It’s time to bring contrast back to our smartphone photos

Soon after, my colleague Mitchell Clark and I challenged each other to use our old iPhones for the weekend – it was an original iPhone SE, and they had an iPhone 5S. I saved a few hours after the wireless disconnected, and watched the phone battery drop by 10 percent in a matter of minutes. (Mitchell saw the challenge through.)

But it wasn’t a completely useless exercise. As I looked at the photos I had taken during those fleeting few hours, I noticed something I didn’t see often in photos from new phones – something I didn’t even realize I was missing. this thing? variance. It’s been a bit of a spam in smartphone photo manipulation lately, but there are some easy ways to get it back into your photos. I think the time has come.

Path through the trees at sunset

I’ve seen enough of this Thomas Kinkade painter of light Nonsense from my smartphone. Taken by Motorola Edge (2022).

Remember the contrast? Dark shades with rich black? Highlighting tones that are really crisp white? It’s probably been a while since you’ve seen any of them, so here’s an update. The contrast comes from a period of time back before the phrase “computational photography“Tech websites were hacked like this, when digital image processing was less complicated than it is now.

You’ll see a great deal of contrast in a scene with really bright highlights and deep shadows, like someone backlit in front of a window. Traditionally, if you’re not using flash or doing a lot of cool post-processing, you’ll have to decide if you want to detect highlights or shadows because you can’t get both. Then computer imaging came and asked “Why Not alike?” By combining multiple frames and different exposure levels, we could get a final image with detail in both dark shadows and bright skies. It was great! Even it wasn’t.

This kind of computational photography — high dynamic range, or HDR photography, specifically — is very useful. The human eye can see a wider range of brightness and shadows than an image sensor, so HDR brings digital photos closer to what we actually see. It also saves us the embarrassment of using the camera flash and giving everyone in your photo the look of a deer in classic headlights. But with great power comes great responsibility, and I think we collectively have misused our power.

Hiking trail through the woods with a mountaintop in the background

The foreground is brightened up with HDR, and everything looks great. Captured by iPhone 11.

Hikers on a rocky top

variance! What a concept! This was captured using the iPhone 13 Pro Max photography style and Apple’s “Rich Contrast” photography style.

Most of the time, the effect isn’t so terrible, but when it derails, it’s ugly. We’ve all seen bad HDR. It flattens the sharp difference between light and dark, pushing these tones toward a kind of washed-out middle-earth. It’s the thing that doesn’t allow shadows to be shadows and makes your picture of a sunset look like a Thomas Kinkade painting. No part of your photo is truly black or white. sucks.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! In my case, I switched my iPhone’s Photographic Style – a feature Apple introduced with the iPhone 13 – to Rich Contrast. I filmed with it over the weekend, and I don’t think I’ll go back to the standard profile. It’s everything I liked about those iPhone SE shots, with deep blacks, crisp still-white highlights, the benefits of a modern image sensor, and better optics.

Standard Shooting Mode (left) and Rich Contrast (right) on iPhone 13. Just say yes to deep shadows.

But you don’t need a new iPhone to bring some contrast back to your photos. If you have an iPhone 12 or earlier, try the “dramatic” filter in the native camera app – it applies a high-contrast look similar to Rich Contrast.

In the Samsung Camera app, you can tap the stick icon at the top of the screen to apply other filters. You can download additional filters directly in the main camera app, and you can reduce the strength of any filter to soften the effect. On my Galaxy S22 Plus, I downloaded the “Classic” filter by Candy Camera and lowered the power about halfway, and I like the look of it. You can also try third-party camera apps. halide It is a popular iOS option, although you will need to pay 99 cents per month to use it after the seven-day free trial period. Any basic photo editing app will also allow you to increase the contrast after the fact.

Wide angle view with dark foreground and bright building

Embrace the shadows: Capture photos on iPhone 13 Pro Max with rich contrast.

Your photo assignment for the week is to ramp up the contrast a bit and see what you’ve been missing out on in our HDR saturated world. You may like what you see.

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