HDR : What is it and When should you use it?

Ever tried to photograph a high-contrast scene, only to be frustrated when you find that the pictures you snapped just don’t do it justice? Don’t worry, it’s not just you. Even with the perfect exposure, there are certain scenes that will always tend to get blown-out highlights, flat shadows, or both. But despite the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find a happy medium in these types of situations, there is a solution. This age-old dilemma can be solved through the magic of HDR processing.

What is HDR?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. For those who aren’t so acquainted with this high-tech shutterbug lingo, dynamic range is basically just the difference between the lightest light and darkest dark you can capture in a photo. Once your subject exceeds the camera’s dynamic range, the highlights tend to wash out to white, or the darks simply become big black blobs. It’s notoriously difficult to snap a photo that captures both ends of this spectrum, but with modern shooting techniques and advanced post-processing software, photographers have devised ways to make it happen. This is basically what HDR is: a specific style of photo with an unusually high dynamic range that couldn’t otherwise be achieved in a single photograph.

Related : How to take better photos with your Android phone

You’ve probably seen these types of images scattered across the Web. Depending on how they’re processed, HDR photos can be anything from stunningly accurate reproductions of what your eyes see to mind-blowingly surreal works of art that transform reality into a high-def dreamscape. Here are a few examples:

How it works:

At the most basic level, an HDR photo is really just two (or three, or nine) photos taken at different exposure levels and then mashed together with software to create a better picture. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but not much more – that’s basically the gist of it. Ideally, the photographer takes a range of bracketed photos – that is, photos of the same subject taken with varying shutter speed/aperture combinations in order to produce a set of images with varying luminosity and depth of field. Then, with the help of advanced post-processing software, the photographer is able to blend the photos together and create a single image comprised of the most focused, well-lit, and colorful parts of the scene. Check out the images below to see how it looks:

Stitched together HDR image

How to use HDR on Android?

Most modern phones have an HDR setting and using HDR on your Android device is easy. All you need to do is enable HDR Mode – sometimes, this means setting your phone’s camera app to Manual mode rather than Automatic-  and snap photos as you normally would: launch camera app, point and focus at subject, and hit camera shutter.

Also, you might want to use a tripod if it’s available, or at least hold the camera with stable hands; HDR doesn’t take too kindly to movement when capturing photos.  Also, the camera shutter speed may vary depending on the amount of light.

If you use a Samsung Android device, you will notice that the camera will produce two pictures. One is the HDR image and the other is the one with normal exposure. Check the file name to distinguish the two images. HDR images have “HDR” in their file names.

When should you use HDR?

There isn’t really a best way to use HDR; most often it comes down to what you want to achieve from a photo. That said, below are some tips for some of the more common places where HDR is employed to capture better images.


Lighting is one of the most important aspects of a good photo, but outdoors, sunlight can cause too much contrast. HDR can balance these discrepancies so there are fewer parts of bright white or dark black. Look at the two photos below and see how the detail in the sky becomes more visible with HDR enabled.

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With HDR disabled.
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With HDR enabled.

Low-light and backlit scenes

If your photo is too dark – or too dark in specific areas – HDR can be used to raise the overall level of brightness. It can’t achieve miracles: if there is no light in a particular environment then HDR can’t manufacturer it, but as HDR works on the basis of taking the lightest and darkest elements of a picture and combining them, it can help.

Related : Basic and Advaned Photo Editors: My personal picks

When should you not use HDR?

When you or other things are moving

Because HDR takes three photos, if something moves between one or two of the shots, the final image can appear blurry: this is also why photos take a little longer to process when using HDR. Keep yourself steady and try to take photos of still subjects.

High-contrast scenes

Some photos look better with strong contrast between the light and dark areas. Using HDR will reduce this contrast, so the effect is less pronounced. If that’s not what you want from the final image, don’t do it.

Scenes with vivid colors

HDR can certainly bring some vibrancy to otherwise lifeless colors in a scene. But if you’re dealing with colors that are already very much alive, HDR can make them look garish. Be careful not to overdue the color saturation.

Androidpit hdr 0018
Another example of a scene without HDR.
Androidpit hdr 0019
And with HDR.

If your smartphone doesn’t come with HDR, there are a number of solutions available in the Google Play Store, which offer varying results.

Do you make use of the HDR mode on your smartphone? When do you think is best to use it? Let me know in the comments.

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