iPhone Photography Basics – HDR

There’s a type of photography that was once never thought possible on a smartphone and that’s HDR, or High Dynamic Range photography. Dynamic Range is the range between the lightest and darkest parts of an image. The camera, any camera, cannot “see” the dynamic range  that a human eye can see so in order to capture the same essence of a scene that we ourselves see, we need to do a little extra with the camera. And this can be accomplished quite easily or in a more complex manner.

The simple way is to enable the HDR feature of your phone’s camera. This can be found at the top of the screen when the camera is turned on. The native HDR function in your phone will take two photos, one exposed for the highlight areas, the other exposed of the shadow areas. The phone will choose the best parts of the two frames and put them together to produce one well exposed image.

To take this process further and to achieve noticeably better results there are many apps available for HDR work. The one I think works best is vividHDR, which is iPhone only, but there are plenty available for Android devices. vividHDR takes 5 bracketed exposures to produce its HDR photos, and while its best to use a tripod for this type of work, vividHDR does a great job with image alignment when shooting hand held. Also with vividHDR you are given 5 choices of image renders to save from. They are Natural HDR, Lively (a little saturated), Dramatic (more saturation and contrast), Black and White, and Faded (decreased saturation).

One of my favourite camera apps, ProCamera for the iPhone, has vividHDR built in. The following images illustrate how a normal shot looks compared to a Lively HDR from ProCamera.


A Quick Guide to Your iPhone’s Camera

Smartphone makers do a good job of making their camera apps work a lot like real cameras. Let’s take a look at the basic camera functions, and I should mention that I’m an iPhone guy but most phones will have buttons that are similar to what I will outline here.

I’ll touch on a couple of these features in future posts.


Icon Description
Shutter Button Tap to take the photo or tap and hold for burst mode
Filters Give your photos a creative look or make them black and white
Camera Switcher Switches between front (selfie/video calling) and back camera (the main camera)
Self Timer 3 modes: short timer, long timer and off
* Live Photos This is an iPhone feature I’ll cover in a later issue
** HDR This will also be featured in a future issue
Flash Control Turns the flash on, off or in Auto



Milky Way – Attempt 1

When I sold my Canon gear I knew that going all iPhone with my photography would have its challenges. And boy, does it ever. One of my goals with iPhoneography is to get a shot of the Milky Way. I knew there was hope in achieving it because I saw a post about it online. It was done with an Android phone, the One+ One, by a chap named Ian Norman.

There was one advantage for Norman using an Android phone. He had the luxury of being able to make his captures in RAW file format, plus he had an app that would allow him to expose with an ISO setting of 3200; the iPhone 6s has a maximum ISO setting of 2000. That make a big difference when shooting the Milky Way.

I tried a couple of apps with my first outing. Knowing that Slow Shutter Cam has a Bulb setting, I went to it first. As soon as I initiated the exposure, the screen, which shows a live view of the exposure, had a strange grid of what looked like focus points possibly (I really don’t know what they were) and the noise was like nothing I’ve seen before. The image was completely unrecognizable. I knew then and there that Slow Shutter wasn’t going to be the answer.

Next up was Camera+. I’ve had great success with it shooting at night but with the ISO dialled down to the unheard-of 0.01 that it’s capable of doing. My night shots are pretty much noise free. Well, of course this wasn’t going to work of any type of astrophotography so I tried a shot at the highest ISO setting of 2000 for 30 seconds, but no luck. The image was just overblown to a white screen. I was beat. I knew it wasn’t happening that night.

I don’t regret getting rid of my Canon even after this catastrophic failure. I now know that the iPhone 6s just simply cannot get a shot of the Milky Way with anything I have onboard. I won’t give up though. And I may never get one with the 6s, but I still get a new camera, er, iPhone every two years so who knows, maybe the sensor in the next one will have the capability. Oh, and I know flat out that the quality of any type of night time sky shot I’m able to muster up isn’t going to be publish worthy. I just want to able to do it.

I was going to end this post with the previous paragraph but I don’t want to leave without posting some kind of photo so I thought I’d post one of the local shoreline. This is the type of shooting I’ve been doing more of lately and have had good success with. This was with Camera+ at ISO 2 for 15 seconds. Further editing was done in Photos on the Mac including the Intensify extension from Macphun Software.

East Shore Boat Launch