What Is HDR & How to Use It on Your iPhone Camera

What to Know

  • HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It's a kind of image that balances shadows and highlights.
  • Manual HDR settings are only available on certain iPhone models, from the XS through the iPhone 12.
  • The iPhone 12 line and later automatically have these settings to take the best photo possible.

* This article is from our Tip of the Day newsletter. . *

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and an HDR photo is created by balancing the shadows and highlights of an image so that neither is being favored or ignored. We'll walk you through everything you need to know about what HDR is and which iPhones you can adjust the HDR settings on.

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What Is HDR on the iPhone?

Photographers have long been using HDR to improve their photography. Apple adapted HDR for the iPhone camera. Here's what HDR means and what HDR is on the iPhone.

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What is HDR & What Does HDR Mean?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. But what does High Dynamic Range photography mean? It has to do with the differences in vision between the human eye and a camera. Dynamic Range in photography is the range from the lightest light and the darkest dark that can be seen in a photo. Our eyes can see a much larger dynamic range than a camera—and that’s where HDR comes in to make up the difference.

Using HDR Mode can drastically improve the quality of your iPhone photos. The iPhone camera's HDR setting has been around for a long time, so you won't need an HDR camera or a special app to use HDR mode.

For example, say you’re taking a picture of a lighthouse against a blue sky. You can focus and properly expose the lighthouse, or you can focus on the sky. One or the other will appear accurately, but not both. It will either appear as though the sky is washed out (overexposed) or the lighthouse is just a dark shadow. HDR combines multiple exposures so that both the sky and lighthouse are optimally exposed, meaning that both are properly lit, and the contrast levels of the photo are balanced.

Okay, What Is iPhone HDR, Then?

HDR on your iPhone is the combination of three shots, taken within milliseconds of each other, and stitched together into one photo. Your iPhone takes three pictures in order to capture each part of the landscape in perfect exposure. As we stated above, it’s hard to achieve ideal exposure of both light and dark areas. So, the iPhone creates a High Dynamic Range (HDR) photo by combining the properly exposed parts of each of the three images into one that looks seamless. 

The images below show how HDR works and what it looks like when you use HDR on your iPhone:

What is HDR?
what is. hdr on iphone

HDR iPhone Settings & Options

How to Turn Off HDR on iPhone

If you have an iPhone XS through an iPhone 12, including the 2nd gen SE, then your camera will automatically take HDR photos whenever possible unless you turn it off in Settings. Once you hit the iPhone 13 line, HDR is the default, and you cannot turn it off in settings.

How to Turn Off Auto HDR or Smart HDR

  1. Open the Settings app.

    iphone settings
  2. Tap on Camera.

    what does hdr mean on iphone
  3. Toggle off Auto HDR.

    Auto HDR off

    Note: On iPhone SE (2nd generation), iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone XR, and iPhone XS, this will be called Smart HDR, and it is less useful to turn off, since Smart HDR is far less likely to result in motion blur. 
  4. Now return to your Camera app.
  5. You'll see HDR at the top of the screen as before; tap it to turn it off.

    Select HDR

Note: with Auto HDR (or Smart HDR) toggled off in Settings, and HDR set to on in your Camera app, your iPhone will still only take HDR photos when it detects that the HDR technique will improve the photo. If your HDR setting appears to be on in the Camera viewfinder and you're still not seeing HDR photos in the Photos app, then your subject matter probably doesn't have enough contrast between light and shadow to make the HDR technique necessary. Try taking a picture of a tree against a clear sky, or out a window from a dark room into a bright outside, to make sure that HDR is working.

Is HDR for TVs Different than HDR on an iPhone?

Yes and no. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, regardless of whether you're talking about photographs or displays. As a photographic technique, HDR has been around since the early days of film. HDR displays, on the other hand, are an advanced technology that offers millions more colors than HD displays by literally shining more light, so the image is more vibrant and striking. You can take and view HDR Photos without an HDR display, and they'll still do a better job than normal photos of balancing light and dark. That said, every iPhone currently supported by iOS 17 has an HDR display in addition to their HDR Cameras, so they combine ancient photographic techniques with advanced technology to take and show photos that are more true to life, brighter, and more colorful than ever before.

Which iPhones Have HDR Mode?

All iPhones currently supported by iOS 17 have HDR mode automatically enabled. You can disable it on an iPhone 12 and earlier, but not the iPhone 13 line or later.


  • What do I do if my iPhone camera is not working? You can fix your iPhone camera not working with simple troubleshooting steps like restarting the app and your iPhone or checking your storage. Otherwise, you may need to contact Apple support.
  • Why is my iPhone camera shaking? Your iPhone camera lens might be shaking because of dust on the screen so cleaning it might help the issue. Toggling on Lock Camera might also help your iPhone camera shaking.
  • Why are my iPhone photos blurry? If your iPhone photos are blurry, it might be because your iPhone is automatically switching between cameras.
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Author Details

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Author Details

Sarah Kingsbury

As the Editorial Director at iPhone Life, Sarah Kingsbury manages the online editorial team and oversees all website content. She is a long-time Apple enthusiast who never goes anywhere without her Apple Watch and owns way too many HomePods. Since joining iPhone Life in 2013, Sarah has done everything from writing hundreds of how-to articles to founding the Daily Tip newsletter. She even co-hosted the early episodes of the iPhone Life Podcast. When not at work, Sarah can be found hiking in the mountains and canyons around Las Vegas, where she lives with her partner and dogs.