What is HDR? Taking Your Best Photos on iPhone i0S4.1and Above (including iOS5)
HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a feature of the newest iPhone software upgrade, iOS4.1. (You can upgrade your phone today by connecting to iTunes and clicking on “download and install” in the upgrade dialog box.)
Perhaps all you need to know is that you can take better photos by pressing “HDR off” onscreen so that it reads “HDR On” when you take a photo with your iPhone. But if you want to know when to use it and what it does…read on.
What does HDR do?
It can be hard to get the perfect exposure when shooting a photo with any camera. Often, one part of the picture is clear with details like you imagined it, but other parts are in shadow and almost black, or washed out and overexposed. When HDR is turned on, all you do is take the photo in the usual manner. The iPhone will do the rest, offering you an original photo plus an HDR enhanced photo that has details both in the dark shadows and the brightest areas (like the sky). It could be the perfect photograph.
Taking photos where you want to expose for both what’s outside a window and for the people inside, shooting a photo of a friend who is half in the shadows, taking a travel shot with a beautiful foreground of flowers and a white building in the distance –all are examples of challenging exposures that can be helped by using the HDR feature. If you’ve ever been disappointed with photographing a sunset because you didn’t want the buildings or objects in the foreground (near you) to be silhouetted, and you wanted to get the details of the sunset and clouds in the sky, HDR is the answer.
What does HDR actually do?
When you press the shutter button (the camera at the bottom of the screen) to take the photo, your iPhone will take a single normal photo using an averaged setting, then it will take a photo that is exposed to get details in the brightest area and another that is exposed for the darkest areas. (See Photo at top of story.) It then combines the three photos to create the HDR photo. Your experience, however, is that you have shot only one photo. You will hear only one shutter sound and the photo will appear in the little camera roll box on the bottom left of the screen.
However, when you go to camera roll you will not only see that it has saved the HDR shot but the normal, averaged exposure photo as well. You can compare the average exposure photo with the HDR photo, and choose the one you like best.
When should you turn on HDR?
HDR is best suited for scenery, portraits and staged shots. While the processing for HDR takes place pretty quickly, it’s not as fast as when you have the HDR function turned off. If you are photographing sports, action scenes or anything moving fast, you’ll probably want to turn HDR off so you can be ready to photograph the next shot more quickly. HDR took about 3 seconds to process by my count (thousand one, thousand two…), and less than a second when shooting in regular mode (” thou”).
Also, be sure to hold the camera steady during the shot. The camera will be combining 3 photos. If you move…well, check out the buildings in the background of this yoga picture to see how the photo didn’t line up.
Recently, I wanted to shoot a photo of a couple having tea at the Empress hotel with the harbor seen through the window behind them. I could only achieve this photo by exposing for the window and turning on the flash. Using HDR would have allowed me to get both the interior and exterior reasonably well exposed. (See the photo above at a local restaurant.)
How well does HDR work?
It seems to work really well outdoors on a bright, sunny day. Still, my first impression is that it’s not perfect. If the shadows are very dark or indoors, while they are lighter and easier to see the details, they also have been appearing grainy in the final HDR photo (like it does when shooting indoors without enough light). I compared the results to the True HDR app that has been available for iPhone. It seems the problem is not in the HDR process, but in the iPhone’s noise when shooting in dark situations.
Want to learn more about HDR? Here’s all about what it really is. Understanding this can help you take better photos with any camera.