Note: “HDR” on this page refers to new display technologies (hardware and software) which allow vastly brighter pixels and truly higher dynamic range output. The name for this new technology is confusing because we’ve used the term “HDR” for years, but now that same name is being used for something completely different.
Photography is about to improve in a massive way. Display technology is beginning to transition to HDR or “High Dynamic Range”. This is the most significant improvement in image quality in decades. And there’s a good chance you already own such a display and don’t even know it. On this page, you’ll learn how you can start to explore this incredible world of HDR.
The photograph on the left below is a standard image and on the right is an HDR version of it. The image on the right will look substantially better when viewed as HDR.
If the right image is missing or not clearly better, see the tests and troubleshooting sections below to see what you’re missing. For the ultimate HDR experience today: view the images on this page on an M1 MacBook Pro using Google Chrome (you can easily install Chrome on a floor model in the Apple store if you or a friend don’t own one). If you’re trying to view this page at a PC store, try using the best computer at half brightness and check that Windows system settings show support for HDR.
Links for this page:
- What is HDR and why is it so important?
- HDR image gallery
- Testing your display for HDR support
- Which monitors are best for HDR?
- Creating HDR images
- Exporting and sharing HDR images on the web (JXL and AVIF)
- HDR conversions from 8-bit JPG (MidJourney, etc)
- What is the dynamic range of HDR?
- How many bits are required for HDR?
- What supports HDR, what doesn’t?
- HDR Standards
- What does HDR content look like an SDR display?
- What does HDR mean for printing?
- What are the implications for exposure blending?
- What’s missing? (HDR wish list)
- Troubleshooting display issues
To learn more, be sure to get my FREE HDR e-book (which also includes a TIF test image to help ensure Photoshop is setup correctly and gauge the limits of your display).
Note: Everything on this page is subject to change in the coming months and years, as support for HDR is rapidly evolving. Please come back for the latest information and be sure to leave a comment if anything seems out of date.
What is "HDR" display and why is it so amazing?
We’ve been using some pretty mediocre monitors for a long time, but that’s beginning to change quickly. The most beautiful and dramatic light we experience has a vastly greater range of contrast and dynamic range than standard monitors. The latest generation of HDR (“high dynamic range”) monitors now support vastly improved recreations of real world lighting through greater peak brightness, richer blacks for improved contrast, and support for new standards such as HDR10+ and DolbyVision. The benefits of HDR over what I’ll call “standard dynamic range” (SDR) monitors are enormous.
Benefits of HDR display for photography include:
- Vastly greater dynamic range (roughly 2-4 extra stops on a 2021 M1 MacBook Pro, depending on brightness)
- Make bright lights truly glow
- Improved highlight detail in clouds, water, etc
- Boost the brightness of bright colors without losing saturation for gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, etc
It’s impossible to appreciate how much better a true HDR display is without seeing it yourself. If you bought an Apple device (laptop, iPhone, iPad) or high definition TV since 2018, there’s a very good chance you already own an HDR-compatible device. This technology has been around for several years now but gone relatively unnoticed due to a lack of standards, tools, and content. But things are starting to move quickly now with native HDR support from Photoshop, Affinity, the Chrome web browser, and numerous other popular tools for creating and viewing images.
HDR image gallery
All HDR images here were derived from existing 16-bit SDR images, and could potentially be further enhanced with editing for HDR from the start. I’ll try to update this section later when I get more time with ACR v15. If the image on the right isn’t clearly brighter and better looking (or won’t display at all), see the tests and troubleshooting sections below to see what you’re missing.
Testing your display for HDR support:
In order to view HDR images, you’ll need an HDR capable monitor and proper settings. It is highly recommended that you view this page on Google Chrome, as it is the only browser I have fully support the HDR AVIF content on this page. If you pass the tests below (expected results listed below the tests), you’re already setup. If not, you either do not have an HDR-capable monitor or your computer is not properly configured.
Test #1 (bright white text):
Test #2 (AVIF support):
Test #3 (JXL support)
Test #4 (HDR spectrum)
Test #5 (HDR gradient)
INCOMPLETE: Unable to determine if your browser / monitor supports HDR
Test #7 (CSS media query):
Test #8 (HDR headroom):
Expected results for the tests above:
- Test #1 (bright white text) should clearly show white text much brighter than the surrounding white background when your screen is at a medium brightness (some HDR monitors will not show HDR benefit at full brightness). This is probably the most clear test of whether your monitor is properly displaying HDR (assuming you pass test #2, as this test requires AVIF support). If you can’t pass this test on a monitor you believe to be HDR-compatible, see the troubleshooting section below as well as my free e-book (which goes into greater detail).
- Test #2 (AVIF support) green text saying “PASS”. If not, your browser cannot render AVIF images of any kind.
- Test #3 (JXL support) green text saying “PASS”. Passing this test is not necessary and most browsers will fail. Chrome has proper HDR JXL support under a development flag, but is removing JXL support entirely in future builds. AVIF is file format you’ll be using for HDR.
- Test #4 (HDR spectrum) will render on any system supporting AVIF (as browsers will scale the brightness to your monitor’s maximum brightness).
- On an HDR display that has some available headroom, this pattern will be significantly brighter than other content and the bottom row should be similar to or not much darker than the surrounding white on the page.
- On an SDR image, the brightest white will be similar to the page and the bottom row will likely show a dark gray.
- Test #5 (HDR gradient) the right (HDR) side of the comparison should be significantly brighter than the left (SDR).
- There is a bug in iOS 16.0 where invalid data is returned (returns 32, which is not valid as a multiple of 3 is expected for an RGB display).
- In rare cases, you might get a false positive (I’ve seen a 250 nits monitor report itself as 1499 nits in Windows advanced display settings it showed 10-bit display here, so bad data in the video driver appears possible).
- Test #7 (CSS media query) green text saying “PASS”
- This test is imperfect and may be inconclusive (not all browsers support this query).
- If you toggle HDR settings in the operating system, you probably need to refresh the page (this media query does not seem to dynamically update).
- Test #8 (HDR headroom) – Clicking this button (on supporting browsers) should show a numeric value for the number of stops of “HDR headroom” your screen offers. An SDR screen will always have 0 stops.
- This is a helpful way to better understand the relationship between screen brightness and the amount of HDR benefit you can expect, or to compare monitors with various standards of HDR support (different peak brightness).
- In addition to the monitor’s peak brightness, HDR headroom depends on screen brightness. On Windows, System / Display / HDR / “SDR content brightness” will also affect HDR headroom.
- An HDR screen (typically one limited to 400-600 nits) may show 0 headroom at full brightness, so try reducing screen brightness (the measurement will update as you change brightness). This is expected on less capable HDR screens where the entire monitor brightness is devoted to SDR content when the brightness is set high (more capable HDR monitors will always keep some extra brightness reserved for HDR).
- One quick note on the concept of HDR headroom for displays. The monitor itself does not care about SDR vs HDR content. It simply has a range of brightness it can display for each pixel. The distinction between SDR and HDR is created so that the display can be better managed for human use. This allows allows the user to make the screen brighter or darker for general (SDR) content, with any remaining brightness being available for HDR use. On a very bright display, the SDR brightness is limited so that there is always some available “HDR headroom“. For example, the XDR display on the M1 MacBook Pro has an SDR limit which can be set between 50 and 500 nits, and the remainder up to the screen’s 1600 nits peak brightness is the HDR headroom.
- Note that this test uses a new web API that is not supported by many browsers (latest Chrome works well). So don’t worry if you can’t run this test.
- Notes: there is a bug in Chrome (as of Oct 2022) affecting reported values for an HDR screen set as an extended display in a multi-monitor environment. If you see 0.087 or something very small but not zero on an HDR display, try setting using a single monitor or setting it up as mirrored.
- To run this test for Chrome: copy this to the URL bar chrome://flags/#enable-experimental-web-platform-features and change the value to Enabled
If you pass #1, you’re viewing HDR. Tests #4 and #8 should give you a sense of how much headroom you have on the display.
Which monitors are best for HDR?
This is a very detailed topic, so I’ve created a separate page with reviews and recommendations for HDR monitors. The short answer is that Apple laptops have had them for years (with the M1 MacBook Pro being outstanding), PC laptop options aren’t as great, and external monitors are still pretty pricy unless you only need to view in a darker or more controlled environment.
Creating HDR images with ACR 15
ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) v15 supports proper display and editing of HDR images (which they call HDRO or “High Dynamic Range Output”). To enable support in ACR, go to PS Prefs / File Handling / Camera RAW Preferences / Tech Previews, check “HDR output” and restart Photoshop (this feature is only available on MacOS).
Once you’ve enabled it, you can use ACR to create HDR versions from any source image (or any layer when using Filter / Camera RAW Filter). You’ll see the most benefit when working on a RAW image, but you can use this HDR editing even on something like an 8-bit JPG and get incredible results (see my HDR conversions of 8-bit JPGs from generative AI).
To process as HDR, you need to click the “HDR” button just below the histogram. Once you do, you’ll find the following:
- All the editing controls look exactly the same. There is no learning curve. But as you increase brightness (through exposure, highlights, whites, curves, etc), you will find the image simply gets brighter and more beautiful – rather than clipping to white. It’s very intuitive.
- The histogram will change and show both SDR (standard dynamic range) and HDR. The SDR range is what you’ve always had and the HDR range is the extra stops of brightness above it. The HDR range will show yellow (HDR pixels your monitor can handle) and red areas (pixels which are clipped / beyond the limits of your display at its current brightness).
- The highlight clipping triangle will also show the same yellow/red coloration to let you know which pixels are in the HDR range and which are clipped on your monitor. There is no fixed upper limit like we have with SDR white.
- The bottom of the Basic panel includes a “High Dynamic Range” section. If you click the triangle, you’ll see a couple things appear:
- “Visualize HDR Ranges“. This shows the HDR values color coded various shades of blue/purple for the number of stops over SDR white (note that this does not indicate clipping, which might be in any of the blue/purple areas depending on your display).
- “Preview for SDR Display“. The only use I have found for this for using ACR to save the image in an SDR format. Most people can ignore this section. See my HDR e-book for more details.
- The curves will be labeled with SDR and HDR regions and shows a smaller grid spacing.
Creating HDR images with Photoshop
32-bit editing in Photoshop is substantially different 8/16-bit editing, including the several differences:
- 32-bit mode supports much brighter pixels (and negative values for some bright colors). This is what gives you HDR support in 32-bit images. This means your pixels can go way above “255” max you’re probably used to for 8/16-bit editing. That numbering system is not used for HDR though. Instead, 32-bit numbers are measured on a floating-point scale where 0.000 is the same as 0 in 8/16-bit measurements and 1.000 is the same as 255 in 8/16-bit measurements. HDR values are those above 1.000, with each stop being double. So 2.000 is 1-stop above standard white, 4.000 is 2-stops above standard white, and so on. Individual RGB channels may also show as negative for bright HDR colors (you would only see this as a result from an adjustment, you cannot request such colors directly).
- 32-bit mode works with a linear (1.0) gamma at all times. This provides more accurate blending of color, but also has some confusing and sometimes unwanted side effects. For example, you’ll find that curves work substantially differently.
- Several tools are not available in 32-bit mode (primarily because of the development effort required to offer support, so hopefully we’ll see the options grow as HDR gains in popularity). You won’t see black & white adjustment layers, overlay blend mode, etc. See my e-book for more details and suggested workarounds / alternatives.
- Some tools work differently or improperly in 32-bit mode. For example, the saturation blend mode produces very different results, “smart sharpen” will clip all HDR pixels to SDR values, etc.
- Layer masks for 32-bit images are encoded as 16-bit grayscale. There is no such thing as a 32-bit luminosity mask in Photoshop because the layer mask represents 0 – 100% opacity and you cannot have >100% opacity for a pixel. You wouldn’t want to waste space on the extra bits anyhow, as even an 8-bit luminosity mask has enough detail to avoid banding as long as the image itself is in 16-bits.**
** The Lumenzia v11 luminosity masking panel for Photoshop offers extensive support for 32-bit workflows. This includes not just full support for luminosity masks in 32-bit images but also color masks, dodging & burning, sharpening, and numerous other optimizations.
Support to open HDR content in Photoshop varies. The TIF, PSD (“Photoshop”), PSB (“Large Document Format”) work flawlessly. HDR (this is a file extension called HDR and is otherwise known as “Radiance”) and OpenEXR formats can import images, but lack support for layers and embedded color spaces. While the HEIC file format supports HDR (iPhone uses this), Photoshop appears to open such images clipped to SDR. Photoshop does not natively support opening AVIF or JXL images at this time (and the 3rd-party AVIF extension I’ve tested does not appear to support HDR at this time).
Other tools for creating HDR:
The following tools also support HDR editing :
- Affinity provides support for viewing and editing HDR images as 32-bit RGB. Use the 32-bit Preview panel to help control visualization.
- GIMP provides support for 32-bit files, but I have not tested to see if it displays over-range values as HDR or simply shows a clipped display the way legacy versions of Photoshop do. So you can edit HDR images, but I’m not sure if you can view the content as HDR.
The following tools do not support HDR display and editing currently:
- Lightroom: anything you view, edit, or export will be clipped to 16-bits and there is no support for the JXL/AVIF formats. However you can use the “edit in” feature to open a 32-bit TIF from LR, so you can still use it as an organizational tool. 32-bit support for PSB/PSD is lacking at this time (you can’t even preview them clipped to SDR), which is unfortunate and hopefully we’ll soon be able to at least manage 32-bit PSB files in LR.
- CaptureOne has an “High Dynamic Range” section right under exposure, but this appears to be just tone-mapping to help better convert RAW images to
Exporting and sharing HDR images on the web (JXL / AVIF)
The image formats we’ve used on the internet for decades (JPG, PNG, GIF) are not the best choices for HDR. The JPG and GIF formats do not support it. It is possible to encode a PNG with a color space (such as Rec2020 PQ) which is a true HDR image, but I have yet to find a web browser which will render it properly. It’s not a very compact format anyhow. There are some obscure formats like JPEG 2000 which could also support HDR, but these formats never got much support (possibly because we didn’t have HDR displays until recently). The best formats for sharing HDR images are the new AVIF and JXL (“JPEG XL”) formats.
AVIF is a file format which has been promoted by Alliance for Open Media. It’s an open standard which already enjoys fairly broad support in major web browsers.
JXL is another competing royalty-free standard. It is newer and browser support is more limited as a result. However, it typically offers much faster file save times and smaller files for photographs. While it has many advantages over AVIF, Google Chrome has just removed it from development and it appears AVIF will be the primary format for sharing HDR images on the web.
Which format should you use for HDR? AVIF seems like the clear leader with its browser support (and Chrome removing JXL support). But for the sake of comparison – both are great for HDR and there are several reasons you might favor one over the other:
- Both formats support HDR, small file sizes (better than JPG), transparency (alpha channels), high quality and lossless options, depth maps, and overlays (to preserve the quality of graphic / text on top of a photographic background).
- AVIF was created earlier and has greater browser support at this time. All major browsers support AVIF (though not all support HDR AVIF yet), whereas none support JXL in production releases. So AVIF is the clear winner for compatibility.
- You can export JXL files directly from ACR v15 using the steps outline in my FREE HDR e-book.
- If you are comfortable with command line tools, you can create HDR-compatible AVIF files using the steps outline in my FREE HDR e-book.
- JXL files can be exported substantially faster due to faster encoding speed.
- JXL tends to produce smaller files for a given level of photographic quality (AVIF can offer smaller files for low fidelity images).
- JXL offers a maximum 24-bit integer or 32-bit floats, which may be helpful for sharing a compact file intended for editing. AVIF’s 10 and 12-bit variants are more than enough for display.
- Both formats support animation (though AVIF has some advantages)
HDR conversions from 8-bit JPG: (MidJourney, stock, etc)
Up-converting to HDR can add great impact even to 8-bit source images such as stock photography or AI-generated art (MidJourney, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, etc). It may not work on images highly prone to banding (those with smooth gradients), but most 8-bit images can tolerate this enhancement well.
What is the dynamic range of HDR?
Up to this point, I’ve focused on the extra stops of brightness one can see with an HDR monitor. That’s paints a fairly clear picture, but it isn’t the whole story. The dynamic range is the difference between light and dark. So the minimum black for your monitor also matters. Having deeper blacks also increases dynamic range. Our SDR images have always had the option to encode for black. What’s more important is to understand your actual display.
If you create a 32-bit document with a pure black background (0.000) and then put extremely dark black (0.0001) text over it, you can clearly read that text on my Eizo monitor. You can’t directly request or measure smaller values in Photoshop, but you can add a curve that reduces it down to roughly 4% of that (0.000004) and the text can still be read. The text is never blurry, the only thing that limits visibility is that the background black is clearly lit (substantially brighter than the black plastic edges of the monitor). This is caused by a backlight being used for the entire screen. It is high quality, but nothing gets truly black. The result is that you can see very dark shadows, but they don’t look impressive due to a lack of contrast.
Conversely on a 2021 M1 MacBook Pro’s XDR display, the background is a true black (there is no detectable backlight, it looks the same as the darkness around the screen in a black room). However, the ability to see this values is significantly diminished. You can vaguely detect something on the screen at 0.0001, the text is not even slightly readable until about 0.0004, and only clearly visible starting around 0.0010. The text looks extremely blurry at the low end of the range, caused by the spread of the local backlight. Unlike a single backlight, this display uses mini-LED to locally provide light if some pixels in a given region are not black. At the lowest levels, the backlight bleed is the dominant factor, giving things a blurry feel. However, while you can’t clearly make out some extremely dark details as well, the result is higher contrast shadows which look much nicer.
Each of these technologies has potential various advantages. If you were to compare these to an OLED TV, you’d find the OLED can achieve true blacks. This gets promoted as “infinite contrast ratio” (suggesting infinite dynamic range), but is a fairly useless concept in practice. OLED displays are susceptible to burn-in (ghosting / damage) if they are turned up too bright, so they cannot produce the stunning bright whites of the XDR display. The extra deep blacks would primarily help when viewing such a screen in a very dark room with no ambient light or reflections.
This should make the next generation micro-LED (which only illuminates a single pixel and achieves high higher brightness than OLED) extremely attractive. As great as these screens are, there is still a lot of room for useful improvement.
So how much extra dynamic range do we get with HDR? It depends on the monitor and how you use it. There probably isn’t a definitive answer – you could make many different and good arguments even for the same hardware. The 32-bit files allow you to specify values as anything as bright or dark in the real world, but no monitor can achieve this. The most important monitor factors are peak brightness and the minimum black. There are of course nuances such as the degree to which dark pixels retain detail due to the backlight design. The useful range of a display also depends on ambient lighting (viewing conditions) and the degree to which your screen reflects that ambient light. So which of these factors really matters?
The difference in shadow detail for a given monitor would affect both SDR and HDR images, and we rarely view screens only in dark rooms where the deepest black is the most critical factor. So from a visual impact standpoint, the greatest benefit of an HDR display is the enhanced peak brightness. I’d argue that we’re gaining about 2-4 stops of dynamic range with best-in-class HDR displays at the moment in typical viewing conditions (more than 4 stops are possible if you configure the display properly and view in a dark room, but this won’t be relevant to most users). If we hit the 4000 nits target of Dolby Vision, we’re probably gaining as much as 5 or 6 stops in typical usage. At that point, further gains might only matter when watching a monitor in a bright outdoor setting. Monitors are making great progress towards recreating light and color which we see in the real world, and we should continue to see some nice improvements in the years to come.
How many bits are required for HDR?
If you are not familiar with bit-depth generally, please see this article I posted on the topic. You might think 32-bits means HDR, but that is simply not the case. Unfortunately, things get more confusing with HDR because you’re going to have dig a little deeper into the details to know what the numbers mean. For example, you probably have numerous 16-bit TIF files which are only SDR, whereas the HDR images on this page are 10-bit HDR JXL files (which were exported from 32-bit TIF source images). With the caveat that details matter, the following will generally be true (with possible rare exceptions):
- Photoshop natively supports HDR in 32-bit images. 8 or 16-bit images (in common color spaces like Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB) are SDR (unless you use the hack built into Lumenzia v11, which allows 16-bit HDR for selective color, etc).
- The JXL and AVIF image formats support HDR images at much lower bit depths (typically 10 or 12, but higher is possible). These file formats can encode SDR images in those same bit-depths as well.
- Similarly, HDR monitors will typically reference a 10 or 12-bit specification.
The important thing to know is that more bits are not required to specify a huge dynamic range. As an extreme example, we could make a 1-bit HDR image if we defined 0 as pitch black and 1 as the brightness of the sun. Obviously that would be useless, but it illustrates the point. We have always needed higher bit-depths for editing than exporting, which is why we use 16-bit TIFs for SDR but are often perfectly happy to export those images as 8-bit JPGs. That said, more bits are often helpful (particularly while editing)
Why doesn’t Photoshop natively support HDR for 16-bit images? My best guess is that it’s due to a combination of several factors including: potential for user confusion, quality concerns for potential banding if a linear gamma were used with 16-bits + wide gamut + HDR, common layered file formats and Photoshop itself may not support 16-bit floating point encoding (I’m not sure), and the costs to develop a niche feature. Perhaps we’ll see it in the future as HDR grows, but I wouldn’t expect it since 32-bit files are only twice as big and our processing and storage capabilities tend to double every couple years or so.
Bottom line: you’ll use 32-bits in Photoshop and probably won’t know the bit depth of your exports (but they will likely be 10 or 12 bits). If your export looks good, you’re set.
What supports HDR, what doesn't?
Apple has done a fantastic job of releasing supporting hardware for years, and now with support from major software like Photoshop and Chrome we have some great ways to create and share HDR. But as you’ve seen above, support varies widely. So here’s a quick summary of notable hardware and software which does or does not support HDR.
What’s supports HDR photography well now?
- Nearly all modern Apple laptops, Pro XDR Display, iPhone, and iPad hardware.
- Many recent HDTVs and most of the high end models.
- Photoshop (for editing)
- Affinity photo (for editing)
- Google Chrome. HDR AVIF works beautifully (so does HDR JXL, but you have to enable a developer flag to use it).
- Your existing photos. Both RAW and SDR images can be converted to beautiful HDR images.
What is lacking critical HDR support?
- WebKit. This is a major missing component. A large number of iPhone and iPads have excellent HDR hardware and can view AVIF files with iOS16, but there is no support for HDR AVIF files on any browser (including Chrome) on iOS. When iOS browsers support HDR AVIF, it will be an incredibly important moment and Apple could change the game for tens of millions of mobile devices at any time.
- External monitors (for Mac or PC). Very few external monitors support HDR at this time, including some very high-end models.
- PCs. There are some laptops and external displays, but the options are limited and most Windows users would probably need to connect an HD TV to see HDR content. It’s only a matter of time before that changes, but that’s where things are now.
- Photoshop for exporting AVIF files. We need native JXL support for simpler exports as well.
- Affinity for exporting JXL / AVIF files.
- Lightroom (can manage TIF files, cannot view or edit any HDR content).
- Adobe Bridge
- most web browsers other than Chrome: Safari, FireFox, etc.
- Social media. I am unaware of any popular social platform or website which currently supports HDR.
There are some notable items I have not investigated (I do not know how well supported): Android, GIMP (does support 32-bit but I don’t know about display).
We are still in the early stages of HDR and things are subject to change rapidly. Please comment if anything on this page seems out of date, and be sure to check back for the latest.
- Name confusion. The vastly improved HDR displays we’re discussing here are going to frequently get confused with the completely separate “HDR” tonemapping techniques used by software such as Photomatix. Adobe refers to it as HDRO (“High Dynamic Range Output”) to try to differentiate it from tone mapping methods.
- Mixed search results. If you try to Google information on the topic, most of your search results are going to be about that other HDR. Try narrowing your search by looking for terms like “HDR10” or “32-bit Photoshop”.
- Competing standards. TV makers refer to HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision. Apple refers to HDR, EDR, and XDR. Computer monitors may reference the DisplayHDR standard. And so on. The ideas are similar, sometimes the same, and yet often have substantial differences.
- Marketing terms muddy the water. You’ll have no problem finding a cheap monitor which claims to be an HDR monitor. That monitor may offer nothing more than the ability to process an HDR signal for its SDR display, or it might only support a very limited peak brightness. Don’t be fooled, the details matter.
The following standards are important to understand for HDR:
- DisplayHDR: This is a test standard from Vesa to help compare different monitors with a numerical measurement of peak brightness. 400 would work in a darker environment, 600 is better, and 1000+ is the ideal. If a monitor isn’t listed here, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t HDR and you should look at the peak sustained brightness as the most comparable number. For example, Apple’s XDR monitors are excellent but not on the list, but knowing they have 1000-1600 nits peak brightness ought to tell you they are solid.
- HDR10: This is an open standard for displaying TV content.
- HDR10+: This is HDR10 with metadata to help optimize brightness over time when watching a video.
- DolbyVision: This is a proprietary standard from Dolby. Due to licensing costs and minimum requirements, you’ll tend to find it only on higher end TVs. Seeing support for DolbyVision is an excellent indicator of quality.
- XDR (eXtreme Dynamic Range): This is Apple’s name for its best /brightest HDR monitors. They also have some less-capable but true HDR displays which don’t get the XDR brand name.
- EDR (Extreme Dynamic Range): This is Apple’s name for its operating system / software support for HDR. You probably won’t see this term much if you aren’t a developer.
What does HDR look like on an SDR display?
If you try to view HDR content on an SDR display, one of the following results will occur:
- The HDR content be clipped (so bright highlights will generally get blown out to white). This leaves you with accurate SDR content, but would look terrible because the HDR content is not useful.
- The entire tonal range will be “tone mapped“, which means that it is adapted to the limitations of your screen. It’s basically a complex curve that limits the maximum brightness to fit your screen. Generally this will leave SDR shadow minimally changed, but the highlights will get compressed into a very tight range. This darkens the SDR content a bit so that you get a general sense of the image (including the HDR content), but it is not an accurate HDR display and certainly not as stunning. But it is helpful to ensure anyone can see something useful (and often still very attractive).
- Or some combination of both approaches. You might see some HDR content tone mapped into a range your monitor can handle and still have some of the brightest HDR highlights clip.
If you view this web page or my HDR videos on an SDR display, YouTube will use tone mapping. That’s why you can get a sense of the HDR benefit when viewing those videos on an SDR display (though the visual impact is substantially greater if you view the same video on an HDR monitor).
Note that tone mapping is the general approach older HDR technology worked, it would compress an HDR source into SDR. In this case, it’s a fixed algorithm (unlike the much more complex controls you get with software like Photomatix for tone mapping).
There’s also some cross-over between these HDR technologies – tone mapping can be used with bright HDR displays. Every HDR screen has its limits. When you exceed those limits, your browser or photo editing software may try to tone map the content to fit your HDR display. This is particularly useful for 400-600nit HDR displays, but even a 1600 nit display may have some tone mapping if the content was mastered for DolbyVision (which targets 4000 nits). The results are much better here because you are compressing the much less. For example, 4000 nits is 20x brighter than SDR (203 nits) but only 2.5 times brighter than 1600 nits. Human vision is also less sensitive to brighter light, so you are unlikely to notice tone mapping on any decent HDR display, even if it’s used to adapt the content to your screen.
What does HDR mean for printing?
A standard monitor has more contrast that a print (especially with media such as matte or canvas that lack deep blacks). We aren’t about to discover whiter paper or blacker ink. Sure we might see some little gains, but prints can’t match the dynamic displays of monitors as is and we aren’t going to see HDR prints. They will never be the same, a screen emits light and a print only reflects light.
We’ve used to unprintable (out of gamut) colors. But the gap between screen and print capabilities is growing with HDR and it’s something to consider. The extra brightness of HDR is unprintable and would likely show terrible clipping in the highlights. We may see some automatic tone mapping in the future (probably likely given HDR imaging in consumer phones), but you’d get better results taking control of any such conversion. You should not expect good results when printing directly from an HDR image.
So what should you do? There are several options:
- Process entirely for HDR and ignore printing. Many photographers don’t print much or at all and this would be a valid option. You may still want to consider SDR exports for display on monitors that don’t support HDR, though tone mapping in Chrome is pretty good and you don’t need to create for SDR monitors.
- Process for SDR first (which gives you a printable image) and then create an HDR derivative for display on screen. This is very easy to do and looks great. Using Lumenzia, just add an L1 or L2 mask to some kind of adjustment which brightens the image to give the existing highlights a nice pop.
- Process for HDR first. This lets you work from the RAW (using ACR 15) to get the most out of your RAW to produce an optimized HDR image. You can then convert the HDR to SDR as needed for print (or for digital display meant to represent the image as it will print).
- Process the image twice: once for SDR and once for HDR. This clearly creates more work and might create important differences between the images, but both print and screen would be fully optimized.
- Don’t use HDR at all. Your images won’t look as good as they can on your computer, iPhone, iPad, social media, website, email, etc. But your screen will better match the limitations of the print, and you won’t have to learn any new skills or do any extra work. I appreciate the merits of this approach for those who only use screens as a way to ultimately get to a print, but I think there is probably a more inspired middle ground. You might choose to process only 1 stop or so into the HDR range to make your images more compelling, while not deviating too much from a print.
I expect my own long-term approach will be some mix of approaches #2 (definitely for images I’ve already processed) and #3 (as the extra RAW detail is so compelling).
Will HDR offer other benefits for printing? Possibly, but probably not. Camera RAW has already been very well optimized to tone map an HDR source to SDR display. The exception might be for images which are lit from behind, which ultimately makes them emissive like a screen.
What HDR mean for exposure blending?
Whenever a new technique comes along, it’s natural to ask whether it displaces other techniques. Many people associate exposure blending with luminosity masks with the idea of managing dynamic range. It can certainly help with that, but that’s actually not the main benefit of blending. If you’ve taken my Exposure Blending Master Course, you already know that the majority of my blending work uses a single RAW exposure. Even when I Lightroom’s merge to HDR feature to combine images, I take that new RAW file into Photoshop for blending. Blending allows for much better control over sunset color, artistic control over tonal detail, combining different moments in time, and numerous other enhancements to the image which are unrelated to the dynamic range of your screen or RAW file. Rather than displacing blending techniques, HDR will let us better process RAW images for even more better exposure blends.
What's missing? (HDR wish list)
Apple has created critical mass of high-quality HDR displays and companies like Adobe and Google have given us some critical tools for creating and sharing HDR images. But we’re still in the early stages of HDR and there are some key components missing. The following developments would significantly simplify HDR and encourage adoption:
- Broader web browser support for properly rendering HDR AVIF images. In particular, support within Safari / WebKit is crucial because it is required for the millions of incredible iPhone and iPad HDR displays to show HDR images on the web.
- A simple way to export HDR AVIF images. While it is possible now, it is far from simple. In particular, native support for these exports from Photoshop and Affinity would have enormous impact.
- A larger selection of 1000+ nit PC laptops and external monitors. This matters to everyone (including those lucky enough to have high end Apple displays), as it means a larger audience of people who can appreciate your gorgeous HDR images.
- More affordable 1000+ nit external monitors. With the exception of those who get the Apple XDR display with their laptop, the best (brightest) HDR monitors are currently beyond the budget of most photographers.
- Social media support for HDR images. While you can share images now on your own website, major image sharing platforms like Instagram and Facebook do not support HDR images.
- Simpler Windows support. HDR support in MacOS just works (with the minor exception that you have to enable it for external HDMI monitors). Windows is much more complicated (have to enable it on every screen, loss of support when mirroring, calibration issues, etc).
There of course many items you could add to the wish list here (support in AppleTV, AirPlay, etc), but these are very high impact items (especially items 1-4).
Troubleshooting HDR display:
If you do not clearly see HDR benefit or have problems with the tests above, please check the following:
To view HDR, you need support for every piece of the puzzle from end to end. You need:
HDR content (plenty on this page)
an HDR-compatible monitor supporting a peak brightness of at least 400 nits
an HDR-compatible browser (Google Chrome is highly recommended)
your operating system must be configured to support HDR (MacOS offers this by default for its screens), etc.
See my FREE HDR e-book for more details, especially if you’re trying to use a high-definition TV as an HDR monitor.
If your monitor’s brightness is set too high, it may no longer show HDR benefits even if it is an HDR monitor. For example the 400 nits peak brightness of the 2020 M1 MacBook Air won’t show benefit at full brightness, whereas the 1600 nit peak brightness on the 2020 M1 MacBook Pro will.
- If the images look extremely dark, your browser is not rendering them correctly (FireFox currently does this).
- Make sure your operating system is set to optimize for the correct monitor if you have multiple. If viewing a website mirrored on a mix of monitors, the display is optimized for only one display when many are mirrored (so you may see clipped HDR content on a mirrored SDR monitor, for example).
- If you do not see the JXL images above, your browser does not support JXL images (an SDR display should still show an image if JXL is supported). Nearly all browsers will fail this test at this time and it is not important as AVIF works great for HDR. Chrome supports JXL if you enable the feature flag (copy and paste this into the navigation bar in Chrome: chrome://flags/#enable-jxl and choose “enabled” – however this feature is being removed from future builds of Chrome).
- If you are unsure what HDR should look like, try viewing this page with Google Chrome on an M1 MacBook Pro. It can be hard to troubleshoot when you don’t know what you should expect.
- If you are using Windows:
- Right-click the desktop to view display settings, go to the HDR section and make sure the HDR toggle is on. If you do not see a toggle, then you need to alter some settings or may not have proper hardware. In the HDR settings (you can click the arrow at the far right of that line), you need to see Display capabilities / “Use HDR” says “Supported”. The toggle is not shown when this value is reported as not supported.
- Note that the shortcut to toggle “Use HDR” on/off is <Win><alt>-B
- If you have set “duplicate these displays” to mirror screens, there is no way to choose a specific screen to optimize for (unlike MacOS) and the lowest common denominator will limit you. If one of the screens is not HDR, then you see see display capabilities reported as “not supported”. You should either switch to “Extend these Displays” or “Show only on ###” (and select the monitor number for your HDR display).
- If you cannot toggle “HDR” on (it keeps switching back off), check your screen refresh rate (in System / Display / Advanced Display). Try using a lower rate like 30 or 60 Hz. Higher refresh rates may not be supported with HDR by your ports / cables / drivers / video card.
- You can look under System / Display / Advanced Display to see the reported “Peak brightness” (I’ve seen this reported inaccurately in one case – a 250 nits screen report itself as 1499, and suspect this may cause other problems with HDR editing or at least the reported HDR headroom).
- In Advanced Display, a properly configured HDR monitor should list the color space as “High Dynamic Range (HDR)”. The bit depth may show as 8-bit, so don’t worry if you don’t see 10 or 12 (though higher bit depth is ideal to avoid banding in the display).
- Note that in Advanced Display you may find an “HDR certification” listed. Most valid HDR displays currently say “not found”, so having a negative result here really doesn’t tell you anything.
- Watch out for external HDMI displays. I’ve seen some awful results (such as very light SDR shadows that look washed out). If the SDR content looks bad, the HDR content certainly will.
- Check that you don’t have low battery power, which can turn off HDR features. Or go to System / Power & Batter / Battery Saver and turn off “lower screen brightness when using battery saver.
- If the shadows of the HDR content looks substantially darker than the corresponding SDR and you’re on Windows, go to System / Display / HDR and make sure “SDR content brightness” is between 0 and 50. On less capable displays (such as 400 nits), this slider can make a huge difference. Test #8 above will generally show 0 or very little headroom if this is an issue.
- If you use the “Windows HDR calibration” app (from the Windows app store), you’ll see a dropdown for profiles you’ve created under System / Display / Brightness & Color / Color Profile. These profiles use the MHC2 and lumi tags in the ICC profile and will affect HDR headroom and the brightness of SDR content. I saw the headroom of my external monitor change from a correct 3 stops to 7 stops after calibration. I’m not sure using tool this is beneficial / accurate for photography, but encourage you to try for yourself. But if you do try it, be aware that you’ll need to manually remove the profile if you won’t want to go back to the default/factory preset. The profile you create will be placed in C:\Windows\System32\spool\
drivers\color. You can delete (or just move) any unwanted profiles. Then to refresh your options, go into “Use HDR” and back out to refresh the list.
- MS guide for HDR: Getting started
- Be wary of in-store displays.
- I’ve seen some with horrendous color in Windows computers in a store due to improper setup (I’m not quite sure why). This affected SDR JPGs as well as the HDR images, so if the reference JPG looks bad you should assume the system needs calibration or other changes to display content properly.
- Be sure to check details on a manufacturer website because there is a lot of bad info out there (most people just don’t know about HDR yet). I had several sales guys at a large store tell me they only had 3 HDR displays on the floor, but then I found at least 10 in the store. I also found a 1000 nits monitor with a tag saying it only offered 250.
If you see problems in Photoshop, check the following:
- Make sure you open any image from ACR into PS as a 32-bit image. Anything less will cause clipped highlights.
- Make sure the colorspace in ACR and the colorspace of your 32-bit PS document are exactly the same. Any colorspace conversion in 32-bits seems to be affected by a bug that will make the entire image look light and washed out.
- Make sure you are using a supported Apple HDR computer. Windows is not supported at this time by PS v24 or ACR v15 (even if you have an HDR display).
- Make sure both the ACR tech preview and the PS tech preview are enabled.
- If you use multiple monitors (or are switching display settings), be aware that you may need to restart PS with any monitor change. If PS is launched without an HDR display active, you will not see HDR for the rest of the HDR session (the monitors appear to only be checked at PS startup). You are likely to run into this if you have an HDR laptop connected to an external monitor (which is very likely an SDR monitor). If the clamshell is closed when you start PS and then you open it later, you’d see SDR content on your HDR monitor until you restart PS.
- If you use multiple monitors with mirroring, make sure to set MacOS Display Settings to “optimize for” the HDR display. If you optimize for an SDR monitor, any mirrored HDR monitor will show clipped highlights
I would like thank and acknowledge the numerous experts I’ve collaborated with at Adobe, Google, Apple, Netflix, and Cloudinary for their support developing this HDR material.
HDR image gallery (with sliders)
This section is a duplicate of the gallery above. The setup I use for the sliders has a bug this won’t display consistently. So this area is just for testing and debugging….
Click and drag the vertical slider on these images to compare before and after converting to HDR. All HDR images here were derived from existing SDR images, and could potentially be further enhanced with editing for HDR from the start. Use the slider to compare before and after. If the image on the right isn’t clearly brighter and better looking (or won’t display at all), see the tests and troubleshooting sections below to see what you’re missing.