How and When to Take HDR Photos on Your iPhone

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and is a great iPhone camera feature for improving the exposure of your photos. It allows you to capture more balanced exposures in high contrast scenes such as landscapes. As a landscape photographer, I shoot HDR photos often. With the HDR feature you can capture more color and detail in both the shadow areas and highlight areas, like a dark foreground and the brighter sky.

With the HDR feature turned on, your iPhone’s camera will take three exposures simultaneously—an exposure for good detail in the shadow area, an exposure for detail in the highlight area, and an overall exposure. The three exposures will be combined to give you a greater range of detail overall.

To turn on the HDR feature on in the native iPhone Camera App, simply tap the HDR option at the top of the screen and select the on setting. When HDR is enabled, your iPhone will automatically capture HDR photos whenever you press the shutter button. Because your camera is taking three exposures at once, it’s sometimes easy for your camera to move during the capture. That’s why it’s important to hold your iPhone very still when taking HDR photos.

Although the native iPhone camera has an HDR function, I usually turn to a dedicated HDR camera app for better results. My HDR camera app of choice is VividHDR. The image below was photographed at daybreak using  VividHDR. On the left is the non-HDR photo (or regular exposure.) Because I was shooting into the rising sun, I didn’t get much detail in the shadow areas. The image on the right is the HDR photo. As you can see, I was able to get great overall detail in both the shadow areas and the sky.

This image was photographed using the VividHDR app. The low dynamic exposure is on the left, and the HDR exposure is on the right.

When to use HDR

The best time to use the HDR feature is for contrasty lighting situations, such as very early morning, or end of the day. It’s also useful when photographing interiors—for example, when you’re shooting into a bright window and would like detail in both the interior space and window.

Want to learn more? On June 3-4, I’m teaching a 2-day Mastering iPhone Photography workshop at my Baltimore studio. During the workshop, you’ll learn iPhone-specific image capture techniques, including HDR, and I’ll demo the app VividHDR.

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