Ah, Sunny days! We love them in Southern California but they cause significant problems with digital cameras of all kinds because of the limited range of exposure. You can see this effect on a bright day when you are trying to take a picture of something in shadow and the sky blows out to pure white. You lose the cool clouds or mountain peaks behind the subject. Or you are in a dim room and when you take the picture, the image is very dark or you lose the wonderful ambiance because the flash went off and blew it all to white. What is a person to do?
There is a trick in photography called High Dynamic Range or HDR for short. It is a method of taking multiple images seqentially at the same time with something like one stop of exposure difference between them. The range will go from dark to light and then the different exposures are stacked and blended to keep the highlights and the shadows in the final image. Many people will overachieve and end up with a cartoon like effect rather than a realistic image. This is strictly a function of taste and not a fault of the technique. The technique of HDR mimics what our eyes do naturally by letting us humans to see both shadows and highlights at the same time without us having to think about it.
This image of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland shows off what HDR can do for your photography. This image was taken during a very bright morning and normally when you exposed for the white building and trees, you would blow out the sky. But I took several images and used an application called “HDR Efex Pro 2” which handles the loading and merging of the images. It also gives a nice dashboard to adjust the final image to taste.
But I have an iPhone or other smartphone you say? What can I do? As it turns out, there are several HDR apps available for both iPhones and Droids. I happen to use an iPhone and I use an app called “TrueHDR” which will shoot three images and then merge them on my iPhone in just a few minutes. I can then edit a bit more if I want.
In this image, you can see the typical shot you would get with the iPhone without using HDR. In trying to get the shadows, the highlights blow out. The colors look a bit washed out also.
And here is what the final image looked like after TrueHDR blended the images and I tweaked up the saturation a bit. The beauty of this is that I was able to shoot and then process the image while walking to the next ride. I didn’t need my computer, laptop or extra software loaded up. I was able to process and adjust my images while munching on some treats and standing in line for a ride. How cool is that?
You can easily see the marked improvement in the final image by using TrueHDR. You can do even more by shooting on a more powerful camera like a Nikon D700 or other DSLR. In the next image, I used a very high shutter speed to not just stop the action of the falling log but to keep it from moving too much between frames. The movement of something between frames in HDR causes “ghosts” to appear and the closer the images are, the easier it is to fix the ghosts. This is a feature of using a better camera and more powerful software (so far) then the amazing iPhone 🙂 As you can see, the riders while in deep shadow are easily seen and the clouds while in a bright sky are also easily seen and add a lot of drama to the final image.
I’m using images from one of my Disneyland trips because it is vacation time where you lose much of the flexibility for waiting for good light or time of day. You are on limited time and you need to make do with whatever light you have or don’t have. Shooting with HDR in mind is an easy way to really improve your images even while you are shooting with what is normally considered “bad light”. It will also work at night time to pick up cool details of lights and details of buildings. You will have more ghosting but that adds to the overall look and feel of the image.
So learn how to use your camera for HDR whether it is a smart phone or a DSLR. Both will work really well for HDR shots and give it a try. The trick is to learn how to bracket your shots on the DSLR and finding an HDR app you like for the phone. The phone is cheaper by far to try but the DSLR will give better results overall. In my own case, I find that my iPhone does a very adequate job while on vacation and is the proverbial “good enough” for my vacation pictures.