iPhone 4 HDR revisited

Kevin Kubota is a knowledgeable photographer, and it shows. After my post about my initial disappoint with the HDR feature in iOS 4.1, Kevin sent me a short tweet and a link to his post, iPhone’s new built-in HDR, gimmick or groovy?? After reading Kevin’s post I realised that I may have overlooked a few important things — like when to use HDR — when testing out the HDR feature. I thought I understood HDR but missed a critical element of good HDR photography.

As Kevin suggested, ?

Where HDR is great (and where it’s intended to be used) is in extreme contrast scenes where your important detail is going to be either blown out in the highlights or obscured and noisy in the shadows.

I went back to my photo catalogue to look at some of the photos I had taken with the iPhone 4 camera later that day. The picture below is the standard iPhone 4 camera photo untouched. If you look to the areas just to the right of the word coffee, you will see how the shadows prevent you from seeing the details in the car's wheels. It is also difficult to make out the handle near the top of the coffee sign and nearly impossible to see the rivets in the frame of the sign (near the top).

The photo below is the same photo capture with the HDR feature of iOS 4.1. Notice how we can now see more of the spokes on that wheel, and the handle of the sign is now much more noticeable. You can now clearly see the rivets in the sign’s frame.

To make sure I understood what I was doing, I shot a few more photos this morning around my home making use of the early morning light coming in through the windows.

This photo is the standard iPhone 4 camera image. The highlights in the seat are all blown out, and we can see no detail in that part of the picture.

In the HDR image we can now clearly the wood grain in the seat and leg of the chair.

I want to thank Kevin for writing that article. It made me take a second look and realise where I was making mistakes. This is an excellent example of where it’s not the camera; it’s the person behind the lens (or touch screen). ? I encourage you to click the link and read his post in its entirety before using the HDR feature on your iPhone 4.

iOS 4.1 HDR disappoints

I upgraded my iPhone 4 to the latest iOS version 4.1.  Apple promised some new features and a bug fix.  One of the bug fixes was a cause for much celebration in my home.  My wife is happy that her cheek no longer hangs up her calls.  Hopefully her family will stop teasing us about AT&Ts network.

Two of the new features I looked forward to was High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and uploading of 720p video to YouTube.  I was disappointed by both.

I took a short video which I uploaded in app to YouTube.  Camera app prompted me for my Google username and password and a few seconds later I was viewing my uploaded content.  Maybe I’m just being critical but the video quality looked no different from that I see when I uploaded with the iOS 4.0 320p limit.

HDR photography is a technique that involves taking a photo of the same subject at different exposure levels and combining the multiple exposure to create an image with a greater dynamic range luminance between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than standard photographic methods.  It can produce excellent results when used correctly.

Standard photo taken with iPhone 4 camera app

HDR photo taken with iPhone 4 camera app

HDR photo processed with the Photomatix Pro plug-in for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3

There is only a slight difference between the two photos processed on the iPhone 4 and I’m not sure I like the HDR results.  The photo processed in Photomatix Pro has more depth of colour.

HDR photography with Photomatix and Lightroom 3 Beta

I've been poking around with HDR and Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta. Up until recently my work-flow consisted of importing my photos from an SD card directly into iPhoto in Nikon RAW format. I make some minor changes - contrast, colour, crop - and upload the better ones to flickr and facebook. Once I started using Lightroom I had so much more available to me. I could adjust everything. But that's not what this post is about.

Big Red Barn
Big Red Barn by Khürt, on Flickr
I've fallen in love with the plug-in mechanism. I found one for flickr, for facebook, CVS, email and a host of other things. One of the coolest plug-ins I found was for Photomatix, a piece of software I've used in the past to do some High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. High-dynamic-range photographs are generally achieved by capturing multiple standard photographs using exposure bracketing, and then merging them into an HDR image. With the Photomatix plug-in for Lightroom this is quite easy to do. Select a set of photos (I usually use 5) in Lightroom and select the export to Photomatix plug-in. Lightroom launches Photomatix where I do a little bit of tone mapping and the results are imported back into Lightroom. Easy peasy.
Blue skies
Blue skies by Khürt, on Flickr