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iPhone cameras are really great. They allow us to capture life’s every moment as they happen, and even give us the chance to be “professional” photographers with powerful tools. All iPhones have the capability to capture HDR images.
If you’ve never heard of high dynamic range (HDR), just know that HDR images feature greater detail in the bright and dark areas of a picture, so nothing looks under or overexposed.
Let’s dive deeper into how you can take stunning HDR photos with just your iPhone.
What Is HDR on the iPhone?
When you shoot in HDR on your iPhone, you actually take a combination of three shots that end up stitched together to create a single HDR image.
These shots are all taken within milliseconds of each other. Thus, it’s not the best for moving or action shots. For best results, you should use a tripod, but HDR photos still come out well if you’ve got a steady hand.
How to Enable HDR Capture on iPhone
There are two ways to capture HDR images on your iPhone. If you want your device to automatically determine when it uses HDR:
- Go to Settings > Camera > Auto HDR, and make sure the toggle is on (green).
- You can also enable the Keep Normal Photo option if you want to keep the regular, non-HDR image as well. This lets you pick and choose what you want to share or edit. Keep in mind that this does take up more space, so it’s not a good option if you’re constantly running low on storage.
For those who want to use HDR on a case-by-case basis, make sure the above setting is off. Then just follow these steps as needed:
- Launch the Camera app.
- Tap on the HDR option along the top of the camera, between the Flash and Live Photos settings.
- Select Auto, On, or Off. If you turn on HDR, the text becomes yellow to indicate that it’s enabled.
When to Use HDR for iPhone Photography
The best use cases for HDR photography are landscapes, objects in direct sunlight, and low-light or backlit scenes.
Landscapes are likely the biggest reason for using HDR. They make amazing photos like beautiful mountains set up against a blue sky look even better.
When you take a photo of a landscape, such as the ones above, you’ll notice that there’s often a lot of contrast between sky and land. Usually, you’ll end up focusing on one or the other, which causes the other part of the image to be under or overexposed. (Think dark canyons against a bright blue sky, or vivid canyons with a white, washed-out sky).
As you use HDR to capture those beautiful landscapes, you can keep the sky detail intact without making the land parts look too dark, and vice-versa.
Portraits in sunlight are another great use for HDR. While good lighting is a key aspect in photography, having too much light can be a problem. When you have a lot of harsh light, such as sunlight on someone’s face, for instance, it can cause harsh shadows, glare, or other unflattering traits that no one wants in their photos. HDR helps even everything out.
Low light and backlit scenes are another frequent use-case for HDR. When you’re trying to take a photo of something that has a lot of backlight, the rest of the image ends up looking a bit too dark
HDR comes to the rescue by brightening up the foreground without washing out those well-lit parts of the scene, so everything looks good.
When Not to Use HDR for iPhone Photography
While HDR is great for certain moments, there are times when you shouldn’t use it as well.
As mentioned earlier, HDR photos on the iPhone are three photos taken within milliseconds of each other that end up stitched together. This means if your subject moves (or may move), you’re increasing the likelihood of getting a blurry image.
Photography, especially iPhone or mobile photography, is an art form. Sometimes you purposely want high-contrast images, such as shadows or silhouettes, to express or convey emotion. For these types of images, you should disable HDR.
When photographing vivid colors, you don’t need HDR either. Even though HDR is great at bringing out colors in image that are too light or too dark, if the subject is already bright and colorful, HDR may just wash those vivid hues out.
How to View HDR Photos on iPhone
Unfortunately, while the iPhone creates albums for pretty much every other mode (Portrait mode, selfies, panoramas, screenshots, videos, etc.), it does not create an album for HDR images. This is a little annoying, but it’s not too difficult to see your HDR photos when needed.
To view HDR photos, you’ll have to go into your normal Camera Roll. It’s easy to spot HDR images if you have the Keep Normal Photo setting on, as they’ll look like a lot of duplicate images.
If that’s the case, the HDR image is always the second copy, and it has HDR in the top-left corner. If that setting is off, then you’ll only see one copy of that HDR image.
The Best HDR Apps for iPhone
While the iPhone’s native camera has a built-in HDR mode, it’s not the most powerful option if you want to commit to HDR.
For those who want to take gorgeous HDR photographs while pushing the limits of the iPhone’s photography technology, Hydra is the app for the job.
Hydra’s main feature is its unique HDR capture mode. When enabled, Hydra captures much more light than the standard iPhone camera by taking 60 frames and merging them all into one high-quality image. Up to 20 photos capture once you tap the shutter button, so Hydra is able to handle even the most difficult low-light situations you throw at it.
And for those who prefer to capture video, Hydra’s Video-HDR mode uses single-tone mapping along with device-specific sensor modes to create amazing videos.
To top it all off, even if your device is capable of only 8 megapixels, Hydra’s High Res mode lets you produce images of up to 32 megapixels in quality, so no detail’s lost.
Download: Hydra ($5)
Pro HDR X
When you want top-notch quality in your HDR photos, you can’t go wrong with Pro HDR X.
As you use Pro HDR X, the app utilizes three full-resolution exposures to generate your HDR image, which means maximum dynamic range with minimal noise. The app analyzes everything in real time and provides 10 additional stops of dynamic range, giving you plenty of options to choose from.
While you can capture new images with Pro HDR X, it also includes advanced photo library editing for single-image editing or merging HDRs together. There’s even support for both the front and rear-facing cameras, live updating sliders, filters, text captions, and much more. This is your all-in-one iPhone studio for all HDR and photo editing needs.
Download: Pro HDR X ($2)
Get Out and Take Great HDR iPhone Photos
HDR is only one of the many modes that your iPhone is capable of shooting in, but it’s one of the most useful. It’s also enabled automatically with the newest iPhone models, so you don’t even have to turn it on manually before snapping away.
For even better shots, don’t forget to check out our iPhone camera tips for more professional-looking photos.