How and When to Use the HDR Feature on Your iPhone?

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If you’re interested in snapping photos, you’ve more than likely heard the term HDR — or high dynamic range — photography.

And these days, you can actually enable the HDR feature on your iPhone to capture stunning scenes that would otherwise appear to be too light or too dark. If you’re curious to hear how it all works and how you can utilize it in your own photography, read on.

HDR Photography

What is HDR Photography?

In essence, the dynamic range refers to the difference between the lightest lights and the darkest darks in your image. Despite how perfectly you’ve tried to expose your photo, certain scenes will inevitably be blown out or filled with flat shadows.

Capturing images in these types of situations can prove to be frustrating — though luckily, today, HDR-style photos allow photographers to capture both the lights and the darks of the image. Through HDR processing, photographers have the ability to find the balance in these types of shooting situations and achieve the end result they desire.

HDR images that you’ll see on the web can range from accurate portrayals of the natural landscape as the human eye sees it, to extreme versions of high definition scenes that seem to defy reality. The images can often be intense and vibrant with a different look and fine-art feel — the kind that brings you into a surreal or whimsical world.

So, How Does it Work?

Essentially, HDR photos are created by taking three separate photos of the same scene at different exposures. In doing so, you’re able to capture images that range from bright to medium bright, too dark. Then, post-processing works to combine each of these images and bring out the details in them all. To make it simpler, here is how exposure merging works on desktop software Aurora HDR:

How HDR works

EV stands for Exposure Value

This process of editing, combining and adjusting the ratios of lights to darks allows for experimentation and creativity (and culminates in an end result that is otherwise unattainable).

How to Shoot HDR Photos on Your iPhone?

Many photographers choose to use their DSLR cameras to capture HDR images — but what most of us don’t know, is that we can actually achieve incredible HDR images on our iPhones, too.

The camera app on the iPhone offers uniquely simple ways to take photos in a variety of lighting situations. Most of the time, the lighting, and the focus can be adjusted by just giving your screen a tap — but there are certain times when you might notice this just doesn’t work for the scene.

If the scene itself is super dark or bright, it will prove to be difficult to capture with your iPhone — and that’s where the HDR feature proves to be extremely useful. As soon as you’ve enabled HDR, your iPhone will actually do the work of shooting multiple images with different exposures. Then, it will work to combine them into one photo with appropriately proportioned areas of contrast.

Camera HDR Section

To shoot an HDR photo on your iPhone, open your camera app and tap the button that reads HDR at the top and center of the screen to turn it on. Next, find your focal point (a person, a plate of food, a soccer ball) to make sure that that portion of your image is exposed properly. Keep in mind that your phone’s flash will be off when you’re utilizing HDR, so you might want to brighten an overly dark scene with some other form of light.

Then, snap away. Your phone will save the original photo as the HDR version in your camera roll.

When Should You & Shouldn’t Use the HDR iPhone Feature?

HDR works best to balance scenes of high contrast (remember, the lightest lights and the darkest darks).

When objects are in direct sunlight, shadows will be prevalent and HDR will work beautifully to balance the lights and shadows. If you’re photographing landscapes, the contrast between the dark portions of the land and the bright elements of the sky brings forth a great chance to experiment with HDR. In scenes with backlighting where the background is bright, HDR will bring light to the foreground of the image so that the overall end result doesn’t look incorrectly exposed.

It’s important to keep in mind that although the HDR feature on your iPhone is an incredible resource to use, it’s not the perfect fix-it for every situation. HDR doesn’t work well when you’re attempting to capture movement. So — perhaps it’s not the best choice when you’re looking to capture your son’s basketball game or your best friend’s epic surf shots.

In any event, if you’re choosing not to use a tripod for your phone, always make sure your hand is steady for the scene so that the images can align correctly.

Exploring HDR on Different iPhone Versions

Depending on what iPhone you currently have (or plan to have soon) snapping your HDR photos differs slightly.

When it comes to the iPhone 7, 7 Plus and earlier models, you’ll launch the camera and tap to choose from the option of HDR (as we mentioned above). Then, choose from the choices of auto, off, or on. With the ease of auto, you can leave it up to your phone whether or not the particular scene needs the help of HDR to balance out its light and dark elements.

With an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus, the HDR button is no longer visible from the camera app. In iOS 11, the default is to have the HDR feature turned on. If you don’t want this to be the case, simply go to Settings, Camera, and Scroll until you find the HDR section. From there, you can choose from the option of having Auto HDR either on or off.

Camera HDR Settings

Whether you’re utilizing HDR photography to capture portraits, landscapes, or simple scenes that would otherwise appear to be too dark or too light, knowing when and how to enable the feature on your iPhone will certainly come in handy.

The interest in high dynamic range photography is on the rise for photographers of all sorts — from creative and experimental fine art photographers to practical image creators looking to capture the scene as their eye sees it.

We wish you the best of luck on your own journey with HDR images and iPhoneography ahead. We’re sure you’ll create something magnificent.

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