With iOS 4.1, Apple added an HDR (high dynamic range) mode to the iPhone 4’s back-facing camera. When turned on, the mode quickly snaps three images at different exposures and then combines them for an image that shows more details in the shadows and highlights.
It’s tempting to leave it turned on all the time. After all, you can set the camera to save a regular copy of each photo, along with the HDR version (Settings > Photos). But each HDR photo takes about five seconds to save, and saving an additional, larger version of each image takes up memory fast.
Solve your time and space issues by learning when to use the iPhone’s HDR setting.
When to use HDR
This setting can do wonders for many common photo situations.
Landscapes. If a landscape shot has bright sky above the horizon and darker foreground below, the HDR mode will combine the best of both areas. It also works great on night-time cityscapes.
However, the mode falls short when used on shots of sunsets. By attempting to tone down the overexposed sun, the HDR setting removes some of the sunset’s beautiful red and orange colouring.
Outdoor portraits. The sun’s harsh light can make for unflattering portraits. It casts strong shadows and bounces off skin to accentuate shiny spots. Use the iPhone’s HDR mode to minimise these extremes and create an evenly lit portrait.
If a subject is completely backlit, tap to focus on the darkest part of the person’s face. After you take the shot, the HDR photo will combine the properly exposed person with a toned-down background.
Editing with apps. If you plan on using an app to edit your image after you take it, an HDR shot will contain more information to work with. If you like the even exposure of an HDR photo, but are disappointed with its dull colouring, you can increase the saturation in a full editing app such as Photogene or Adobe Photoshop Express.
When not to use HDR
Even though HDR can improve many iPhone photos, that doesn’t mean it is always the best choice. Here are some times to switch it off.
Capturing motion. In HDR mode, the iPhone camera takes three photos in quick succession. If you’re taking a photo of a fast-moving subject, or if you move the iPhone while shooting, the final HDR image will show ghosting – that’s when the images aren’t aligned and objects appear in multiple places.
When contrast is key. A good photo may create a sense of drama by contrasting light and dark. HDR shots will decrease an image’s contrast, diminishing its impact.
Capturing vivid colours. HDR can bring colours back into blown-out or dark areas. But when photographing brightly coloured subjects that are properly exposed, the iPhone’s HDR mode results in a disappointing desaturation. If the allure of your image is that it shows vivid colours, turn off the HDR mode.