Tales From The Dark Side; Stephen King, Meet Chris Alvanas

Dear Mr. King,
When I saw Chris Alvanas’s HDR (High Dynamic Range) photographs, my first thought was, they could be covers of Stephen King novels. They held mystery and more than a hint of menace; they suggested a story that would keep me turning pages long into the night.

All Photos © 2009, Chris Alvanas, All Rights Reserved

What’s HDR photography? It’s a technique that makes possible the capture of the wide range of tones that exist in a high contrast scene—a range our eyes can see but no sensor or film can deliver. An HDR image is comprised of a number of exposures—three, five, seven, even more—that a software program evaluates according to the photographer’s taste and then merges into an image file that depicts the scene’s full range. Another step, called tone mapping, converts that file to a tone range that can be viewed on a monitor or in a print. (Chris has produced a DVD on his HDR work; info is at his website, www.lightyearimaging.com.)

“She’s a model I was photographing for a class I teach at the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University,” Chris Alvanas says. “We’d gone into this alleyway in Boston…there was sunlight streaming in, but it was still kind of a toxic-looking environment. This was the first HDR image I took using a person. When I saw the results, it led to the urban athlete idea.”

A lot of end-result HDR images offer the bright, clear, hyper-colors of what Chris calls “the great, overpowering illustrative look.”

He’s done that kind of image, but seems to prefer the dark side.

“The moody look is part of a stylistic thing,” he says. “When I tried out the technique, I saw it lends itself to this edgy, dark, mysterious alleyway type stuff; that’s probably the appeal it has for me. It’s just a personal style of mine that with HDR I tend to stay away from happy, cheery, playful images.”

“A friend had shown me some photos he’d taken of abandoned railroad cars. They looked like they’d work well for HDR images.” Chris followed the tracks on the opening spread to find them.

He loves the control that HDR offers—the ability to create…well, a mood that suits the cover of a Stephen King novel. Sometimes he adds that look sparingly, sometimes with emphasis, always with purpose. “It’s all up to you how you control the software’s effect on the final look,” Chris says. “The sky can be one treatment, the foreground another.”

Kind of like a writer carefully working out each character’s distinctive voice and role in the story.

Chris once said that HDR inspired him to push the envelope of the technology, to use dynamic range creatively.

Looking for lots of detail and high contrast, Chris found this old barn a perfect subject for HDR images. Like the other photos in this story, it’s a five-frame bracket.

And differently.