What is HDR mode and when should you use it?

ByAdeline Kuang 2019-06-01 7626

HDR.... Three small letters that are present in most camera applications of today's smartphones and attract the curiosity of users. But do you really know what this mode is for and when to use it? This is what I suggest you discover in this article.

HDR mode

What is HDR mode

HDR is the acronym for High Dynamic Range, which, in good French, means Imaging with a high dynamic range. In other words, it allows you to store different levels of light intensity in an image.

Although the objective of HDR is to take better pictures, it is not necessary to use it every time. A misuse of the functionality can indeed have the opposite effect by offering an artificial image that appears to have been photoshopped.

But don't worry, we'll explain how HDR works in practice and how to use it properly.

How does the HDR mode work

When enabled, HDR mode uses different images captured at the same time (usually three) - each with a different light tone, shadow and exposure time. From there, the smartphone camera software combines these images into a single image, which gives a final image with more detail.

Until recently, HDR was a feature reserved for photo editing software such as Photoshop or Illustrator. To benefit from it, you had to upload 3 photos to the PC and then use the HDR function to combine these three images together to highlight the best parts of each.

But to avoid all this editing work, smartphone manufacturers have adapted HDR mode to smartphone camera applications. When the latter is activated, it automatically makes the adjustment. In other words, all you have to do is take the picture and the result should look more like what your eyes see and less like what the camera "sees".

Note that when you use the camera in HDR mode, the image takes a few seconds to appear on the screen because the software must combine images taken under different conditions.

When to use the HDR mode

As explained before, HDR cannot be used at all times, at the risk of giving photos that are sometimes too artificial. So here are some tips on when to use the feature to capture your images:

Landscape (Panoramic)

In general, large landscapes that offer a high contrast between sky and earth are perfect for using HDR mode. With the HDR, your smartphone's camera captures details of the sky without obscuring ground details.

Remember, everything here is mainly related to the incidence of light, so the camera lens will prioritize more light or less light depending on the case.

Brightness is one of the most important aspects of a good photo, but outside, sunlight can sometimes cause shadows or on the contrary "burn" the images. HDR mode can resolve these discrepancies and provide a nuanced shot.

Photos in low light conditions or backlit conditions

If your picture is too dark or you are backlit, HDR mode can help to "lighten" the picture and balance the scene. But it is always good to remember that HDR does not work miracles, for example, in an environment where there is no light, it will not be possible to obtain a fantastic result.

Looking at the images above, it is clear that the work of the HDR mode on light and the attempt to balance colours results in a loss of detail in some areas, especially in brighter areas.

When not to use HDR mode?

Many times, HDR mode does not really help and can even spoil the pictures. Here are some situations where it is better to forget that the functionality exists:

Moving photos

If you want to take moving objects or people, HDR mode increases the chance of a blurry picture. Remember, the HDR takes three pictures, so if your subject moves between the first and second planes, the final image will not be very good.

High-contrast scenes

If you want to keep a high constrate between a light and a dark part, it is not recommended to use the HDR mode which will tend to smooth both parts.

Bright colours

If the environment is too dark or too bright, the HDR mode may sometimes have difficulty analyzing colors that are too bright, making them either dull or too dynamic.

Which smartphones offer HDR mode?

It is now possible to find this HDR mode on most current smartphones, at least those launched from 2015 onwards.

Remember that the use and performance of HDR mode may vary from one phone to another, depending on the quality of the camera and the settings of HDR mode. If you take this feature into account when purchasing a phone, it is recommended to test with the device.


The use of the HDR mode can give great results but it is important to be patient and use it sparingly. If you have any doubts, don't hesitate to take pictures without and with the HDR mode to compare the results.

Did you feel any big differences when using HDR mode on your smartphone?

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