Smart HDR Improves Scenic Photos on New iPhones

Vernal Pool – Smart HDR Turned Off

It’s early spring in northeast Ohio, and a thin sheet of ice covered the surface of a vernal pool at Kent Bog State Nature Preserve when I made the photo shown above with my iPhone XS. I was testing the new “Smart HDR” feature available on the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR using the iOS 12.0 operating system. With Smart HDR turned off, the iPhone made a single exposure which rendered the light blue sky in the background as white, creating a distracting element in this photograph of a high-contrast scene.

Smart HDR Turned On

The photo above, which registered the blue sky the way my eyes viewed the scene, was made with HDR turned on, which is the default mode with Smart HDR on the new iPhone XS, XS Max and XR models. With Smart HDR, the iPhone takes multiple exposures (Apple doesn’t say exactly how many) of the scene and blends the exposures to create the final version with much improved detail in the highlights. 

Neither of the images above have been edited in any way – they are shown as screen shots of the photos saved to the iPhone XS camera roll directly after the exposures were made.

HDR is an acronym for High Dynamic Range, which in a nutshell means blending together multiple exposures of a high-contrast subject to provide enhanced detail in the highlight areas of the scene. An HDR option was first introduced in the iPhone 4 in 2010, and Apple has been steadily improving HDR in each new iPhone model. Smart HDR takes advantage of the much improved optics, better camera sensors, greater computer processing power, artificial intelligence (AI), and other state-of-the-art computational photography techniques incorporated in the latest iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR models. 

You can turn off Smart HDR in the iPhone’s camera settings, but I recommend leaving it switched on for all of your landscape and nature photography.  

HDR is one of dozens of topics covered in my eBook, iPhone Landscape and Nature Photography, available as a PDF download from my website.  My next workshop on iPhone photography is on Friday, April 5, 2019 as part of Vernalpoolooza, described in a previous blog post. 



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