Use HDR To Make Your Camera Phone Pictures Pop

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Imagine you're watching an incredible sunset with your friends, on a mountaintop, by a lake or at a backyard barbecue. The sunset is painting the sky in blues, reds and every color in between.

You want to take a picture and capture the moment with your camera phone, but the phone makes the image look washed out, or gives you a super saturated photograph of the sunset with your friends falling into black in the foreground.

Has this happened to you?

Here's a trick I love to use when photographing a scene like a sunset — it’s super-easy to do, but takes some practice.

I like to use the HDR function of my camera phone — in my case my iPhone 6 — to make sure I capture what I actually see.
HDR is short of “High Dynamic Range" and it solves the problem of getting the sky to look the way you see it and getting the foreground to look right too. How it work is pretty cool: It takes two pictures, one with the sky correctly exposed and the other with the foreground correctly exposed and sandwiches those photographs together to make one picture.

This week I photographed a magical evening at America The Beautiful Park using my iPhone's HDR functionality. The sun was just starting to set behind Pikes Peak, there was a group of cyclists at the park watching the sunset and the Julie Penrose Fountain was prominent in the background. I wanted to capture the incredible sunset, the group of cyclists hanging out and the fountain in one image.

The the first image I took underexposed the scene, but even then the sky isn't the way I saw it when I took the picture.

underexposed.jpg

The second image I took shows the scene overexposed, you can clearly see the cyclists and the fountain, but the sunset is completely washed out.

overexposed.jpg

The final shot I took using the HDR function of my camera phone is the correct exposure. Exactly the way I saw it.
Much better, no?

correctlyexposed.jpg

One last tip to making HDR pictures with your camera phone: Avoid using the “auto HDR” feature that the phone offers – it’s just a watered-down version of the real thing. Instead, use an app that allows you to manually choose the values you want to use for the final image. My favorite HDR app is Pro HDR. It allows me to manually select the areas I want to be properly exposed, in this case the setting sun and the cyclists in the foreground, perfect for scenes like this one.

Happy shooting! 

Colorado Springs wedding photographer Sean Cayton loves remarkable photographs and the stories behind them. You can see his wedding work at caytonphotography.com, his personal work at seancayton.com and his editorial work in the Colorado Springs Independent. Submit your photo and the story behind the image - no more than two a week, please - to sean@caytonphotography.com for consideration in upcoming blogs.

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