Improve Your Photos with Smartphone HDR

August 25, 2017
smartphone HDR
A regular exposure (left) lacks the detail of a smartphone HDR image (right) in the bright skies and dark trees.

Bright bluebird skies sprawl above a dark, craggy mountain peak. Glistening snow drifts along the shadowy forest’s edge. The same natural contrasts that make outdoor photography so spectacular can create a major technical challenge: How do you capture detail in both the brightest and the darkest elements of a scene? Fortunately, a standard smartphone feature can help you eliminate blown-out skies and dark shadows: high dynamic range (HDR) photography.

A high dynamic range photograph is a composite of multiple exposures. One exposure captures detail in the brightest areas (the contours of a cloud, for example), while another reveals detail in the darkest areas (such as a forest’s understory). Additional exposures record the midtones that fall between those extremes. HDR can also help you produce better images in low-light situations. The setting forces the phone to take shots at the extreme ends of the exposure spectrum rather than focusing on the murky midtones that dominate during dawn and dusk, or in heavily shaded areas.

On iOS, the HDR setting is located at the top of the screen within the camera app. Tap “HDR” and then “On,” and you’re ready to shoot. On most Android devices, the HDR setting is located in the Shooting Mode menu within Settings. Once you’ve activated the HDR function, focus your image, snap a shot, and your phone creates the final composite image automatically.

The camera will take all of the exposures in a fraction of a second, so you can hand-hold your phone without ending up with a blurry image. That said, HDR works best with a steady camera, so consider investing in a small phone tripod or simply propping your phone against a rock or a tree for the sharpest image.

Search AMC Outdoors and Blogs

Search for:

Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, contributes to the trail-running blog Running Wild.