Lesson 75: HDR Adjusted

Since we’ve been on the topic of HDR for a few lessons now, one thing I wanted to mention was that even when you used HDR photography, you can still gain more control over the end result of your image by doing post-processing.

Now, as you know by now, I love Pro HDR for iPhone HDR photos.  Pro HDR has several adjustments you can make before you save the image.  You can see details about those adjustments in Lesson xx.  However, that’s not quite the same as post-processing.  After you’ve saved the image, you still may want to apply some adjustments to make the photo look the way you want.

For example, let’s say I thought my sunrise HDR photo from the iPhone 5S from the Sunrise showdown was too dark.  I could use adjustments in Snapseed to brighten up the image.  That is, I could if my iPhone screen weren’t currently broken and I could see to edit on my iPhone!  🙂  Sorry, I had to cheat one last time and edit in Aperture.  But, my replacement phone is on its way!

So, imagine this was edited in Snapseed:

I tend to be fond of darker images with strong contrasts, so I’m not particularly enamored with this edit.  However, I often find that when I see my photos later, they look too dark to me, so maybe tomorrow I’ll like the brighter one better.

Your Assignment:  Take a photo that your pretty happy with.  Do just a few adjustments on it like brightness and contrast.  For details on how to use Snapseed, check out Lesson 41, 45, and 46.  Are there certain adjustments that seem to really help your image?

Lesson 74: The Range of HDR

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that some HDR processing takes the image to the point that it no longer looks like a photograph.  To give you an idea of the range of HDR-type processing possible, I did several different versions of HDR images using 5 photos taken with my DSLR at different exposures and combining them using Photomatix, a software tool used on a desk/laptop to combine exposures.

I realize this is cheating since this blog is about iPhonography and not about DSLR photography, but I thought it was worth the cheat just to give you an idea of the kinds of looks people may be thinking of when someone says “I don’t like HDR.”

Here is the range of looks I created for examples:

I do not have scientific data on how people respond to these different types of looks.  However, the anecdotal evidence I have is that people do not notice the HDR effect in the more subtle examples at the left; they just think it’s a “regular” photo.  As the photo moves from looking like a photograph to looking like a painting to looking like a painting gone horribly wrong, my experience has been that most people really like the painting look the first time they see it.  They like it the second time they see it.  They might even go a little nuts over it.  Then, at some point, they start to think it looks, well, to borrow a term from my husband, “kitschy.”

Of course, there are no rules, and I have seen this look applied artistically.

For example, I really like the work of a fellow blogger and iPhoneographer extraordinaire, Davide Capponi.  Davide does extraordinary things with iPhoneography by using multiple editing apps to create something that transcends photography.  Here is an example of one of his images that started with Pro HDR.  If you peruse Davide’s work, you will find that few of his images look like photos, yet I can’t imagine anyone calling them kitschy.

To me, the difference between “kitsch” and art is hard to define.  To a certain extent, when you see the exact same look produced over and over again by many different people, it starts to look kitschy.  When you see something that is truly unique, it stands alone.

Your Assignment:  Are you interested in just taking pleasing photographs with your iPhone, or does the thought of using it as a medium to create unique art excite you?  If you fall into the latter category, I suggest you spend some time looking at Davide’s work.  Davide records what apps he used for taking the photo and for editing.  You’ll notice he often uses a combination of 4+ apps to create his final image.  Do you find yourself inspired?

Lesson 73: The Rule of HDR

HDR photography has continued to grow in popularity–more and more cameras have built-in HDR processing. However, High Dynamic Range photography comes in a wide array of styles.  The HDR styles that result in images that no longer resemble photographs failed to catch on in the photographic circles I run in.  At the same time, there seems to be a growing appreciation for what can be accomplished subtly with HDR technology.

In case you are just jumping into this conversation, Lesson 9 was when we first introduced HDR and there have been several lessons that talk about it since, including yesterday’s lesson.

As far as achieving subtlety in HDR photos, the iPhone 4S and 5S excel.  While it’s possible I just need new glasses, it’s a little too subtle for me.  The Pro HDR app results in more oomph than either of the built-in apps, although sometimes it’s a little more oomph than I want.

Revisiting the examples we used in the previous post, let’s take a look at what Pro HDR was able to achieve in both the 4S and 5S versions:

Now let’s look at the 4S Apple Camera App with HDR next to Pro HDR:

And, of course, the 5S Apple Camera App with HDR next to Pro HDR:

Your Assignment:

Take a close look at the above images.  Which look do you prefer?  If you’ve downloaded the Pro HDR app, try experimenting with your own photo to see if using the adjustments in the app allows you to get a range of looks that give you more flexibility than the Apple Camera app.

Lesson 72: 4S-5S HDR Showdown

While I was out shooting the sunrise yesterday, I also decided to give the 4S and 5S a test drive with their HDR setting.  As we discussed in Lesson 9, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is achieved by combining multiple images with different exposures into a single image, using the best exposure for each part of the image.  As I also mentioned, I did not have much success with the 4S Apple Camera app’s version of HDR.  One of the things I was hoping to see in the 5S was an improvement in the capture of details in bright and dark areas using the Apple Camera app with HDR.

That said, let’s compare the 4S to the 5S with the HDR on:

The major difference between the two (and I spent some time looking at these side-by-side at 200% magnification) is in the light areas around the sun.  Surprisingly, it’s the 4S that has more details in the clouds surrounding the sun, all the way down to the water.  On the flip side, the 4S produced an oddly shaped sun and the color in the sky looks mostly gray while the 5S seems to have smoothed out the sun a bit and captured more blues in the sky.

The bottom line:  if you’re thinking about upgrading to the 5S purely for improved HDR photos, you’ll probably be disappointed.

For grins, one more comparison–yesterday’s photos without HDR next to today’s photos with HDR:

Your Assignment:  If you haven’t checked out the Pro HDR app yet, review Lesson 9.  Tomorrow, we’ll talk more about HDR.

Lesson 63: Photo Makeover

As I’ve mentioned, my best friend Gina is the inspiration for this blog.  Today, she sent me a picture at just didn’t work for her.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to pull together several earlier lessons in the context of one photo.

Here’s the photo Gina sent me:


She and her husband were recently on vacation with another couple and Gina wanted a shot of her friends standing in front of the lake they were staying at.  Unfortunately, it was extremely windy, making it difficult to hold the phone still.  Although the photo was shot at 7:58PM during the golden hour, the lake and sky were far brighter than the light on Gina’s friends.

The first thing I did was try using Snapseed to see if the photo was fixable.  Had I had my glasses on and realized the severity of the focus problem, I might not have tried–focus is something you really can’t change much in software.  However, ignoring the focus problem for a moment, let’s look at what can be achieved through editing:

To some degree, the lighting on the people can be helped.  I edited in Snapseed using the Selective Adjustment tool to brighten the people.  As a comparison point, I also edited the original in Aperture using several general adjustments rather than selective adjustments.  Both methods work to brighten the subjects.

So what would have prevented the focus problem?

  1. Selecting a face to set focus (see Lesson 4)
  2. A faster shutter speed, which can be partially accomplished by setting exposure separately from focus (see Lesson 8 on using Camera Awesome and Lesson 61 on picking a brighter part of the scene to get a faster shutter speed).

But how could Gina have gotten more light on her subjects’ faces?  Given that this was shot right after sunset, it might have been a good time to have her subjects facing the fading light.  They might have been lit in the last glow of the golden hour–or, they might have gotten some light bounced off the lake.  In either case, they would at least have been brighter.

The other choice, if having the lake in the background was important, would have been to apply two previous lessons:  Lesson 22 on placing people in front of landscape scenes and Lesson 31 on using the flash to fill.  The combination of these two might have allowed the flash to brighten up the people.

Since none of these things may have been possible (I wasn’t there and every situation is different), a couple other thoughts on how to prevent the motion blur:

  1. Turn on image stabilization (see Lesson 34)
  2. Prop yourself against something stable or set the phone on something stable (see Lesson 34)

And, finally, for exposures that are so disparate, this might be a good time to use Pro HDR, see Lesson 9 and Lesson 18.  It’s kind of a toss up–with a high wind, the movement might have been too much.  But, if Gina’s friends were willing to hold still for 30 seconds or so, Pro HDR might have solved the exposure problem and still achieved focus (although the blowing hair would have been a problem).

Your Assignment:  Pull up a “photo failure.”  Can you fix it using Snapseed?  If not, what is causing it to “fail”?  Do you know what to do differently the next time around?  Now, test yourself.  Pick a subject with similar challenges to your “photo failure.”  Shoot the subject every way you can think of.  Use every app you know how to use.  Shoot vertically, shoot horizontally.  Use the rule of thirds, the rule of symmetry, the rule of telling a story.  Try different angles and think about position for light.  Try with and without flash.  Try to get at least 20 different photos of that subject.  Did you get anything that surprised you in a good way?

Lesson 40: The Morning After

Or, the afternoon or evening after a shoot . . . whatever the case may be.  It all calls for post-processing.  What is post-processing, you ask?  Well, to put it simply, it’s “gentle” photo editing.

Photo editing can range from creating a completely new picture (like we did in Camera Awesome in Lesson 12) to doing minor adjustments to make your photo look more like reality.  The latter category of editing is usually referred to as “post-processing.”  Post as in “after you’re done shooting” and “processing” as in the digital version of developing a photo.

When you take photos with your iPhone, the iPhone is making a lot of decisions for you.  It decides how saturated to make your colors, how to balance the tones so that white looks white, how bright to make the image, etc.  Sometimes it does a pretty good job.  Sometimes it guesses wrong.

Today, we’re going to download another app.  This time, it’s not a camera, it’s a photo editing tool.  Good news!  It’s free!

Sometimes people are disappointed when they realize that some level of editing is called for to get the most out of their photos.  Using photo editing tools can help  take a ho-hum picture to something much more dramatic.  Often, it’s the drama that gets lost when you take a photo; you’re just putting back what your eyes saw.

We’re going to do a simple edit with Snapseed today.

I’m using an image that has a distracting background I’d like to make less distracting.  To do this, I start by opening the app and then selecting the image I want to edit.  The graphics below will walk you through all the edits I made to this one photo:

I applied a few simple adjustments but left it looking pretty similar to the original–just a little better.  Here they are side-by-side:

Your Assignment:  Download Snapseed (did I mention it’s free?).  Follow the instructions to open a photo that you ilke, but weren’t thrilled with.  Try making the simple post-processing adjustments above.  Do you like it better?  Are there still things you would like to change about it?  What are the things you couldn’t figure out how to do that you’d like to change?

Lesson 20: Using Filters in Pro HDR

We’ve spent some time using Pro HDR in a couple of different lessons now.  One thing we haven’t done with Pro HDR yet is apply some of the more “artistic” effects available in the app.

For today’s lesson, I started with a not so interesting photo of the trees in a park with a barely visible bridge behind them.  The Pro HDR app did its magic to get the best possible exposure, but the photo didn’t really have any “oomph.”  These are the kinds of images I like to play with.  Generally speaking, I try to minimize my editing time on photos, but sometimes it’s good to know what’s possible.

Plus, it takes very little time to do the edits I did in Pro HDR–a very easy app to use.

Click to enlarge the image below to see how I started by adjusting the warmth and tint and then opened the filters option:

Crazy HDR Filters.001

Next, I tried selecting many different filters to see if there was anything I particularly liked.  Each time I found something I found interesting, I touched the “Save” button to save the image and then went right back to trying another filter.  This allows you to create many different versions of the image without ever exiting from the edit screen.  It also makes it easy to go crazy with saving 15 different versions of the same photo, which I advise against unless you have a plan for those 15 different photos.  Here are some of the filters I tried:

Your Assignment:  Use Pro HDR to take an HDR photo of something that might not be the most interesting subject you’ve ever chosen.

Try every filter on a couple of different types of photos.  Notice the kinds of details that work well with a particular filter–like the lace-work of tree branches vs the solidity of a dog head.  Save the ones you really like.  How many new photos did you end up with?  Did you end up with anything you might hang on your wall?

Lesson 18: When the Light is Out of Control

We’ve talked about outdoor lighting for landscape scenes in the past couple of lessons.  I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the Pro HDR app about now.  We downloaded this wonderful little app a few lessons back lesson 9, which also includes detailed instructions on how to use the app (in case you missed that one).

Today, let’s talk about the times when you end up at a great overlook with a fabulous view and it’s about high noon.  It’s a bright and sunny day with a bright sky and deep shadows on the landscape.  When you look at your iPhone screen to take the shot, you can barely see because of the bright sun.

These are the best times to whip out Pro HDR (although there are other good times, too).  If you’ve left it in automatic mode, you just tap the screen or push the up volume and the app will do all the work to take two photos with two different exposures and then combine them into one photo.

But, once you’ve got the combined photo, you can also use the app to do some additional adjustments to make the image look better lit.   After the app has taken 2 photos and combined them, the screen looks like this:

Notice the Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Warmth, and Tint sliders.  By moving these sliders, I can make the lighting look more like the lighting I want and less like the high-noon lighting I don’t really like.  In this case, I just moved the brightness up a bit and pulled the contrast down to get a very realistic looking photo.  Here are the two exposures Pro HDR used to create a combined image side-by-side:

And here are the adjusted sliders and the photo I ended up with:

By the way, I was able to use the app to take the photos, get the combined exposure, and make the adjustments in less than one minute.  It doesn’t take a lot of effort with the Pro HDR app.

I can also do some more extreme adjustments.  In the next example, I took these photos at 8:55AM, when the light was “better.”  Here is the unadjusted photo Pro HDR created next to the unadjusted photo taken at 12:18PM:

Notice the slight difference in the amount of yellow in the earlier photo.  I decided to take the golden aspect to an extreme by adjusting the warmth and tint until I got something that looks almost like early fall:

Your Assignment:  Use Pro HDR to take a photo of a scene that has both very bright areas (like a sunny sky) and dark areas (like trees) at a time of day when the lighting is not optimal.  Now play with the sliders to see what effect each has on your photo.  If you get something you like, click the save button.  Then, try playing with the sliders some more and saving again.  You can create many different versions of the photo this way.  See if you can find a combination of adjustments that makes the lighting more comparable to “golden hour” lighting–or at least less harsh lighting.  Can you soften the effects of overhead sunlight?

Lesson 9: Combining Two Exposures into One Photo

Yesterday we addressed how you can use Camera Awesome to set the exposure and focus separately in your iPhone.  The advantage is being able to get a better overall exposure while still keeping the photo sharp where you want it.

Today, we’re going to learn another technique for getting the exposure you want that’s particularly useful when photographing a landscape scene like yesterday’s where there is a bright sky over a dark landscape.

We’re also going to download a second app called Pro HDR.  Good news for non-iPhone users–it’s also available for Android!  The bad news for all is that it’s not a free app.  It costs $1.99, so you’ll have to decide if you want to spend the money to experiment with it for today’s lesson or not.  If not, you can try with the iPhone’s default camera app, which has an HDR setting in the Options menu.  I do not use this setting because I haven’t found it to work well for me, but perhaps you will have better luck.

At the risk of getting too technical, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.  It is not related to High Definition technology.  What the Pro HDR app does is take one photo exposed for the darkest areas of the scene and a second photo for the lightest areas.  Then it automatically combines the two into one image, choosing the best exposure for the different areas in the photo from the two photos and sprinkling in a little magic to make the photo look really good.

Because it’s all automated, it’s very easy to use and doesn’t require knowing anything about how HDR works.  The only thing it requires is that you hold the phone very stable while it does some analysis and then takes the two photos–this can take a while, so make sure you’re using good form holding the phone and in a position you can maintain.

To start the process, you launch the app, frame the scene the way you want and then tap the screen (you can also push the volume up button, but the volume will annoyingly pop–it does still work) to start the process.  Then, you just hold still and watch it do its magic (click to enlarge):

HDR slides.001

When I used this app while at Snooper’s Rock yesterday, these are the two photos it took and the combined image that resulted (click to enlarge):

HDR slides.002

You’ll notice that the combined image has much better exposure for the sky than in the first image and a much better exposure of the trees in than in the second.  It works very nicely for these types of subjects.

Where this technology doesn’t work so well is when you have people walking in and out of your scene or if your subject is in motion.  Check out this example of my dog’s best bud (and my dog’s tail end):

HDR slides.003

This is always disappointing to me as my black-and-white dog would be much easier to expose using Pro HDR.  However, even though he stood very still in the next image, the motion of his panting was enough to cause his throat to get blurry in the combined image:

HDR slides.004

You’re assignment:  Download Pro HDR (or turn the HDR option on in the iPhone default app).  Choose a scene with both very bright and very dark areas.  Now take a picture with the default app, with the Camera Awesome app using the methods we explored yesterday and the day before, and, finally, using Pro HDR.  Compare the images.  Do you feel like you got your $1.99 worth from the Pro HDR app?

Here’s my example comparing the results from the 3 apps:

comparison of apps.005.005

Bonus Assignment:  See if you can create some really cool ghost images using Pro HDR.  Sometimes this can be a really fun effect.