80 HDR Pics of Tokyo

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Photography purists might see many HDR images as gaudy & cartoonish but I really dig the way they bring out a new experience of the subject. The hyper-realism of some HDR compositions seems to almost virtualize the world blurring the lines even further between real & synthetic. It's this same boundary dissolution that I enjoy in immersive games like the Grand Theft Auto series where you can suddenly find yourself gazing at the play of light on the city walls at sunset, awed by the natural beauty and simultaneously amazed by the number crunching under the hood.

This series of 80 HDR photos of Tokyo seems especially appropriate to me as it pushes the hyper-modernity of this massive city closer to my own Manga-fied senses. (Click through each pic for larger Flickr sets...) 80 Photos of Tokyo in HDR


  1. HDR doesn’t have to be gaudy, cartoonish, over-saturated and exaggerated. It’s possible to use HDR to produce images that look far more realistic than normal photographs, because it allows you to mimic the greater dynamic range of human vision, and to selectively alter exposure much the way the eye does in real time.

    It’s particularly effective when printed or displayed at scales large enough that the image can’t be seen all at once, where your eyes have to move around the image and view details a piece at a time, the way they do with real scenes.

    Large panoramas are a revelatory experience, as the depth of detail in highlight and shadow areas can be so much greater than with conventional photos.

    1. What GlenBlank said. The psychedelic, cartoony effects are actually artifacts of automated HDR processing. Sure, the psychedelic look is an effect and style of its own, and if you like it, go for it. But HDR done right just lets you expose for everything in the shot — like your eyes do when you look around a scene.

    2. I was just wondering about that. It seems like some HDR we call cartoony not because it doesn’t look realistic, but because it doesn’t look like other photos.

  2. seems to almost virtualize the world blurring the lines even further between real & synthetic.

    What lines?!?

    Thanks for posting these, it’s a great collection. I totally agree with #2 GlenBlank. There are several in this series (like the second one down) which perfectly illustrate the point you bring up. We’ve become conditioned to accept the low dynamic range of print/film and CCD imaging as the standard ‘photographically correct’ depiction of visual material that when we are presented with something closer to what the eye can deliver it seems “hyper-real”. Of course the effect can be cranked into overload, and you get the really psychedelic stuff, which also rocks.

  3. If you are literally awed by the natural beauty in GTA, I hope you will flee your urban environment as soon as possible and spend time in the wilderness so you can fill out your conception of awe and natural beauty.

  4. Excellent explanation and description by GlenBlank here. The weirdness of certain HDR is a choice by the artist.

  5. I think Michael Mann’s recent HD movies also push photography more in the direction of what the naked eye actually sees, and in the process produce a similar sense of hyer-realism bordering on virtuality/video game like aesthics. It’s a very interesting effect.

  6. Oh, these pictures make me sick with envy. The photos I’m uploading from my trip to Japan last month don’t just suffer, they die in comparison.

  7. forgeweld:

    “If you are literally awed by the natural beauty in GTA, I hope you will flee your urban environment as soon as possible and spend time in the wilderness so you can fill out your conception of awe and natural beauty.”

    Ha! I assure you my legs are quite sore from the 6 mile hike I did yesterday in Wilder Ranch, and I’m still crunching through photos from a 15-day camping trip across the Colorado Plateau this past May. I like to think I can derive great pleasure from an abundance of organic and synthetic experiences. And if you want to see the depth of the latter, here’s my review of GTA5 when it was released:


    1. I suppose it is possible. It seems a very pale reflection of nature, and just as deep, but if I were very, very, high I might feel awe-Naw.

  8. I’ve tried so many times to like HDR, but it still just looks awful to me. I don’t discount the possibility that it can be done in a way I’ll find aesthetically appealing, but I haven’t seen it yet.

    1. The thing with HDR (and tone mapping) is that it can be two things: A way to improve the exposure of an image with wide dynamic range (essentially pulling in the over- and under-exposed areas), or a way to create impressive but more artificial-looking images. This is well into the latter camp – consider it a distant relative to impressionism, if it helps.

      As for the other variant, consider the top two here.

      1. Just now saw your reply; you’re right, of course, that HDR can be done well or poorly, just like everything from romance novels to astrophysics.

        When it’s done well (as in your link), I can’t tell it’s been done at all; I would never have noticed if you hadn’t clued me in.

        When it’s done poorly, however, looking at it somehow makes me as though I’m about to have a nosebleed. That’s probably just me, though.

  9. I imagine this is what shenmue would have looked like if that continued making the series on todays consoles.

  10. I’m not a photography purist by any means and I do enjoy some HDR photography (I’m not too keen on the over the top psychadelic stuff, except in HDM“>certain circumstances).

    All that said, about a third of the shots in that series not only fall into the over-the-top category I’m not a huge fan of, they’re also horribly executed. Blurry and poorly mapped.

    There are many, many amazing examples of HDR photography of varying styles, this collection has a couple, but overall is definitely not a prime example.

  11. Is anyone using CinePaint to process HDR images? I’ve been taking photos with the intention of combining their dynamic range, but I haven’t figured out what software will easily get me results to evaluate.

  12. A question for you photography types:

    HDR usually involves taking a serise of pictures at different exposures, which are then combined to preserve local contrast.

    Many of these pictures involve moving things (for example, people) which leads me to believe that they were created from a single image. As such, are they really examples of HDR?

    I’ve played a little with a tone-mapping plugin in GIMP (which works with a single image); would that be considered a true HDR technique?

    1. Hm, good question. If I’ve got it right, HDR is technically speaking the method for putting more dynamic range into an image than one image usually has – that is, the HDR image is the step after merging but before tone mapping. You could probably define a good RAW file as a HDR image, since they have a few more bits per channel than the 8 you’d export the result as (which is why they’re so much nicer to work with when you try to rescue badly exposed images).

      As for tone mapping from a normal 24bit image …
      You only have limited dynamic range to start with, so you can’t add any more shadow or highlight detail – that probably disqualifies it.

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