Kevin Shaw “HDR Doesn’t Affect Anybody”

“A few years back, a couple of years back, the consensus really was that HDR doesn’t affect anybody: you don’t have to shoot differently, you don’t have to edit differently; it’s really just an extra step in the grading. And I think over the last couple of years, we’ve really learned a lot and we’re still learning, so we’re not there yet, but we’re still learning; but in theory, it doesn’t really doesn’t change anything but the grading pass”.

– Kevin Shaw, CSI

Last month, we dealt with a cinematographer who, back in 2016, contended that filmmakers had been shooting HDR for years and now we’ve got a colorist who is essentially repeating the same tired rubbish – a claim as outrageous today as it was six years ago. Which is, for all intents and purposes, asserting that the entire filmmaking community believes that there’s no need to approach HDR any differently than SDR. Which, if true, would be pretty disturbing. Because HDR isn’t just a trivial technical detail to be dealt with in the grading suite, but an artistic process that begins in pre-production. It’s an entirely different way of seeing. Yet all too often, shows are lit in an SDR environment, they’re monitored in SDR, and the very first time anyone sees the project in HDR is in the grading suite. From there, it’s a foregone conclusion that the HDR version shouldn’t depart radically from the SDR version – still considered by many to be the most important version – and the one who ends up getting screwed is the consumer. It’s not that we were unaware of the profound antipathy toward HDR by many in the industry, but to hear a respected professional who presides over HDR masterclasses validate our worst fears is depressing. However, there never has been consensus among filmmakers that working methods don’t need to change – and one can only speculate as to Shaw’s motivations for spreading such total claptrap. It’s also odd that at one point during the video, Shaw brazenly tries to correct Tom Graham, who rightly says that it’s the higher local contrast of HDR that accounts for its impression of greater sharpness.

“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

HDR means not only different lighting ratios, but also (1) monitoring in HDR; (2) moving the camera more slowly; (3) framing differently; (4) exposing to the right; and (5) cutting differently. It’s essential to monitor in HDR on the set, as HDR directly impacts lighting ratios and exposure. Panning more slowly for HDR to avoid judder artifacts. Framing differently to either include or exclude intense light in the frame. Exposing to the right to take full advantage of the sensor’s dynamic range. Cutting differently, because juxtaposing bright and dark scenes in HDR is very different from SDR, where the overall brightness differences are insignificant. Examples of good HDR include Altered Carbon, The Spy and The Hand of God.

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