iPhone Photography & the Magic of HDR

By , Jul 7, 2012

Great to have you back for our 3rd installment in the iPhone Photography Series here at iDB. A couple quick housekeeping items. If you’d like it see what I’m up to as I prepare our next lesson or if you have questions, give my Facebook page a like or follow me on twitter (@justinbalog). I always do my best to help others realize their own creative vision.

A few non-iPad users asked about my book being available for other devices, I have good news.  It’s now available in .PDF which will work on all your devices. Also included in it are the videos from the interactive iPad Version. You can get it here, just add it to your cart and checkout via PayPal.

In the previous two lessons, we took a deep dive into exposure and how to leverage it to our creative advantage. In both lessons, we were working within the limitations of the iPhone’s ability to record light. It’s not your iPhone’s fault, it’s a limitation of all cameras. Whether it is film, or the most advanced digital sensor, cameras aren’t nearly as good as your eyes at dealing with a wide range of bright and dark.

That being said, the world of photography has had a long standing workaround. It’s a technique called High Dynamic Range photography (HDR)…

Simply put, HDR is a photographic technique that takes photos exposed for both the highlight detail (bright areas) and shadow detail (dark areas) and blends them together pixel by pixel into a composite image that is exposed properly for both highlight and shadows. Back in the days, photographers used darkroom techniques during the development process to do this. Today your iPhone can do it at the time of the click! Here is a quick example of HDR in action.

Highlight Detail – Here in this image, I have exposed for the beautiful blue sky. However, in doing so I have lost all the bridge detail in shadows.

Shadow Detail – In the opposite exposure I was able to reveal the intricate details in the shadows, but lost the impact of the beautiful blue sky.

Balanced Exposure – By enabling the HDR feature of my iPhone, I was able to produce a balanced exposure that is accurately exposed for both the bright sky and the darker bridge in the shadows.

How To

How do you do such advanced photographic processing on an iPhone you ask? It’s easy, you just turn it on! Right there, under Options. Yep, that’s it. Once once you have it enabled, every time you take a photo, your iPhone will actually take several photos at varying exposures, apply some fancy mathematics to blend them together, and produce a single beautifully exposed image.

Limitations

That being said, HDR is not the silver bullet it appears to be. There are two distinct limitations of HDR and one personal consideration. Before we get to the limitations, let’s get the personal consideration out of the way.

HDR images take your iPhone longer to process and they can potentially increase your photo storage requirements. Speed is obvious, if you take a photo with HDR enabled, you will notice the processing spinner spins just a bit longer than without. In terms of storage, if you have ‘Keep Normal Photo’ enabled in your ‘Photos’ settings, you will be saving two images for every image you take. You will save both the HDR image, as well as, the middle exposure image. Again, these aren’t deal breakers, but something you should consider prior to leveraging HDR for all your photographic needs. Now, on to the limitations of HDR.

Camera Motion

The first major limitation with using HDR is camera movement. Remember, when you enable HDR the iPhone is going to take several photos at the time of the click and blend them into a single image. If your camera is moving, you will end up with odd looking artifacts around the subject boundaries in your scene. You can mitigate this by using a tripod. I have an entire video dedicated to shooting with a tripod in my book. Get it for your iPad here.

Here in this image of the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, you can see evidence of the camera movement along the edges of the rocks.

Subject Motion

The second major limitation with using HDR is subject movement. You can mount your iPhone to the most stable tripod in the world, but if your subject is moving, you are going to have a problem. The photo industry refers to this phenomenon as ‘Ghosting Artifacts’.

Here is this image, after our yoga instructor Ron swam across the lagoon, I thought it would be a good idea to snap a quick photo of our couple’s retreat. It was a beautiful setting for morning yoga. However, my attempt at capturing it failed because Ron was moving around helping all the women with their poses and saying things like “Encouragement….boom…..boom….” and winking.

Here are a few of my photos when HDR was successful.

Assignment

Your assignment this week is to experiment using HDR. You don’t have to have a tripod, just do your best to keep your iPhone still. I will be posting a few more examples over on my Facebook page, so give it a like. Also, make sure to tag your Instagram images with #iDBHDR and I’ll select a few of my favorites to share in the next lesson. Speaking of our next lesson… we will be exploring composition in two weeks so make sure to check back!

Here are a few of my favorites of yours.


Photo by @mohzeen


Photo by @kr0n0s99


Photo by @jamesdclarke


Photo by @txt0

As always you can follow us @justinbalog & @SebastienPage on Instagram to see what we are up to.

Justin Balog is an award winning photographer and filmmaker. You can follow is daily creative adventures at HOSSedia.com or learn more about iPhone Photography in his iBook ‘Big World Little Lens‘. You can get the PDF version of the eBook here.

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  • Sina

    Thanks Justin. I always enjoy reading your articles and learn manythings. Thanks again dude. :-)

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      No sweat, thanks for the kind words!

  • ic0dex

    Great artical but the two pictures above have to be flipped. The first example belongs to the second picture and the second example belongs to the first picture.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1849765376 Jordan Rushing

      I noticed this as well.

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

      Fixed. Thank you

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Thanks! Also, thanks for the heads up!

  • MohzeenHansrod

    Never been a big fan of HDR… I’ll give it another go, however. No harm done! Looking forward to the composition post!

    (also, thanks for the Instagram feature!)

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      You bet, your photos rock!

      • MohzeenHansrod

        Thanks! It’s a shame I can’t login to Instagramto get the HDR photo out :(

      • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

        Why can’t you login?

      • MohzeenHansrod

        I have managed to now, but it seems no one in the UAE could. The servers, perhaps? All fixed now, though :)

  • workin

    Nice info, explained well as always!
    Third party app, Pro HDR is my preference.
    But even DSLR HDR can look fake, sometimes, don’t you think?

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

      I use Pro HDR as well. Great app but there again the outcome can look a little fake, yet beautiful.

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Thanks! Yes, I like ProHDR as well.

  • http://twitter.com/pranavshankar93 Pranav Shankar

    Thanks! I didn’t know what HDR actually was until I read this..

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Cool, I love it when folks learn something new!

  • Appletiser

    nice article but actually our eyes aren’t too dissimilar to camera sensors, look at a bright light, even a computer monitor and you’ll see the periphery becomes dark, look at a dark subject and the periphery over exposes, the only difference is our eyes cope so well with changes from light to dark that we barely notice it :)

    .. and a footnote, true HDR isn’t a merging of only two images, it’s a composite of several shots taken at +/- exposure values.

  • notewar

    I love being in this classroom. Ill get the homework done by next week

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Awesome, we love having you!

  • notewar

    Photo by @kr0n0s99 look so pro

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Yes they do!

    • Gus Me

      Wow, thank you for the compliment. Big thanks to Justin for sharing his time and knowledge, and introducing iPhoneography to others on here. Enjoy his and Sebastien’s IG feeds ;)

  • Darius Schindler

    TrueHDR is the best App 4 ip :)

  • Gus Me

    I haven’t used the built in HDR feature much since I started using Camera+ as my main camera. I tend to add HDR effects while editing when in the mood. Post production HDR does look “fake” as others have stated, probably more fake than the method shown here, but there are some nice IG feeds featuring that look. Looking forward to the upcoming classes, I’m always wanting to learn more. I’m also looking forward to see what shows up in #iDBHDR. Thanks for the feature! :)

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Glad to have you in class! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • http://twitter.com/DucoHD Duco™

    Really good article, very detailed.

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Thanks, glad you liked it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fmbar00 Fabio Rodrigues

    Great article,

    I’m loving this section in iDB :)

    I love to experiment pics on my iphone (my problem is that sometimes I take too much shots of the same thing to try new things)

    but I don’t really like HDR pics, they don’t seem natural, even when the pic is good you don’t have the sharp pic, like in the watefall pic you posted, it is a little similar like a very good painting, of course it is still a good picture and depending the person would prefer that one, but not me, HDR is always off in my phone :)

    off topic question:

    is it possible to change the camera app for another camera app when I slide up the lock screen??? I want to make camera!(camera awsome) my standard camera app

    • https://twitter.com/#!/alexjdz Alex Diaz

      Yes, a tweak called AnyLockApp. I changed the Camera app to Camera+.

      • http://www.facebook.com/fmbar00 Fabio Rodrigues

        Thank you Alex, I’m going to try that :)

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Thanks Fabio, I’m glad you are enjoying the series. I totally agree, HDR isn’t for everyone…definitely a personal taste. Personally, I enjoy it and have some with it. Looks like your other question was answered.

      • http://www.facebook.com/fmbar00 Fabio Rodrigues

        Hey Justin, thanks for comment on my post comment, I’m happy I got your attention :)

        As I said, I love the section in iDB, can’t wait till the next post :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/fmbar00 Fabio Rodrigues

        I got excited with this section, and bought me some cool hardware to increment my iPhoneography (did I wrote it correctly?) experience, a 12x lens, one wide angle and macro lens. I hope later on you show us how to use some tricks on those type of hardware :)

  • http://twitter.com/bryanleesh Lee Sek Hon

    Pro HDR rocks the world! =D

  • aadil.3001

    WOW! Gotta say @kr0n0s99 is probably the best outta the lot ;)

  • JerseyD

    Good article. It’s nice to know the actual purpose of a feature and what situations to use it in. I always just kept it off because I didn’t know what it did.

    What app do you use to add the text and arrows to your pictures?

  • http://twitter.com/havr69 Romeo Popov

    Awesome iPhone photography lessons. Thank you

    Greetings from Russia

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Thanks Romeo! I’d love to see your photos from around Russia, what is your IG handle?

  • http://twitter.com/jimbohurt James

    This article ALWAYS shows up on the top?! And there is a little sticky note next to the article, what did I do?

    • Latinpride011

      I’m having the same problem and it’s annoying… Were u able to fix it or is it the website that’s doing it?

  • Hyr3m

    Tripod-less shooting advice : Take a slow deep breath, exhale slowly and take your shot within 6 seconds (not breathing in again). (Goes for shooting a rifle as well as a camera)
    6 seconds because after that your eyes start deceiving you and you might get shaky again because of the lack of oxygen.

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Wow…thanks for the advice…I like the inclusion of the physiology.

  • iamlynda

    Thanks for this!! I didn’t even know what HDR was! I need to also read the 2 previous installments. Heading to Vancouver Island next week & need to know all I can about taking awesome shots with my iPhone

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Thanks, glad I could help!

  • Jailbroken1phon2

    Wow

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.oyedele John Oyedele

    @Justinbalog:disqus when using HRD do you still need to set your exposure per the 1st tutorial?