Cell Phone Photography Tip: What is HDR Mode?

Today we are talking about HDR Mode! What is it, when to use it, and how to turn it on or off…

First, What is HDR Mode?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Feel free to skip ahead a paragraph or two if you don’t care what that means…

Dynamic range is basically just the difference between the lightest light and the darkest dark you can capture in a photo. This range is different for every camera. In general the dynamic range for your cell phone is not as good as that of a big fancy DSLR. So if you are taking a picture of a scene that has both REALLY bright highlights AND really dark darks- making a range that is beyond the dynamic range of your camera- the highlights tend to wash out to white or the darks become big black blobs. This is when you should consider putting your camera into HDR mode.

HDR mode allows you to take pictures BEYOND the normal dynamic range of your camera. And it does this by taking MORE THAN ONE PICTURE. It actually takes at least 3 different pictures of the same scene… a really bright version, an average exposed version, and a really dark version… and then your camera layers them on top of each other, using the best-lit version of each part of the scene.

This is why taking a picture in HDR mode takes a little bit longer than a regular photo.

Side by side comparison of HDR and no HDR

When should I use HDR Mode?

HDR photography is not ideal for every scene, though. If your subject is moving, skip it. If you WANT strong darks or brights, skip it. Honestly I skip it for portraits entirely.

What it IS good for, is landscape photography- especially if you are including a bright sky in your picture. And your phone camera makes it SUPER easy to use.

How do I use HDR Mode?

Here’s what you do. I am going to demonstrate on my iPhone 8. Android users have a slightly different experience but the concept is the same.

Pull up your camera. Click on the HDR option at the top of the screen, and select ON. Take your picture.

That’s it.

One more thing… Once you are done taking your HDR photos, be sure to TURN OFF your HDR Mode. Not AUTO, just OFF. I find the vast majority of the time it is not needed, and this will save you time and memory on your phone.


One more note for Android users… I have never owned an Android phone, so I am no expert on this… HOWEVER I’ve done some research and HDR Mode availability seems to vary from model to model. I recommend you check either the Shooting Mode, Camera Scenes, or Settings option in your phone’s native Camera app. The HDR Mode function may have a different label like “Rich Tone” (as on Galaxy users). OR consider downloading a paid Camera app like Camera MX which gives you more, cleaner options for taking beautiful pictures on your cell phone!

Or check out this inexpensive guide to making HDR photos on your smart phone!

What is HDR mode? text overlay on photo of amish buggy, horse, and tree in front of a bright sky

OK That’s it- feel free to message me with any questions. And as always let me know what other cell phone photography tips you would like to hear… Thanks!

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Pamela Anticole

Serving PA OH & Beyond

Pamela Anticole is a Pittsburgh based newborn and family photographer. Her award winning style is thoughtful and emotional, and your client experience is both relaxed and fun!


Pamela will photograph your baptism, birthday party, anniversary, bar/bat mitzvah, or wedding in a documentary style learned as a newspaper photojournalist. It is her focus on real, natural relationships and ability to anticipate emotional candid moments that bring sensitivity to her work as a documentary photographer. Pamela is located in the Wexford area of Pittsburgh, PA and available for family photography within 45 miles of downtown Pittsburgh. She also offers photography education for parents both online and on location in person in the Pittsburgh area.