What Is HDR In Camera App: How It Works & Why To Use It?

HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range imaging, is a common feature in both Android and iOS smartphones. And, you might have wondered what exactly this is and how it works. It definitely helps in taking better-looking photos, but is it the option you should always enable?

HDR In Camera App

In this article, I am going to discuss the HDR feature in smartphone cameras. We will also be busting some of the common myths people have regarding the same and will tell about when you have to use and when to avoid it. So, let’s dive straight into our topic.

What Are Highlights, Shadows, And Midtones?

Before you learn in-depth about the HDR, you need to understand what highlights, midtones, and shadows mean. All these three terms describe the tonal value of different areas in an image. The bright areas of the image are called highlights, the darker areas are called shadows and the midtones lie between the two. 

Image explaining highlights and shadows

All three are merged to get a well-exposed final image. We cannot just make an image with only one of the three things, there needs to be a balance to get a good final image. But we can of course make adjustments with these areas to increase or decrease exposure, contrast, or bring out a dramatic and stylistic effect in the image. 

So What Exactly Is HDR?

HDR is basically a method to add more dynamic range to the clicked photos from the camera. Dynamic range is basically the ratio of light to a dark area in an image. So, instead of taking one picture, like normally in any camera, the HDR mode takes three photos with different exposures. It would then combine the three images and add the best areas of each photo in the final image. 

Here is an example of an image taken with a normal camera and with HDR mode. You can clearly see that the HDR image looks better and more dramatic. 

Normal vs HDR image

Why Do You Need HDR?

Sometimes, you might have noticed in certain bright environments when you take an image, it looks dull. Some parts of the image are too bright and some are really dark, to the point that the details are not visible. When the contrast between the bright and dark parts of the image is more, it is quite difficult for the camera to adjust itself and take balanced photos. 

three images combined in HDR mode

HDR is designed to take better-looking photos in such harsh environments. It’ll take three images and add the best-looking parts in the final image. And the result will be a much-balanced image and very close to what your eyes can see in real life. It becomes a very important feature when there is more contrast in the image between highlights and shadows. 

When Should You Use The HDR Mode?

HDR won’t just make any picture look better. There are a few instances where you have to use it. Here are the situations where you should use the HDR to take better-looking photos. Note that some new smartphones come with Auto HDR where your smartphone will automatically detect when there is a need to turn on HDR and you don’t have to do anything manually.


Landscapes: Landscapes usually have a big contrast between the sky and the land, which makes the smartphone’s camera struggle with setting the exposure. So, you can turn on the HDR to avoid ending up with overexposed or underexposed images.

Backlit scenes: When you have a dark-looking photo even with the presence of a single light then you need to turn on the HDR. This will pop out the rest of the environment and add details to the whole image. 

Portraits in sunlight: When there’s too much lighting on the subject it makes dark shadows and bright glare on the images which look really bad. You can use HDR again to even out the lighting and make the subject look better. 

When You Shouldn’t Use The HDR Mode?

Of course, HDR can make your photos look worse in some cases. So, here are the instances where you should avoid HDR for a better-looking image.

Night photography

In night photography: In night photography, your purpose is to show a contrast between dark and light areas of the image. But the HDR is made to balance out the contrast in the image. So, using HDR in night photography will make your photos look dull and washed out of colors. 

The subject is in motion: Remember that HDR mode takes three pictures? So when the subject is moving, it won’t be in the same position in 1st and 3rd images. This will end up in a much blurry image which won’t be good.

Vivid colors: HDR mode is made to bring out colors and details when the scene is too dark or too light. But if you already have a vivid and colorful environment then HDR can wash the colors out, making them look dull. 

Pros And Cons Of HDR Mode

Get all the details back in the imageNot suitable when the subject is moving. 
Well exposed and balanced imagesWashed out images in low light
Images will be close to what your eyes see in real-lifeDoes not work in all situations.
Good to make a dramatic effect in landscapes. Images may be a little bigger in size. 
Good for popping out the actual colors.

Also Read: What Is Carrier Aggregation in Smartphones

How To Take Photos In HDR Mode

In your smartphone’s default camera app, you can find the option to turn on HDR. This will be present right on the home screen itself. But if you don’t see it anywhere, go to Settings and look for the option “Auto HDR”. Some smartphones come with the Auto HDR mode where it can turn HDR on automatically based on the environment you’re in. 

Auto HDR mode in android

So, if you see it, simply turn it on and you’d be able to take photos in HDR. But if you don’t have HDR there as well, then you need to use a third-party application called Open Camera.

You can turn on HDR here, which would be present on the home screen itself. Once done, you can clearly notice the difference between a normal image and an HDR image. 

So, that was all for the article. If you still have queries then you can comment it down below and I’ll try to resolve them all. 


When should I use HDR mode?

You can use HDR mode when you’re taking images of a landscape, portraits in direct sunlight, or when you have backlit images with fewer details. You will have a much better-looking and balanced image.

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Satish Shah
Member of Team TJ - Tech Enthusiast, and Programmer

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