Using HDR With Your Cell Phone

One of the things I love about my iPhone 6s camera is the High Dynamic Range feature (HDR). When you set your camera to use HDR, it exposes three images when you press the shutter button: high, medium, and just right.

The dynamic range of a scene refers to how different the brightest parts of the scene (the highlights) are from the darkest parts of the scene (the shadows). So without HDR, the exposure isn’t balanced throughout the image – instead it is biased towards either the shadows or the highlights.

This is important because our human eyes can see a much higher dynamic range than any camera, including cell cameras. That means that when I took this image, I could see the details of these ospreys against the bright sky because I was able to even out the light. But my camera can’t make these distinctions.

So for the purpose of this concept, let’s look at this photo that was taken with my Canon, using a 270mm lens. ( Cell phones are good, but they aren’t capable of taking this kind of image…yet!)

To expose this image correctly, I metered off the green trees nearby and set my exposure for that reading.


Here’s another image taken in the same series. In this one, I let my camera do the thinking. Uh-oh.


 I can use Photoshop to try and correct this image,  or I can set my camera for the HDR feature, and let it combine the best characteristics of the highlight and shadow areas and create one image in which both the bird and the sky look great.


So how to use HDR? You’ll find that option at the top of your camera screen. Just turn it on when you want to use it, and turn it off when you don’t. One caution. It takes longer to take an HDR photo than a regular one since it has to capture three separate images at different exposures. Therefore, it’s important to hold your phone very still. Obviously this is a lot easier with a scenic image than it is with moving subjects.

Note that HDR photos don’t always look better than regular ones, so save both the HDR image and the normally exposed version. Go to Settings, select Photos & Camera, and turn on Keep Normal Photo.

Play around with this feature and see how you like it.

Good shooting.


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