What Is HDR and How to Use It on Android

Smartphone photography has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. Most of us have totally abandoned traditional digital cameras in favor of the convenience of our smartphones. This transition has been made possible with better hardware and software being implemented in our phones. As the camera function on your phone has become more complex, so has the ability to command greater control over your images. Most Android phones today have a setting labelled “HDR.” But what exactly is HDR, and when should you use it?

HDR Explained

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, where “dynamic range” is the ratio of light to dark in a photo. When shooting in HDR, the color and brightness of a photo is balanced through software manipulation. It achieves this by capturing three separate exposures in quick succession. The camera then combines those three exposures into a single image. By making an educated guess as to what needs to be darkened or lightened based on an analysis of the three exposures, HDR can produce more vivid and accurate images.


Benefits of HDR

In theory, HDR is supposed to make your pictures look better. By combining the best parts of three separate exposures into one image, HDR should be able to replicate a more accurate image in terms of color and brightness. While this sounds great on paper, the keyword we have to remember is “should.” HDR can produce stunning images but only if used in the right conditions.

When to Use HDR

Far be it from us to tell you when to use HDR and when not to. Photography is an artistic medium that courts experimentation, so feel free to use it whenever you like. Since HDR on smartphones is totally automated, it is possible to overdo it. HDR can be a powerful tool, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. That being said, here are some tips to ensure that you’ll get the most out of HDR photography.

Landscapes – The contrast between earth and sky usually results in the land appearing too dark. HDR can help to lighten the ground while still retaining the detail present in the sky.

Sunny Environments – harsh sunlight can cause a number of problems. Washed out faces, intense shadows, and bleached colors are all victims of a particularly sunny day. HDR has the potential to even out the exposure.


Image by Trey Ratcliff

When to Avoid HDR

Movement – When you shoot in HDR mode, you’ll notice that it takes a tiny bit longer to capture your photo. This is because HDR requires your lens to take three separate photos. Even the slightest movement between frames will be captured, resulting in a blurry mess.

If you want high contrast – some scenes look better with stark contrast. When shooting in HDR, your camera tries to “fix” the darker parts of your image by lightening them. It can also darken the lighter parts of the image in order to create a more “even” composition. Depending on the situation, and your desired outcome, shooting in HDR may diminish the effect.

If the colors are already vivid – at some point we’ve all asked ourselves why the color in our photos is not as good as it is in real life. One of the benefits of shooting in HDR is that it can breathe life back into the colors in your photos. This doesn’t mean that you should always shoot in HDR. When the colors are already vivid, HDR will over-compensate, resulting in unnatural colors, giving your photos a cartoony look.


HDR is an incredibly useful tool that has the potential to take your photography game to the next level. Since HDR processing is slightly different for every camera, your best bet is to experiment. Luckily it is easy to do this as most Android phones can be configured so that two images are saved: one with HDR and one without. Keep shooting and experimenting to see what gets the best results for you!

Do you use HDR? What techniques do you use? Let us know in the comments!

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