What is HDR on an iPhone Camera?

Hint...it's NOT high definition resolution.
Michael Michael (175)

I make mistakes when taking pictures with my iPhone, like forgetting to turn of the "live" photo feature and having to convert the live photos to still photos. Yup. We've all been there.

For the longest time, I mistakenly thought that the "HDR" randomly appearing when I took certain photos on my iPhone meant high definition resolution. I would bet that I'm not the only one who assumed that and wondered why every shot wasn't being taken at the highest resolution possible.

Don't be like me. Read on.

iPhoneiPhone ×1

Howchoo is reader-supported. As an Amazon Associate, we may earn a small affiliate commission at no cost to you when you buy through our links.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.

Okay. Great! So what exactly does that mean?

When the HDR feature is active on your iPhone camera, it will automatically combine three different exposures into one single photograph. On an even simpler level, HDR combines the bright highs of your photograph and the dim lows, so that a sense of balance is achieved.

Portrait of a Smiling Woman at Beach

Here's a scenario.

You're at the beach on a sunny day, and you want to take a photograph of a friend with your iPhone. The problem is that your friend appears like a dark silhouette in the foreground, while the skyline is bright. You adjust your iPhone camera settings a bit. Now, your friend is well-lit, but the background is too dark.

This is the perfect scenario to turn on the HDR feature of your iPhone camera.

Here are a few more examples of when to use the HDR feature:

  • Most high contrast shots, such as landscapes or cityscapes;
  • A subject that is directly lit (to avoid those dark shadows in the background);
  • A subject that is heavily backlit (to avoid the subject appearing too dark).
Silhouette of City Buildings

This one is trickier, but here's one way to think about it. Maybe a high-contrast shot with bright whites and dark shadows is exactly what you're going for.

Such as:

  • a shot with a background intentionally shadowed amidst other bright spots (think of a sunrise over a city that creates a dividing line of light);
  • a shot where you are intentionally creating a silhouette of something in the foreground for effect (think of those landscape shots with something silhouetted up close).

Take for example the above photograph. You can see how the photographer allowed the city to remain dark in the foreground to highlight the colors of the skyline. Had this been an HDR photograph, that effect would have been totally lost.

In cases like those, you'll want to turn off the HDR feature on your iPhone, so you can get creative.


Here's a basic example of an HDR iPhone photograph versus a regular photograph that I took today while walking my dog. The differences here may appear subtle at first but will prove important - particularly when you begin taking even more complex HDR shots.


  1. The lake in the non-HDR photo appears washed out and white, while the HDR photograph showcases that wonderful color pattern I was looking to capture;
  2. The background (particularly on the left) is also washed out, making it hard to see the rich detail of the trees and house in the distance. In the HDR version, the color is much more balanced and the contrast clear;
  3. Finally, the overall contrast and balance of the entire photograph are improved - from the detail of my little puppy to the detail of the trees.

The next time you step outside try using the iPhone HDR feature and see the differences for yourself!


Good news! We have an entire guide dedicated to turning on and off the HDR feature.

In short, you simply need to go to your camera settings and switch off "Auto HDR." When you return to your camera, you'll now have the option to manually control the HDR function of your iPhone camera.

For when you accidentally turned on the "live" feature.
Michael Michael (175)

Live photos are great! And sometimes a "live" photo is exactly what we want when we're taking a photo.