As phone cams go, the iPhone’s is nothing special. It’s not particularly worse than the rest of the crowd (even other phones with higher pixel counts and flashes don’t necessarily get better images), but no one expects to get any really artistic results out of it either. One of the biggest drawbacks of such a simplistic camera is that the automatic exposure control is about as subtle as a Rancor at a tea party, and outdoor shots with a lot of light and dark areas will either be washed out or lose a ton of detail.
At least, that was up until now.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is all the rage right now. Using sophisticated algorithms, software can take two or more different photos of the same thing, taken at different exposures, and keep the bright spots muted to see the detail while brightening up the dark areas as well, so that nothing gets lost. HDR makes it possible to truly photograph more of what the human eye can see. And now, rather than using great desktop tools like Photomatrix Pro, or Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can use an app on your iPhone to do the same thing.
TrueHDR ($1.99) by Yuanzhen Li is about as basic an HDR processor as you can get. It only takes two pictures, and gives you almost no control over the finer tuning of the image as many of the desktop programs will. But that really doesn’t matter. It works at what it does, and works well.
Simply take two pictures of your subject from within the program. For the first picture, you’re asked to tap on the screen in the brightest spot – often the sky, the sun, or a light of some sort that tweaks the exposure so that everything but the focus point is nearly black. You take this picture. Then, you’re asked to tap on the darkest spot. The iPhone camera readjusts the exposure so that the darker features are visible, but the light area will be too bright. You take this picture as well. Then the app merges them, aligning the images and doing the HDR dance on the areas of light and dark until you get an image that has plenty of detail in the darker areas, but isn’t washed out (and indeed may have some beauty as well) in the light areas. Perhaps along the lines of this:
Wired: Gives some amazing results in mixed-lighting situations, and does a great job of aligning the images.
Tired: Minimal feature set with no manual controls whatsoever; what the app gives you is what you get.