharted territory, and navigating it will require new ideas and new tools. The current playbook for capturing and mastering compelling images is going to become increasingly irrelevant, leaving those of us who are up to the task to write a new one. Here are some of the key questions we’ll need to address:

Presently, the most extensive and high-quality data we have about human visual preference in motion images comes from R&D which assumes a very low upper limit on the reproduction of color and luminance (corresponding with the physical limitations of projected motion picture film). Today’s displays, and even more so tomorrow’s, have far greater limits, so we have to figure out what pleases or repels the human eye within this larger canvas. Should we attempt to adapt the lessons of motion imaging’s first century, or would we get better results by starting anew?”

What is happening instead is that sets continue to be lit in an SDR environment, they’re monitored in SDR, and the very first time someone sees their work on an HDR display is in the grading suite – after which, insult is added to injury when the studio decides that the look of the HDR master should not depart radically from the SDR! How long can this go on? Crafting images expressly for the new medium that is HDR means (1) moving the camera differently, (2) lighting differently, (3) framing differently, (4) exposing differently and (5) cutting differently – those are “what pleases or repels the human eye within this larger canvas”, as Cullen so aptly puts it – and those who do understand this can’t arrive soon enough!

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