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How to create stunning HDR images with iPhone: iPhoneography examples

Cell phone and HDR? You must be kidding!

Yes, this is our first tutorial on how to shoot with iPhone. While working with Hasselblad, 4×5 Cambo and Canon cameras in studio, I still enjoy the world outside the studio. And I do this without taking any cameras with me. Oh wait, I always have an iPhone!

If someone would ask me this question few years ago, I would laugh: High Dynamic Range photography involves camera with ability to dial exposure compensation, a tripod and some expensive post-processing software and really good skills with it. While all of this are still required for creating a good “commercial grade” HDR images, modern smartphones has so much CPU power as well as good glass installed on their cameras that most of them are capable of delivering good Point-and shoot quality images.

Meaning, there is a way to get a pretty decent HDR shots without any equipment, right from the… iPhone in our case. Below are few examples of such images:

iPhoneotography examples

iPhone photography tutorial example

HDR with iphone tutorial by-alex-koloskov iphonephotography


HDR with iphone tutorial iphonephotography

All these images were composed without a tripod and any special lens for the iPhone, and while they won’t match the quality of DSLR when printed, all of them are great for posting on blogs, Facebook, Google plus and other places where we share our “lifestyle” photos. And, quite honestly, iPhone shots could be better than many DSLR shots I see on my facebook stream.

What tools are needed for such iPhoneography?

  • iPhone 4S

First of all, why iPhone, not Android? I was a long term user of Android devices, had most of them including the latest Google Nexus, and can tell you: there was no smartphone (at least in Verizon Wireless stores) which can beat iPhone camera quality. I do not know what special Apple has in iPhone 4S camera, but it delivers an amazing (for the phone) quality images. Do not get me wrong: being tech geek, I love Android world, but here I am talking as a photographer:-)

  • Software
There are several HDR camera applications with similar functionality, and I was using one called Pro HDR.
HDR-Pro-iphonephotography-application Pro HDR among the “true” HDR cameras: Meaning it captures multiple exposures and merges them into one tone-mapped image. iPhone version allows photographer to select the exposure metering point, while Android version let only to set Ev step between the shots, which is not really work well in many situations.
i camera HDR iCamera HDR  is another, very similar to Pro HDR camera application. It takes 2 shots with selective exposure metering each and merges into one image. I feel like it slightly faster than Pro HDR when shooting these 2 exposures, which is plus.

The Shooting Technique

As for any HDR shot, photographer suppose to shoot several exposure bracketed images. Each shot would have a correct exposure for each zone (google “zone system“), and when merged into one image, the technique could produce a wide dynamic range photo, without overexposed highlights or too dark shadows.

With PRO HDR, the shooting technique is this:

1. Selecting exposure metering points

Select two point for exposure metering, the brightest and the darkest one in the given frame. I usually select the sky and the deepest visible shade (blue squares):

Holding iPhone as steady as possible (using a mini-tripod is a good idea, but I doubt you will always carry one), press shutter button, and camera will make 2 shots:

2. Capture two exposures metered by selected points

Short exposure, -Ev

Long exposure, +Ev
On a first image we have captured a sky, the building on a second. s you see, there was no way to get all the dynamic range of the scene in one shot. This is why I never considering to use applications which use one shot to create pseudo-HDR images.

3. Adjust HDR image using PRO HDR application controls

I usually do not touch these sliders: if exposure metering points were selected properly, the default settings would provide a nice result without any adjustment. However, in some cases the image needs to be adjusted. Note: more you adjust the image, less quality the final photo will have.
HDR iphonephotography tutorial by alex koloskov

4. Save the final image

It will be saved into your camera stream. It is useful to turn “keep both: original and final” option on (under HDR Pro settings). In this case you will always have an original 2 shots for any future use.

The final iPhonePhotography HDR image

HDR with iphone iphonephotography tutorial-by-alex-koloskov the final imagexposure

One more example of the shooting and processing HDR using iPhone 4S and Pro HDR application. I purposely selected photos done in extreme light condition, where there was no way to capture not over or under exposed image without HDR technique.
  1. Selecting the metering points:HDR-with-iphone-tutorial iphonephotography
  2. Snapping 2 shots:

HDR-with-iphone-tutorial-by-alex-koloskov-dark-shot-in -seqiuence
Short Exposure, -Ev

HDR with iphone tutorial iphonephotography bright
Long exposure, +Ev
  • Adjustments:
    HDR with iphone tutorial-by alex-koloskov iphonephotography 4s
  • The final image:HDR-with-iphone-tutorial-by-alex-koloskov-final-exampleAs you see, because of the extreme lighting conditions, the photo came up not as good as a previous one, there are bright haze-like glow on the edge of dark and bright areas. Plus, lots of noise on top of the frame.
    However, even with this glitch it looks funny, and considering that it was made in 1 minute with little iPhone, I would call it success: I leave technically perfect images for the studio:-)

Another possible issues with multi-exposure shots:

When it is windy outside, or your hands are trembling too much, you may get something similar to this:

HDR iphone tutorial sample iphonephotography image

A slight ghosting appeared at the foreground, causing blur: software was not able to merge “moving parts” of the image. With a little bit more luck and self-control the second multi-shot I took came up better, but still with ghosting because of the wind (look at the right):

HDR iphone tutorial sample problems image

The similar issues may appear if you’ll have kids running in a composition: software may not be able to completely remove “ghosts”, and people may appear twice, semi-transparent. This is why I use this HDR technique for landscaping, using  default iPhone camera application or Camera + (my another favorite camera application) for life-style shots.

Hope it was useful for those who never tried this stuff before:-) Post your questions and comments, next time I’ll explain how to take these type of photos with your iPhone:

Featured iPhone Photography Gallery




Check out these cool iPhone gadgets to improve your iPhoneography skills:

Olloclip 3-in-1 Lens for iPhone 4 & iPhone 4S
Olloclip 3-in-1 Lens for iPhone 4 & iPhone 4S

alm mCAM For iPhone 4 / 4S
alm mCAM For iPhone 4 / 4S

Magnet Mount Conversion Wide Angle & Macro Lens for iPhone 4
Magnet Mount Conversion Wide Angle & Macro Lens for iPhone 4

Magnet Mount Conversion Fisheye Lens for iPhone 4
Magnet Mount Conversion Fisheye Lens for iPhone 4

Joby Gorillamobile For iPhone 4
Joby Gorillamobile For iPhone 4

HHI Camera Kit with 8X Camera Zoom Lens with Mini Tripod
HHI Camera Kit with 8X Camera Zoom Lens with Mini Tripod

iPro Lens System for iPhone 4/4S
iPro Lens System for iPhone 4/4S

Create Great iPhone Photos: Apps, Tips, Tricks, and Effects
Create Great iPhone Photos: Apps, Tips, Tricks, and Effects

Stay tuned!

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Practical Tabletop Photography with iPhone

This course is aimed at showing you how you can get professional looking commercial photographs using just a smart phone and a handful of do-it-yourself items.
You will not need a lot of fancy equipment or other expensive items to take professionally looking photos of your craft, merchandise or just for fun!

Learn how to take images like this with your phone:

3 responses on "How to create stunning HDR images with iPhone: iPhoneography examples"

  1. Unrelated to HDR, but worthy of your attention because it shoots the BEST pictures I’ve ever seen on iOS, and it’s bloody smart.

    Average Camera Pro – http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/average-camera-pro/id415577873?mt=8

    AVG Cam allows you to take 8-128 pictures in rapid succession, which are then averaged out and mathematically processed so any semblance of noise is removed. You can even prepare a noise fingerprint specific to *your* device/camera for optimal performance.

    The app is extremely useful for noise-free pictures in daylight, as well as capturing amazing images in low-light situations (on a tripod or stabilized, not in-hand). What’s more, the 128 picture mode is ideal to remove objects/people from busy scenes (providing they move fast enough).

    Important: by default it picks a lower resolution to speed up the shooting process (128 pix at low resolution can take up to 30 seconds on an iPad3).
    One can force higher resolution images in the main “settings” screen on your iOS device.

    I think if you were to review this app, it would definitely result in a post. It beats my 7D in low-light situations. Yes, it’s that amazing.

    Again, I’m not en employee, just a major fan.

  2. I have installed every HDR app I could find, and my favorite (iPhone and iPad) is HDR Fusion (today on sale for $0.99 I just see, a steal)
    (at present, 96 ratings, 4.5 stars)

    Major benefits:
    – automatic selection of metering points, less fiddling -> better pictures
    – extremely fast (shooting and processing), and as a result very little “ghosting”
    – despite the speed, there’s a manual mode, ie shoot first, process later (you can select the “best” processing mode, which is slightly slower)
    – you can set whether to auto-save the result or the original images
    – allows you to select images from your camera roll (I import pix from my 7D)
    – it has a self-timer

    – no fine-grained control over HDR process, unlike some of the apps mentioned here
    (I find I rarely need it, but if you save both source images, you can improve upon the HDR in Photoshop)

    note: I do not work for the company, just a fan

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