New HDR Tool

Tool, toy. Po-TEA-toe, po-TAH-toe.

I’ve mentioned High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography in the past. In short, it’s for use in situations where a lot of the scene is really dark and a lot of the scene is really light. If you expose the image to bring out detail in the dark section, the light section gets blown out to all white. If you expose to show detail in the light section, the dark section comes out black. By taking several simultaneous photos over a range of exposures and then using software to mix and match the various sections, you get something that shows details across the scene, much like the human eye perceives it.

In the “old days” (and I’ve done it way, way back there) photographers had physical darkroom techniques to do the same thing. When making prints from negatives, you could “burn” in the dark areas,  exposing that part of the paper for a longer time, and “dodge” the light areas, using a tool or wand shaped sort of like a flyswatter to block the light in the light areas while you were burning the dark areas.

It’s much easier in software.

The newer iPhones have some capacity for this – that’s the “HDR” setting on your camera app. Use it in a normal scene in broad daylight, it makes little or no difference. Use it at sunset when the sky’s bright and the ground’s dark, or in the day when there’s something in deep shadow (you’re in the hangar with the planes) while everything else is brightly lit (you’re looking out the hangar door at the ramp), and you’ll get a couple of pictures on your “Camera Roll.” Light, dark, and the HDR combo.

I bought an app a while back for my iPhone on the recommendation of someone who does astrophotography. It’s “Pro HDR X” (also available for Android) and tonight while walking the beast at sunset, it seemed like a great time to try it.

File Oct 21, 20 42 30

Here’s an “original” HDR photo…

File Oct 21, 20 43 28

…here’s a “modified” copy where I’ve played with some of the settings.

When you’re taking the picture the app shows you a few boxes you can move around to highlight various parts of the scene, both dark and light. Based on how you move them (I still need to play with that a bunch) you’ll see the image either brighten or darken overall. Once you’re happy, take the picture, and the “original” will be saved.

Then the app pops up with several slider controls so you can adjust brightness, HDR, contrast, saturation, color balance, and so on. You can fiddle with those and if you get something you like, you can save the modified version as well. I didn’t play with it, but I suspect that as long as you’ve got the image in the app you can make changes and save as many different variants as you would like.

On the “modified” image above, I played with the brightness and contrast.

File Oct 21, 20 43 43

Another “original” with slightly different initial settings (using those boxes to target light and dark spots)…

File Oct 21, 20 44 04

…and the “modified” copy after I played with the color balance and saturation.

I’m intrigued and will have to play with this in different situations and lighting conditions, as well as trying out different combinations of modifications. In addition, there are a series of thirty preset filters that can be applied (“Dream,” “Pop,” “Antique,” “Marix,” “Vampire,” “X-Ray,” etc). And you can add one of twenty-four frames, or text to your image. More things to play with!

Finally, playing with it now, I see you’re not limited to only modifying HDR pictures that you just took using this app. You can also load pictures from your Camera Roll and manipulate them at your leisure after the fact. In that respect it strikes me as being like a miniature, basic version of Photoshop for your phone. There’s also a small difference in price, with Pro HDRX costing $1.99, as opposed to $499.99 for Photoshop CS6. I understand that PS CS6 will do a zillion other things and I dearly love the program, but if I don’t need those zillion other things for a simple job and I can do it on my phone for $1.99, well, why would I not use it?

I’ll keep you updated on my results. If any of you have used this app or another, I would love to hear about your experiences and see some of your results.

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