When Not to Use the HDR Setting on Your Camera

Woman taking a selfie on a Smartphone camera
Woman showing smartphone camera feature.

Angelo González / Getty Images

The human eye is able to capture scenes much more vividly than that of a camera lens and especially that which is attached to our trusty smartphone. Our eyes are able to perceive a very wide portion of dynamic range which is still somewhat limited in the digital “eye.” When we see a scene it is not necessarily the same that is captured by our smartphone cameras. We see a vivid scene, but the camera captures a high-contrast scene where bright areas are totally overblown and/or dark areas are just totally black. HDR helps in fixing the digital “eye” by bringing together that series of dark, light, and balance in a photo.

The idea behind HDR is to be able to capture a scene closer to what the human eye is able to capture. This does not mean that you should HDR every photo from here on out. On the contrary, it should be used for scenes to bring back the natural look as we would normally see it.

Do Not Use HDR for Scenes With Movement

This means when a scene contains a moving object or when you the awesome mobile photographer are moving. As stated before, HDR takes a series of images. The images really should match. A handshake or any type of movement will result in a blurry image that you may not be able to use.

If you are able to, use a tripod. If you are not able to use a tripod, hold your phone horizontally with both hands.

Do Not Use HDR in Very Bright, Sunlit Conditions

Direct sunlight can be one of the hardest situations to shoot in. Using HDR setting will wash out your scene. For the most part, this is an undesired outcome for a photograph. This also includes photographs where you are shooting high-contrast images such as silhouettes. Using HDR will change the look of a silhouette image and leave it less interesting and undesirable — and really just not pretty.

Do Not Expect Your Camera Phone to Be Quick When Taking HDR Images

HDR shots are usually much larger in file size than that of single images. Again HDR images are a combination of three images — all with very different data information. This makes for a large image. This also means that it takes a bit longer for your smartphone to capture these images. It takes a bit for your phone to process what it's doing. So if you were hoping to take quick snaps of a scene, pass on the HDR function.

Do Not Use HDR for Very Vividly Colorful Scenes

As stated in the “do’s” article, HDR will bring out some details that can get lost in certain scenes. For example, if your scene is too dark or too light, HDR can bring that color back. Along with that thought, though, if your scene is full of vivid color, HDR will wash them out.

Bottom Line

HDR is a great tool and if used with some of these thoughts in mind, can carry over into some beautiful imagery. However, in order to start playing with HDR as an experimental tool means that you have been able to master controlling HDR — whether you use the native camera app or a 3rd party camera app. As always, have fun with this setting and with your exploration of mobile photography.