Posts made in Railway Museums


HDR at the Rail Museum


A Day at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum – Perris, California

I’ve toyed with High Dynamic Range, or “HDR”, photography off and on for a few months now, but I’ve resisted fully going down that road. It’s very common now to hear the term “HDR” touted as though it was the latest cure-all for ignoring what used to be careful lighting, thoughtful composition, and the tedium of waiting out, or searching out, a scene that was within the tonal range of the camera’s capabilities.

In the days of film (B&W especially) and Ansel’s Zone System, we could readily hit a 9-stop range, and maybe even push it some. With today’s typical digital sensor limitations of 5 stops, or 5½ at best, those shots we chased or had to wait for are not within the range of the cameras that most of us have today.

Thus opened up the HDR world. I lagged behind for quite a while trying to avoid 8-stop or greater scenes, or more troublesome yet, trying to light interior or wide-range shots with flashes, reflectors or other traditional fill-light magic.

I still find myself bristling when I hear someone say, “Just use HDR and bracket it”, as though tht will magically cure a bad or highly contrasty image. It’s sort of like when a scene didn’t materialize without content conflicts or compositional mistakes, the catch-phrase became, “Oh, just Photoshop it out!” I hated it before, and I hate it now. (And I really hate to hear “Photoshop” used as a verb!)

But slowly, and with no small amount of coaxing and coaching from some of the those whose opinions I value, most notably my good friend and mentor, Robert A. Hansen (, I began to see, like much that I had grudgingly come to accept in the digital world, that HDR is just another of those techniques that can be used either badly or to combat and bend the limitations of our equipment and situation. So, I’ve decided to give it a fair try for a while and see what happens.

I went on out to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California, home of the world’s largest rail junkyard, to give HDR a good try. I remembered my former trips to OERM from the Ilford and Tri-X days as a great location for details, shapes, forms, shadows and, of course, subject matter that wasn’t everyday. And, I figured that there would be plenty of opportunity to shoot images that were well beyond a 5-stop range and still had plenty of interest in the darker, or highlighted details.

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