Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2015 Visit & Is HDR Just a Distraction?

Jumped in the Dodge with a couple of mates, Mrs Melbourne Street Photography, and a camera yesterday and headed off to Ballarat for BIFB 2015. The BIFB is a regular on the photography calendar and is always worth a visit.

So, is it worth the visit? For me, no. For you? Maybe. There was a broad range of styles and subject matter. If you want to experience a breadth of images from photographers around the world, then get on the train and visit. Being primarily interested in Street Photography, particularly using film / analogue based capture, there wasn’t much that caught my eye.

The Melbourne Silver Mine fringe exhibition was a highlight, with some excellent bits and pieces from my film obsessed friends. Adelaide Photographic Artists (another film group!) also had a small but good set of images.

Meandering through the main streets, we managed to get to a seven or so venues over a couple of hours. Not a lot of street photography…

I prefer photographers who limit the use of post processing gigabytes and ram to achieve a result. Most of the heavy lifting in creating the image is best done at the instant the shutter opens and closes. If more than half the image is created at a studio desk, it crosses over into a multimedia / graphic design kind of space for me, rather than photography.

A little bit of cropping and some basic colour tweaking is all I generally like.

That doesn’t mean the images are not beautiful or aesthetically pleasing – it just doesn’t meet my personal definition of photography. I also struggle with “projections” – I am ok with a slide show, but once the image includes movement (ie. video) it is not photography. As a member of the CCP in Melbourne, I really dislike the occasional video projects that pop up in the gallery. It is not photography and doesn’t belong in the gallery. Yes, I am the fun police…

A perfect example to illustrate my “heavy lifting” definition was the core exhibition by Pang Xiang Liang from China – ‘The Drilling Workers’. Pang managed to get on site at a massive Chinese oil drilling site and has taken some stunning images. Places I will never see – or probably want to see with my own eyes! – and would have required a significant amount of courage to get into position for some of the shots.

Except they appeared to have been HDR’d to the point of being ridiculous. It is almost as though Pang discovered the HDR button on his camera and has fallen in love with how “special” it makes the images look.


The image is remarkable in terms of the situation. Getting in and unders some massive machinery, in the freezing conditions, to get the shot, is just wonderful. The HDR has stolen the soul of the image, in my opinion. It almost looks faked, like a CGI effect in a movie. The extra level of detail in tones that HDR gives is visually distracting. I find it disconnects me from the image. My eyes are unfamiliar with the level of detail and struggles to recognise it as a scene from real life as opposed to a painting or drawing.


In the second image, there is both a sense of pathos and joy that most people choose to feel no matter how hard their personal situation may be. But front and square is the incredible amount of visual information that is not normally perceptible by the human eye. I find I spend too much time processing the detail than feeling and enjoying the image.

Sorry if you are an HDR fan… There is a place for it, sometimes, to bring some minor detail to life. If it is easily perceptible, then ask if you really need it?

I worry that, sometime in the future, Pang will look back at a “HDR Phase” in his artistic development and see the images differently. I look back at some of the quite unsophisticated retouching I did at the start of my journey and am a little let down…

Pang has captured some remarkable images – my criticism is purely directed at the way he has processed the images. There was one image, towards the end of the row of images, of miners in the showers. It was a stand out – free and clear of the HDR effect. I could immediately start to see through the window into the world of the miners, rather than feeling I was watching a CGI sci fi movie…

It was one of the exhibitions which absolutely made sense to have a series of related images. Some of the other exhibitions that had a “theme” tended to the tedious… Repetitive images without any kind of build that I could discern. Maybe I am just a bit dumb when it comes to the “Yartz” or just grumpy?

Beware – Ballarat seems to shut pretty early on a Saturday!

Anyway, I got some shots as we trekked the BIFB trail… Here is some of what you might see if you visit Ballarat with your trusty camera.



  1. BIFB 15 - Thought FactoryThought Factory - September 7, 2015

    […] There is a growing trend in photography towards this kind of imagery. An example was Pang Xiangliang’s Drilling Workers at the Daqing oilfield in China that was exhibited at the Trades Hall. The content was very powerful–some were stunning— but this was undercut by the way the images had been post processed. They were over-sharpened, and processed with what looked like HDR. The subject matter did not need this kind of post processing, which sapped the life out of the images. I also found that the extra level of detail in tones that HDR gives to be visually distracting. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: