HDR Questions from an iPhone Photog

18 Aug

On our way to lunch today, my co-worker Melissa told us she was thinking about buying an HDR camera, but they cost thousands of dollars. My iPhone 4, which I use for all my photos, has an HDR setting. Not knowing what it was, I tried it out a few times. I didn’t notice any difference in quality and it took forever to save the photo, so I turned HDR off and forgot about it.

Melissa explained that HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and that HDR merges multiple exposures and that it’s good when you have a wide range of light in the shot. Sounds good to me.

So I had to try it out RIGHT THEN with side-by-side comparisons. Here’s the back entrance to our lunch spot, La Bodeguita del Medio. The non-HDR version is on the left, HDR is on the right. I see now that the leaves on the hedge and the blue wall, white siding, and sky behind it are not overexposed, even though the dark entry is still properly exposed. Much better with HDR.

But notice what happens when there’s motion in the frame. In HDR, Michelle becomes a shadow of herself, with foliage overlaid on her face (click to zoom in). Cool effect, but not something I’ll use much.

Curious, I go online and check out gallery after gallery of HDR images and find lots of dramatic landscapes with clouds and severe architecture, like this one of the Golden Gate Bridge from vgm8383

Golden Gate HDR

Now, I’m no photographer. My only cameras are my iPhone 4 and my GoPro HD, the latter purchased because I couldn’t figure out how turn my iPhone into a helmet-cam. But I’m not so sure about HDR photography.

What do you think? Is HDR a great technology or is HDR to photography what Thomas Kinkade is to painting?


Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Other Stuff


6 responses to “HDR Questions from an iPhone Photog

  1. matt the rat

    August 19, 2011 at 3:17 am

    Good news! HDR is usually a software effect and free for everyone. Photoshop started making HDR easy for everyone who buys PS in 2005; but I’ve used “the GIMP” open-source software for all my photo editing for years.

    Although some cameras can do it on the fly through hardware and firmware, anyone with a digital camera that has “M” (manual) mode, a tripod/rock/fence/bike seat, and a computer can make an HDR photo. Specific to your software, you just need 2, 3, 4, or 5 photos with intentionally varied exposures of the same subject; just don’t move the camera between shots.

    Trivia information: The concept to merge multiple exposure film negatives has been around since the 1850’s and for digital photos since 1997.

  2. Ed

    August 19, 2011 at 7:59 am

    HDR is really cool. It’s not that hard to do with a Photoshop plug-in. You can feed it three pics, one underexposed, one of regular exposure and one overexposed and the filter will merge them all together.

  3. ladyfleur

    August 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    You guys are both way to techy for me!

    Matt, the iPhone has no manual mode, and I have no idea how to set it up on a tripod or tripod-like item.

    Ed, I’d get the photoshop plug-in, but the IT guy at work just quit… 🙂

    Both of you, do you have a link to a shot you’ve done with the techniques described? I’m curious now.

  4. matt the rat

    August 19, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    if you have a camera that does HDR in firmware then it is easiest to just let it do it’s thing. Else, I think the iPhone can do it by tapping the bright sky for one shot, then tapping a properly exposed object, last tapping the darkest part of the shot .
    (haven’t tried it:

    You can put your iPhone on a tripod. Just use the google machine (“iphone tripod”). I really like the idea of this one that popped up on kickstarter months ago:

    I still think that you should stick with the HDR feature within the iPhone.

    I dont have an iphone so, here are a couple of images ive made from my shooting in Perth with a standard digital camera:

  5. Rick Warner

    August 22, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Like most techniques and technologies in photography it is another tool to use when appropriate. There were times on our recent trip to the Dolomites that I was wishing for a way to deal with the wide range in light values in scenes; I did not have an HDR capable camera so had to choose the best of the bad. I think it is a ‘nice to have’ for certain situations, but definitely not something to break the bank to get or, worse, try using for every photograph.

  6. ladyfleur

    August 22, 2011 at 9:59 am

    I completely agree, Rick. I think it works best for landscapes and high contrast shots, like outdoors in the middle of the day. With my iPhone, the landscapes never turn out well, so I don’t even bother taking them anymore. But I will try the HDR setting again when I can’t avoid shooting when there’s high contrast.


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