Making a HDR image with an iPhone?!?

Some of you might read the headline/question and immediately think: No way or not with good results. I’m going to try and show you that it is indeed possible and that the results look okay, too.

The HDR image I am going to show you in this post actually happened by necessity: I wanted to capture the sunrise over a snow covered field and was sitting in my car with only my iPhone at hand. I knew that the iPhone could never give me the dynamic range needed for such a shot – not by a long shot – but I also knew that I can influence the exposure through the autofocus system they introduced with the iPhone 3GS. With the new iPhone, you tap on anything on the display and it will focus on that spot and also adjust the exposure to be ideal in that part of the image. With that in mind, I decided to do three different shots with the focus on different parts of the picture: 1) the sun, 2) the sky, 3) the snow. In that minute I wasn’t even thinking of an HDR, just to get a good individual photo (I should add that I was standing at a red light while taking the photos, so I had to be quick).
Here are the three individual photos:

As you can see, this is close to being a row of different exposures you would take with the AEB feature (if I had had the time, I would have added an even brighter one). So what’s next you ask? Well, I know that there are „HDR“ apps for the iPhone but I’m very skeptical of these, so I decided to do all the editing on my Mac. I decided to do the HDR with Photomatix but the differences in alignment were to severe to get good results from Photomatix, so I opened up Photoshop and used its HDR feature to align the images, which did it perfectly. Then I used the tonemapping plugin of Photomatix to do the tonemap of the photo. The results really blew me away!

iPhone HDR

This is the tonemapped image, which I edited a bit further in photoshop, by cleaning up the stripes in the sky with one of the three original images and by reducing the noise in the image (since it really, really brightened up some of the black parts).

So yes, you really can do a real HDR with an iPhone! Crazy, isn’t it?

(Btw, sorry that comments are currently not working, I’ll try to find a solution soon – the old comment system isn’t free anymore)