Does HDR Kill Kittens?

UT Littlefield Fountain Sculpture

This is one of my early HDR shots and it is still one of my favorites. I've learned a few things since I created this image and could probably do a little better job now. Still, it represents one of my best efforts as a fledgling new photographer who dove straight into HDR photography. Some time back, I posted this shot in a meetup group album for consideration as a "Photo of the Month." I got some good feedback on it, even though it wasn't voted as a winner. In fact, I got one of the most interesting comments that I have received to date. Someone criticized this shot for not looking "normal." He went on to suggest that I killed a kitten when I created this image!

Well, I certainly bear no grudge against kittens and I hated to think that I somehow contributed to some small furry creature's demise. I questioned my critic about why he felt that I was murdering cute domesticated animals. His response was that he had walked by this fountain hundreds of times and not once did it ever look like this. I had crossed the boundary of reality and normality. Hearing this, I have to say I was tickled. I took his assessment as a complement. Indeed, a view beyond normality was the whole point!

When I shot this image, I had an image in my mind that was certainly an exaggerated vision of this fountain sculpture. Under looming storm clouds, my mind's eye saw a ship charging through waves, led by men on mythical creatures. It wasn't a sculpture I was trying capture at all. It was motion and emotion: a storm, crashing waves, fury, pride, persistence. A "normal" well exposed snapshot wouldn't have done it justice.

The concept of normality got me thinking. What is "normal" in the art of photography? Are we not capturing a personal interpretation of a scene every time we frame a scene and snap the shutter? What would constitute a "normal" photograph? Would the distortion of a wide angle lens be considered a break from the norm? How about the compression effect of telephoto? Fish eyes must surely be taboo. What depth of field is normal? How about lens filters? Light modification? Don't flashes and reflectors modify existing (normal?) light? What about post processing? At what point do we cross the line and start sacrificing kittens for the whims of our artistic visions?

The bottom line is that photography is an art and like any art it is highly subjective. I take no offense whatsoever when someone doesn't like one of my photos, HDR or not. I do appreciate when a critic is willing to elaborate on his or her opinion. I ended up having a good healthy discussion with my critic in this case and there are no hard feelings whatsoever. I got a kick out of his spirited opinions and though I don't agree with all of them, I wouldn't hesitate to have a beer with him sometime.

Oh, and for the record, absolutely no kittens were harmed in the making of this image.