The Apps that Make iPhotos Shine

During the last few weeks I have been running a series on iPhotography. Specifically in regards to the tool set I use to capture landscapes with my iPhone. You can catch the intro and links to the rest of the articles here:

Today we are going to talk about photography apps that simulate DSLR functions. As you probably already know we don’t have the same control over the iPhones camera as you do with a DSLR. Most noticeably the shutter speed or aperture (i.e. the opening that lets light into the camera and thus hits the image sensor or film). To account for this some very clever people have done this for us via software or as we like tobcall them Apps.

For the last four weeks I have exclusively been using two iPhone Apps for all my iPhontograhy. I found them the best at what they do.


The first is ‘Pro HDR X’. HDR or ‘High-dynamic-range’ is not something new to photography and has been around since the 1850’s. The basic principle behind producing a HDR image is to take multiple photos of the same scene and use the past parts of each to produce the final product. In a digital world this usually means taking a number of photos and then going through each pixel by pixel and picking out the best based on a developed algorithm.

To show this process in action and the benefits of using HDR I have included two photos below taken in the same location within minutes of each other. The first is using the standard iPhone Camera App and the second is using the ‘Pro HDR X’ App. The difference between the two photos is significant.



Some of you might have already realised that the standard Camera App has a HDR feature. Turning this on does improve the quality of the photos taken but I have found the third party Apps available do it a hell of a lot better. The one I settled on (Pro HDR X) also has the option of balancing the HDR, colour, contrast and brightness of a photo before it is saved to your photo library. It will also allow you to frame it, write text in it, place filters over it and crop it, however, these functions seem more like gimmicks to me.

Lets step through the App in a bit more detail. When you first open the App you get the default camera screen.

From here you have the option to do a number of things. On the left hand side starting from the top and working down you can:

  • Flip between the front and back iPhone cameras;
  • Turn the usual thirds grid on;
  • Switch HDR between auto, manual and off (we’ll go more into this option later); and
  • Turn the flash on, off and auto.

On the right hand side from the top you have:

  • The main menu (we’ll go through this in more detail later);
  • The camera trigger; and
  • A digital zoom.

Let’s look at the main menu first. When you select this option the menu flips out to the left and your left with four options (see pic below).


Starting from the left the first option is a timer which you can set between 10sec, 2 sec and off. This is a great option if you don’t have a manual trigger as you need the phone to be dead steady for a HDR photo to work. This is a good time to mention that if you don’t have a dead steady phone while using HDR all your photos will be blurred. I suggest you use a good quality tripod and a trigger (in my case I use the volume button on my hands-free set) in these circumstances. For a recommended tripod and more info on the hands-free trigger option I suggest you read my previous post found here:

The next option allows you to select three pics and use them to produce a HDR image.  Unless you have taken these photos from the same aspect without moving the phone a mil – this option is useless.  Moving on to the third option you have the standard settings menu.  Selecting this option will transfer you to the settings screen – pic below:


From here you can auto-save images – recommended, select how many images you want to save  – I recommend one to save space on the phone, share resolution size – I don’t care about this option as I never share mine this way, automatic sliders – I have no idea what this does and lastly Geo-tag photos – this is great for sorting photos later. The last option is the help menu – I’ll let you discover this one for yourself.

Lastly I’m going to jump back to the HDR manual and auto modes.  I’m going to recommend that you stick with the auto mode as from what I can see it always gives the best results.  If you do want to play with the manual mode however it is pretty easy to use.  All you need to do is drag the three “exposure” boxes to the locations you want the App to focus on and then shoot away.

Well that pretty much covers “Pro HDR X”.  I found this App – like all good Apps – to be simple, intuitive and really useful.  Can’t recommend it enough!


The one thing I love about using a DSLR is the slow shutter shots.  Using it to highlight light trails, capturing surreal bright night sky’s or creating a misty wonderland with smokey water effects is so empowering as a photographer. So the second App I’m going to highlight is “SlowShutter” – below is a photo I snapped just recently using this App:


Again this App is going to need you to use a tripod and trigger.  The reason for this is the App takes a large number of photos and then using them to merge the moving aspects of them – or in the case of night skys adds the light together to produce a fuller picture.  As with “Pro HDR X” I’m going to step through the App in more detail.  Firstly lets have a look at the main screen.  This should seem pretty familiar to you – its basically the same as “Pro HDR X”.


From here you have the option to do a number of things. On the left hand side staring from the top and working down you can:

  • Flip between the front and back iPhone cameras;
  • Lock AF – AF stands forAutoFocus and when locked means it the iphone won’t automatically focus on what the camera thinks is the main subject.  This can enable us to take some nice arty unfocused photos if we want to.  It also allows us to take some great landscape photos when you don’t want to focus on anything;
  • Lock AE – AE stands for Automatic Exposure and when locked allows user to lock their exposure settings.  This can be useful in difficult lighting situations;
  • Switch off and on the viewing window (seen in the top left hand corner) – more on this later; and
  • Turn the flash on, off and Auto.

On the right hand side from the top you have:

  • App settings – more on this later;
  • The camera trigger; and
  • Shutter settings – again more on this later.

Now, the viewing window in the top lefthand corner is pretty important.  After you hit the camera trigger your main viewing window will start displaying the end image.  The image in the top lefthand corner however will still display what your camera is seeing in real time – an example of this can be seen in the screenshot below.

Next lets have a look at the App settings.


I just want to focus on the more interesting ones.  First off there is the self timer just in case you don’t have a trigger.  Secondly there is the picture resolution – always set it to full.  Next we want to set the Picture Aspect Ratio to Native – you can always play with the picture after you take it.  Lastly, I’d recommend that you turn Auto-Lock AF/AE off – it just works out better – believe me.

Lastly, lets look at the shutter settings.


This menu is pretty self explanatory.  First you pick the mode you want to use – motion blur for soft water shots, light trail…….for you know…….light trail and low light for the night sky shots.  Next  you have “blur strength”.  Now this changes to “light sensitivity” for light trail and “exposure boost” for long light.  I have no real good advice on the settings – just play around and use what you thinks gives you the best results.  Lastly you have shutter speed.  Now I have had the best results leaving it at 8 seconds – but as with the other settings play around with it and see what you think is best.

SO that wraps it up for SlowShutter.  I’m hoping by introducing you to these Apps you start to feel how powerful and versatile the iPhones camera can be.  I’ve had more complements on photos using these Apps then I have with my normal DSLR shots………now this might say more about my photography skills then anything else – but I hope it doesn’t.

Anyway let me know what Apps your using or how you have got on with the Apps I’ve suggested.


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