HDR Workflows

HDR Workflows

The introduction of HDR displays (HDR) is as big an advance as the switch from black and white to color!

Cameras have always captured a dynamic range greater than the display technology could deliver and a timer or colorist then creatively interprets the image to suit its audience, be that television or cinema. The human eye can cover an enormous dynamic range from deep shadow to brilliant highlights, but it does so by focusing on a small range and then dynamically adjusting to another. In a standard television (rec 709) image signal the eye can see the blacks and whites simultaneously without effort. In other words your colorist does the ranging by compressing the contrast for you.

HDR uses the same equipment and processes as all our current workflows and the file size is the same, so an HDR master need not cost more. However, an HDR display can show the raw camera output directly. For the technically minded, a modern camera can capture about 12 stops. On a standard monitor that many stops looks flat or clipped. And HDR display at 1000 nits has about 14 stops with good contrast and no clipping. A 4000 nit monitor can show about 20 stops!

So shooting HDR is the same as shooting anything else, with the exception that care must be taken with shadows, highlights and bold colors, all of which can be distracting in HDR. The colorist will manage those to best effect, working with the extra detail where it is important but holding it back where it is not. For example we might push the highlights from a back-light to draw attention to that part of the image, but we might soften the brightness on a sky that is merely a backdrop.

HDR is unanimously voted better in consumer tests, and often described as sharper, more 3-dimensional and more realistic. All of these are due to the psychology of seeing. There have been concerns that the brighter screens will cause headaches, or appear fake and this could be true of a poorly mastered program. With HDR finishing the colorist should not be pushing whites and colors to their maximum as we sometimes do now, instead we can choose the ideal levels on a project by project basis and leave something for a more realistic viewing experience. This is a new skill, and one that we have been nurturing at Final Frame.

Our work on HDR has shown that trying to trim a conventional grade to achieve HDR is more time consuming and less effective than starting with the HDR grade. With our proven workflow the trim back down to DCI P3 for cinema and rec 709 for television typically looks better than the conventional grade, since the extra detail can be tone mapped and preserved. We have also found that remastering older projects, even from film can produce excellent HDR content. Why not come by and see for yourself the difference HDR makes!