Did Flickr’s Best of 2016 Just Spell the Death of HDR?


What Does “Flickr's Best of 2016” Say About Photography?

Have you seen it yet? THE list.

It's that time of year and the mighty Flickr have published their Top-25 Flickr photos of 2016 of the year. Twenty-five favorites cannot be easy and from literally billions of images to choose from, it's astonishing they can squeeze it into a measly list.

Image by Project Apollo Archive

From Flickr's blog editor:

“To compile this list, we started with an algorithm that calculates a combination of social and engagement metrics…To avoid the results being merely a popularity contest, the selection also involved curation by Flickr staff.”

So that's how the list came about.

However, here at Lightstalking we've done some of our own analysis and made a few points about this collection – notably, the lack of HDR images. That is to say, there are none.

Why No HDR?

Most of us know the HDR acronym stands for High Dynamic Range, and over the years – particularly the last 8-10, HDR has gone through the roof in popularity, but as the old saying goes “what goes up, must come down”.

Now, I don't want to dumb this impactful (and technical) style down by using over-simplistic terms (even if it was Isaac Newton) but certain aspects of photography will always come and go with popularity. Photographer and author Jason Row put this all down perfectly, here:
What Makes A Photography Trend Hang Around?

It would appear then, that perhaps Flickr has seen its fair share, and sees this latest roundup for the year as something its readers would appreciate more.

The HDR fad has not completely gone, of course it hasn't (it represents an important style for many photographers – not just the landscape folks), BUT, it's certainly having a break from the “top-25” though.

What's Happening to HDR, is it Really Dying?

Other major bloggers have been writing about its imminent death throughout the year – mainly due to the progression of digital sensors in modern cameras and their pixel counts.

Digital cameras are being developed with better sensors, therefore have a Higher Dynamic Range.

This simply means that camera sensors are now able to capture a greater dynamic range (if you shoot in raw) and therefore largely negating the need for HDR software, unless really necessary – there are many exceptions of course.

Because HDRs have gotten themselves a bad reputation, a “good” HDR photograph these days should be one that doesn't look like “HDR”. It's safe to say the days of overcooking HDR are not numbered, they're completely gone (at least for photographs that get popular).

A little “overdone” HDR image – Image by Skitterphoto

The Future of HDR

With cameras such as Sony a7R II (yes it's pricey) – a Full Frame Mirrorless, the dynamic range of new sensor technology is really astonishing. This can also be said for many of 2016's best Full Frame DSLRs.

To sum up, technology is progressing at a pace which will likely see the end to most “HDR” images being produced in post production, aside from extreme “exceptions” which need it (ironically, the original use of HDR).

A more “natural” dynamic range – Image by Alberto Restifo

Back to Flickr's Top-25

Essentially, it would appear as though images which look like they are of a decent dynamic range, probably are just that, except they're produced in-camera with some light editing afterward and no merging of multiple exposures.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't have the budget for high-tech Full Frame DSLRs or Mirrorless cameras with highly sophisticated sensors and technology, therefore we're largely just left to blend a few exposures – and we all know pricier gear doesn't mean better photos, right?

That's fine, except we can definitely see the trend (not just through Flickr's Blog) that extreme “in your face” HDR has left us. The roundup has proved what beautiful photographs are now being produced and shared across all corners of the globe!

HDR. Will it be back? Maybe. Fans and photographers alike will ultimately decide this. Perhaps it never left us, let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Further Resources

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About Author

Russell is a self-taught photographer who loves travel and capturing life as it unfolds. Having lived in the far east for a few years with some long term travel, this catalyzed his new-found passion for photography.
Lifestyle, Food, and Event Photography are areas he enjoys most.

HDR is used to compress the a large range of tones into the range of an output device (screen or printer) such that there is no clipping in the shadows or the highlights. Paradoxically, the higher dynamic range of the sensor the more you need HDR processing to be able represent the vast range of tones captured.

Hi Russell! A few days ago I saw top flickr 25 photos from 2016 in their blog. It’s not an easy task to find best photos from billions of images. I am a huge fan of HDR. As an HDR fan, I don’t think the death of HDR is coming. But in the near future, it should be great to see something like (more “natural” dynamic range – Image by Alberto Restifo) that you are sharing. Maybe in the upcoming years, HDR works in natural ways.

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