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Review: The HDRI Handbook by Christian Bloch

Perhaps one of my biggest weaknesses is my tendency to be stubborn. I like to sometimes think that I “know-it-all”, although the obvious reality is that I don’t. The topic of HDR or High Dynamic Range imaging has been in the forefront of my mind since I first started playing around with 3D applications many years ago. In fact, I was one of the first self-taught people that I knew who started playing capturing HDR images using the old reflective chrome ball method. This was “back in the day” when dSLRs first hit the market, and HDR was a completely foreign term to Adobe.

But I wasn’t satisfied with my HDRs quality and limitations. I realized quickly that I needed better photography equipment if I wanted sharper and larger images for 3d purposes. I almost stopped as soon as I started because I couldn’t overcome the costs involved in purchasing “better” equipment. Being an early adopter is not necessarily a badge of honor – especially when considering that there are always people that often come before you and even those that surpass your level of knowledge regardless of time. This is one of those situations which I found myself unexpectedly being the student again.

As of the last few months, I decided to pick back up the hobby – this time with the proper camera equipment. And since I invested a significant amount of money in the new camera equipment, I wanted to make certain that I had most of my facts correct. I surfed the web once again for updated materials on HDR and panoramic stitching applications and tutorials. Perhaps the most useful site that I came across was HDRLabs by Christian Bloch. I joined his forum there and started asking a lot of questions, all of which went answered by its generous community. I also found other people’s posts which turned out to be equally useful in my methodology detective work.

Over time, Christian and I started emailing each other – most of the time it involved me picking his brain for knowledge. It turns out that he is a very kind, intelligent, and patient individual. He could have completely ignored my questions and simply told me to “buy my book,” but he didn’t for which I have to give him a lot of credit. Instead, he took the generous time to answer all of my emailed questions on a personal basis. He ended up helping me out a lot more than I could have ever imagined – and because of this, I figured the least I could do is purchase his book, The HDRI Handbook. While I realize purchasing this book isn’t going to make him rich, it would be more of a sign of my support for all the help he has given me as well as the community at large. I also figured, ‘maybe just maybe’ I’ll gain something out of it.

So a few weeks back, I receive The HDRI Handbook at my doorstep. I proceeded to drop what I was working on and started to read it from cover to cover. My thought was that as much as I knew, there were going to be a lot of smaller details that I have missed. It was those smaller details and missing gaps of information that I wanted to make sure were covered. I also felt that giving him a fair and objective review would also be in order. Let me start off by saying that if I found the book to be a disappointment, I would not be writing this article right now. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my skepticism.

It turns out that it is a fantastic purchase. Anyone from the beginner level to advanced that is interested in capturing their own HDRs should own a copy of this book. Although it does contain information for 3d artists, it contains plenty of useful information for photographers as well – after all, High Dynamic Range images have their basis in the 3d world. It really covers the whole spectrum of the topic. It is written in a style that is very thorough and should be easy to understand for people at all levels of knowledge. It even goes into unbiased detail and objective opinion as to the various HDR programs which are available to photographers and artists.

The book surprised me by showing me a bunch of tonemapping techniques and examples from some very skilled artists and photographers. His examples are actually quite informative – he did not skip out on providing useful images, techniques, and tutorials throughout the book. And perhaps what I found most important was that it reaffirmed a lot of my own self-taught thoughts and concepts for which I had nothing else to refer back to.

Having spent many years in the publishing industry, I can say that a lot of time and effort was put into the writing and production of this book. If you’re at all serious about HDR photography, you would really be doing yourself, him, and the community a huge favor by making this purchase. It is money that was very wisely spent. I look forward to future materials written by Christian Bloch.