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HDR Photography: a quick and easy guide

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography has a long history on the iPhone, having been introduced shortly after the release of the iPhone 4. But is it still necessary? And when should you use it? Let’s take a look.

What is HDR photography exactly?

The dynamic range of an image is the entire range of brightness from dark to light. However, digital¬†imaging sensors’ dynamic range is simply too limited to capture it.

Enter HDR, which acts to balance the shadows in a photograph with its highlights, so that both are equally represented. In the iOS Camera app, it does this by taking three different shots with one tap of the shutter, just milliseconds apart. It captures shots across the full dynamic range and then automatically stitches them together and spits out one well-balanced image.

When and why you should take HDR photographs

There are a handful of situations when HDR performs at its best. These include:

Landscape images

The thing about the sky is that the sun is generally in it. So to balance the extreme brightness of natural sunlight with a duller landmass, use HDR. It will produce a photograph where a beautiful blue sky won’t get washed out.

HDR off: see how the sky bleaches out to white while the subject is fairly dark?

HDR on: the sky’s detail is clearer and the shadows on the vehicle are more balanced

Direct sunlight

Again, the sun takes us to an extreme end of the range, and when objects or individuals sit directly within the path of sunlight, shadows are abundant. To balance your image so neither element takes center stage, use HDR.


Similarly, if you position someone in front of the path of the sun, then the iPhone can produce a photo where the individual is represented as barely more than a silhouette. HDR will provide a balance to ensure an exposed subject, and some beautifully artistic rays of sunshine.

How to take HDR photographs on the iPhone

Taking HDR photographs couldn’t be simpler.

1. Open the Camera app.

2. Tap ‘HDR‘ along the top menu bar (sitting in between the flash and the Live Photos icons).

3. This menu will open up where you can either select HDR to automatically apply when conditions dictate in the same way the flash can be set to auto, or you can manually keep it on at all times, or off.

To turn HDR on simply open the Camera app and tap HDR

Now when you take a regular photo, your iPhone will capture a fuller dynamic range. However, the iPhone is set by default to store both a HDR image, and an original.

Saving space

If you want to save storage space, you can stop the device from saving the original image so you just keep the HDR photo. To do so:

1. Open the Settings app.

2. Scroll down and tap on the Photos & Camera section.

3. Go to HDR near the bottom.

4. Toggle the option for saving an original photo.