Instagram now supports HDR photos!

Instagram (IG) and Threads just added support for HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos! This means we are starting to see the first steps toward mainstream use of these enhanced images. HDR photos look more true to life by retaining the full color and dynamic range captured by the camera sensor.

I’m still testing to see what works best, but have posted a few HDR test images to my IG account (note that I have yet to find a way to get a final post that fully matches my the complex edits I’m doing on my computer, which isn’t surprising as support for sharing phone captures is the natural first step for a mobile-first platform).


How can you view HDR photos on Instagram?

IG supports HDR on all major platforms: iPhone, Android, and on the web (with a supporting browser like Chrome). Most smart phones  support HDR, as do most Apple laptops sold in the last several years (the 14-16″ M1 or later MacBook Pros look especially stunning). The majority of your audience will likely be able to see your HDR images, as IG is primarily used on mobile phones.

Support is automatic for most users. There’s nothing you need to do on a phone other than ensure you’re up to date on your operating system and the Instagram app. For a computer, see my tests to confirm that your display supports HDR.

Photos will show as HDR in the feed and when viewed large (such as by clicking an image in the grid on a web browser). They currently show as SDR (standard dynamic range) when viewing a profile grid on a mobile device until you click to view a specific image (the grid is HDR on the web). The images are shared as gain maps, which is a standard intended to help optimize display on any monitor (regardless of whether it supports HDR or just SDR).

Support appears to be starting to roll out across other Meta-owned platforms as well. The Threads iOS now supports HDR. And if you share share an IG or Threads post to Facebook, it will show as HDR when viewed on a supporting web browser. Support seems to be expanding/evolving quickly.


How do you capture and upload HDR photos to your account?

Initial support appears focused on sharing images from smart phone cameras (which makes sense as the primary way most people interact with IG). Just use the native iOS / Android camera app and you should have HDR support. I have tested JPG, HEIC, and RAW on the iPhone and all those formats are supported when captured with the native camera. On Android, I have found both the native Android app and IG’s built-in camera work.

You can also upload images exported from Web Sharp Pro, Lightroom, and ACR as an HDR AVIF encoded in the P3 colorspace. – at least when uploading through the iOS IG app. This is not an optimal solution as it does not include a gain map for optimal SDR rendering, but that’s less important here because most images on Instagram will be viewed on HDR-capable mobile phones. The following video provides more context and shows the ACR pathway through Web Sharp Pro (which offers an “enhance SDR to HDR” option to upgrade any image easily to HDR, Instagram size / cropping templates, converting to P3, optimized sharpening, optional borders, etc).


That’s an incredible start, but what about other options? It would be amazing to have support for every camera app, custom gain maps, etc right now – but we have to start somewhere. I haven’t even seen support documentation on these capabilities, so we are probably in beta territory at this point. Instagram has done an amazing job with this initial support and deserves a lot of credit for this achievement (along with the other the technologies involved here from Google, Apple, Samsung, etc).


What isn’t supported?

I have found the following scenarios do NOT currently support HDR (this is not an exhaustive list, and limitations here may be resolved by the time you read this):

  • Full HDR capacity. If you look at my latest test post, you’ll see an image which with 1.5 stops of HDR headroom – but my source image is edited up to 4 stops and looks much more compelling on my computer. This just looks like a glitch resulting from me trying to share something outside the initially planned support (ie images captured on a phone). So as nice as it is now, it could get much better with full support in the future.
  • Custom gain maps. The full gain map spec used by Adobe is not yet supported on IG, so we can’t provide HDR images which are also optimized for SDR fallback. I’m ok with the tradeoff for now, as HDR is already the norm for mobile devices.
  • Some iOS native camera captures do not include the required gain map. This includes pano images, as well as as portrait mode shots if you shoot too quickly (before text like “natural light” shows in yellow) or you use either of the mono (black and white) modes.
  • Third-party camera apps may not work.
    • I tested ProCamera and found that JPG / HEIF images did not include gain maps and RAW / ProRAW captures did not generate gain maps when uploaded (unlike RAW files from the native iOS camera).
    • The IG camera on iOS did not support HDR in my testing (but direct captures within IG work great on Android / S24).
  • Filters work great for HDR in the Android app. However, selecting any IG filter in the iOS app during upload will result in an SDR result.
  • Uploading through a web browser on a computer will fail to preserve HDR in most cases.
  • Uploading iOS captures on Android or vice versa. Apple and Google use different gain map formats.

None of these limitations for advanced HDR photography surprise me for initial support. There are different gain map specs and implementations at this point which will likely require further work from multiple companies to allow full support across platforms. Focusing on sharing smart phone images is the right first step and the results are gorgeous and very easy to obtain (automatic actually). I had assumed we probably wouldn’t see social media support for HDR any sooner than the end of 2024, so this is a very exciting development.

Keep an eye on my newsletter and Instagram account for updates as HDR support continues to evolve on social media.

Greg Benz Photography