Note: “HDR” on this page refers to new technologies (hardware and software) which create truly higher dynamic range display. The name for this new technology is confusing because we’ve used the term “HDR” for years, and now we’re using that same name for something completely different.

Our cameras can capture 14+ stops of dynamic range, but our monitors have historically only been able to display 6-8 stops of dynamic range. This causes a significant loss of quality and greater complexity in editing images to accommodate this limitation. Newer display technology with HDR (“High Dynamic Range“) now offers up to 12 or more stops of dynamic range. This means we can finally display images which show the fully quality of our RAW captures.

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. 

Note: 

  • For the best HDR experience: view the images on this page on an M1 or later 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.
Before After

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 (up to 5 extra stops on the 14-16″ M1 or later MacBook Pro, depending on brightness and settings)
  • 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 TVs 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.

Note: If the HDR images (right side of each slider) aren’t clearly brighter / better (or won’t display at all), see the tests and troubleshooting sections below to help see what you’re missing.

RAW (SDR) HDR

HDR image gallery

In addition to the standard SDR and HDR images I have here for side by side comparison, I have a Lightroom web gallery (you can simply drag HDR images to a shared album in Lightroom to have them immediately published like this on the web) and an HDR JPG gain map gallery page which uses the WordPress media library. See my HDR e-book for more details on both of those options.

All HDR images in section were derived from already-finished SDR images, so you can compare an optimal SDR edit to an HDR upgrade (in many cases an even better HDR could be created from the RAW, but I have skipped that in order to keep things more directly comparable).

SDR HDR
SDR HDR
SDR HDR
SDR HDR
SDR HDR
SDR HDR
SDR HDR
SDR HDR
SDR JPG
SDR JPG
SDR JPG
SDR JPG
SDR JPG
SDR JPG
SDR JPG
SDR JPG
HDR AVIF
HDR AVIF
HDR AVIF
HDR AVIF
HDR AVIF
HDR AVIF
HDR AVIF
HDR AVIF

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.

If you cannot pass test #1 (other tests are less important), please see the the troubleshooting info below as well as the extra detail in my FREE HDR e-book.

Note for Safari / iPhone users: The top image on this page (the building with the before/after slider) uses a workaround which shows an HDR video as if it were a photo. This will let you get a sense of the HDR benefit, but you will fail the tests below as Safari / WebKit (which means all iPhone/iPad browsers) only supports HDR video and not HDR photos at this time.

Test #1 (HDR headroom):

Cannot run test: JavaScript not allowed

Test #2 (HDR spectrum)

[ Your browser is not displaying this AVIF image, see the troubleshooting section below ]

Test #3 (HDR gradient)

SDR JPG
HDR AVIF

Test #4 (bright white text):

[ Your browser is not displaying this AVIF image, see the troubleshooting section below ]

Test #5 (JavaScript)

INCOMPLETE: Unable to determine if your browser / monitor supports HDR

Test #6 (CSS media query):

Test incomplete: HDR media query is not supported
 

Test #7 (HDR metadata):

AVIF image not loaded or browser does not support it

Test #8 (JPG gain maps):

gain map test image not loaded

Test #9 (AVIF support):

[ Your browser does not support AVIF images, see the troubleshooting section below ]

Test #10 (HEIF / HEIC support):

[ Your browser does not support HEIC / HEIF images, see the troubleshooting section below ]

Test #11 (JXL support):

[ Your browser does not support JXL images, see the troubleshooting section below ]

Expected results for the tests above:

  • Test #1 (HDR headroom) – This is the most definitive test. A value greater than 0 indicates HDR support at the current brightness (2+ stops of headroom is where HDR really starts to shine). 
    • Display brightness affects 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).
    • 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. An HDR screen with limited capability may also show 0 stops when set to high brightness (and is effectively an SDR monitor in this condition).
    • If you pass this test you should be ready for HDR (if you pass this test and fail the bright white text or spectrum tests below, you have a problem with your system display profile, see troubleshooting if you pass this test but still do not see HDR).
    • This is also 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.
    • 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 for Windows: In System Settings / Display / HDR, you will see a slider for “SDR Brightness” (seemingly for external monitors) or “HDR Brightness” (laptops). This affects the headroom (the test above will update when you switch to another application and back to this browser).
    • Note for Windows: you’ll need to switch to another app and back to Chrome to update the headroom number if you make changes to brightness (MacOS updates automatically).
    • Note: If you pass this test fail the visual tests below, that is likely because you are using a custom ICC profile for calibration which is not supported (see the section on calibration/profiling).
    • Note that this test uses a new web API that is not supported by many browsers (latest Chrome works well). If you can’t run this test, the visual tests below are the next best way to evaluate support.
    • 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 are using MS Edge, you should copy and paste edge://flags/#enable-experimental-web-platform-features
  • Test #2 (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.
    • If you pass test #1 but not this one, that generally indicates that an unsupported ICC profile has been applied in the operating system settings. Go to System / Display on Windows to reset to sRGB or a canned profile, or ColorSync Utility in MacOS to reset to the factory profile. Watch out for add-on software from your computer vendor which may cause this.
  • Test #3 (HDR gradient) the right (HDR) side of the comparison should be significantly brighter than the left (SDR).
    • This test is effectively redundant with the spectrum test, but offers an SDR version for reference / comparison.
  • Test #4 (bright white text) should clearly show white text much brighter than the surrounding white background when your screen is at a medium brightness
    • Note that less capable monitors (400-600 nits) will likely fail this test at full brightness. With such monitors, there is 0 HDR headroom remaining at full brightness (see test #1).
    • 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 #5 (JavaScript) green text saying “PASS”. This test is imperfect and may be inconclusive (not all browsers report this data properly).
    • There is a bug in iOS 16 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 and also showed as a 10-bit display, so bad data in the video driver may cause invalid results here).
  • Test #6 (CSS media query for “dynamic-range: high”) green text saying “PASS”
    • This test indicates the display supports HDR, but not specific browser features (for example, Safari currently offers HDR video but not HDR photo support).
    • 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).
    • Once this media query is properly supported across the board, will be very useful to help control which content is rendered to an HDR vs SDR display.
  • Test #7 (HDR metadata): If the text appears with a grey background (ie darker than the white of the page), then either your browser does not support this new metadata, or your display does not support HDR (ie SDR display or 0 HDR headroom).
    • This tests a new metadata which helps ensure HDR images render properly. If you were to view an HDR image which is not encoded with this metadata or view it in a browser which does not support it, you would likely find that the image in the browser is darker than what you see in Photoshop even when viewing the HDR.
    • This test is only valid if you can pass test #1. If you cannot pass that test, then this test will show a false negative result (so you may still benefit from improved SDR display, but this test wouldn’t tell you if your browser supports it or not when testing an SDR display).
  • Test #8 (JPG HDR gain map, aka Ultra HDR JPG) bright green text saying “PASS your browser supports HDR JPG gain maps”. If you just see my website address in black text with nothing above it, you are viewing the SDR version.
    • This test is only valid if you can pass test #1 (>0 stops headroom at current brightness). If your display has no headroom (which may be the case for 400-600 nit displays which are set too bright), then you will be viewing the SDR version even if the browser supports gain maps.
    • Failure to pass this test will mean that you will see an HDR gain map as SDR on your display, even if you have HDR support otherwise.
    • Chrome v116+, MS Edge v116+, Brave v1.58+, and Opera v102+ all have gain maps enabled by default. If you are up to date and can’t pass the test, check that chrome://flags/#gainmap-hdr-images is set to Enabled. Replace that “chrome” prefix with edge, brave, or opera as appropriate for those browsers.
    • Note this tests the Adobe/Google standard for encoding a gain map, JPG gain maps exported from iOS / MacOS Photos app are encoded differently and support may vary (though I’ve found they work as expected with Chrome and derivative browsers).
  • Test #9 (AVIF support) green text saying “PASS”.
    • Most browsers support this format. 
    • If you fail this test, all the other visual tests above (which are AVIF images) wont’ be visible – but you may still have support for HDR JPG gain maps.
  • Test #10 (HEIC / HEIF support) green text saying “PASS”.
    • You are likely to fail this test if you are not using Safari, as support is very limited. This is not important as use of this format online is very limited and is not likely to grow significantly any time soon.
    • Failing this test is not a concern as HDR images are most likely to be shared as AVIF or Ultra HDR JPG. This format would most likely be used for posting HDR images directly from an iPhone or one of the few cameras which offers the format.
  • Test #11 (JXL support) green text saying “PASS”.
    • You are likely to fail this test, as support is very limited. JXL support is not important as use of this format online is very limited and is not likely to grow significantly any time soon.
    • Failing this test is not a concern as HDR images are most likely to be shared as AVIF or Ultra HDR JPG. Furthermore, JXL appears unlikely to get significant use anytime soon as Chrome removed support (but it has some advantages over AVIF and Adobe Camera RAW can export HDR JXL and the latest Safari can show SDR images as JXL).

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-M3 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. Additionally, there are a number of mobile devices with HDR displays (the iPhone and iPad have had excellent HDR displays for years, but don’t yet support browsing HDR images).

How to profile / calibration an HDR monitor?

I’ve had great success just profiling normally on Windows using an i1Studio like I always have. Apple displays tend to be quite accurate and the default might be your best option for now if you run into any challenges with HDR calibration.

Calibrite (associated with X-Rite) has released a few colorimeters designed to handle brighter HDR displays, including:

  • Display Plus HL. Designed to handle up to 10,000 nits, which vastly exceeds the capabilities of any consumer HDR display. Nevertheless, I bought this one. I’ve since seen reports that these may not be as sensitive to dark values and wonder if there is something like an ND filter in it that enables detection of bright values and may reduce sensitivity at the low end of the range.
  • Display Pro HL. Designed to handle up to 3,000 nits. This is the ideal level to support HDR display for years to come. Many monitors, TVs, and mobile phones are in the 1000-2500 nits range, but it seems unlikely we’ll exceed 3000 nits anytime soon (that would probably require micro-LED).
Beyond these, it would be perfectly reasonable to calibrate for SDR and let HDR fall where it may (which should be quite accurate so long as you avoid the clipping bug I mention below). You can’t control other people’s HDR monitors and most of them won’t be calibrated (including your own mobile devices and probably your TV), so there’s simply limited value intrying to control it. The key need for photographers is to match screen to print, which is SDR and something you can control.

There are some additional factors which may affect the accuracy of display for HDR. We are pushing the limits of technology, and as a result there are some scenarios where the display will be a bit limited in the HDR range. This tends to be because of energy consumption regulations, considerations for battery life on laptops, electrical / temperature limitations of the hardware, or the need to avoid monitor burn in. You’ll may see references to “peak” vs “sustained” limits. Sustained generally means values you can reliably achieve across the full image. Peak indicates higher limits which you may be able to achieve only in a certain percentage of the screen (which is often perfectly fine as good HDR is about using brighter pixels in select ares of the image). You might also find that the peak values are not available at high temps (the Pro Display XDR limits kick in at 25C / 77F for example) or that the image might dim a bit if left on screen for a long time. This really isn’t a big deal and most of the time you wouldn’t even notice (this tends to be handled in a a very nice way). But if you get into the weeds on calibration, you should be aware that you might calibrate a perfect 1600 nits white pixel, but the display might instead do its best at 1000 nits if it needs to dim a bit.
 
All of those concerns can be managed – Hollywood movie editors calibrate their HDR displays and are extremely critical about the accuracy of their work. But for the moment, consumer grade solutions and support are a bit lacking, as there hasn’t been much of a consumer need prior to HDR photography editing (HDR movies and games are mostly created by professionals).
 

If you have an Apple display, the color is quite accurate from the factory. Using an Apple display without profiling is perfectly fine for most photographers exploring HDR (though I would recommend you consider profiling if you plan to make prints, especially if you print tinted B&W or important neutrals). With calibration in my laptop’s internal display, I was able to reduce a max deltaE 2000 from 2.7 to 1.4 and average error from 0.9 to 0.3. The primary benefit of calibrating Apple displays is to improve accuracy of neutrals (where deltaE was reduced from a detectable 2-2.5 across midtones and highlights down to well under 0.5).

 
Note that I had trouble getting accurate color on the Windows HDR laptop I tested. It came with some extra ASUS software seemed to drive some color issues until I removed it. The results were great in SDR mode but only decent when HDR was enabled. In particular, the dark blue in the blue hour photo above looked rather cyan (even after profiling on the same external display which looked great with my M2 MacBook Pro).

Bottom line: Be careful (for now) with custom profiles on HDR machines. This is a significant change to the display and the more software or changes you involve, the more likely you are to encounter a bug with this new technology. 3rd-party profiling software may result in loss of HDR. 3rd-party software pre-installed on Windows machines may cause color issues or other HDR problems. If you are able to pass the HDR test #1 above (confirmed headroom) and aren’t getting HDR display, it may well be a profile issue. Try resetting to the factory profile and restarting the computer.

How do I capture an HDR image? Do I need to bracket?

You can approach HDR photography with the same best practices you use normally, such as shooting RAW and exposing to the right. But even that is not required. You can even use an 8-bit JPG (which I show in the AI-generated MidJourney images below). It’s very flexible and you can get great results from a wide range of images.

If you like, you can bracket and combine several exposures, such as by using Lightroom’s “merge to HDR” feature. This was a commonly used practice for the old “HDR” tone mapping workflows. You can use it with true HDR displays, but it is not at all necessary. A properly exposed RAW image from a modern camera still has slightly more dynamic range than the best HDR monitors available, and would be suitable for even 4000 nit monitors. It’s only beneficial in a small number of cases, and it should generally be avoided in order to simplify your workflow and let you focus on composition or other aspects of the art which are much more important than any potential bracketing benefits. 

Creating HDR images with Lightroom

Every version of Lightroom (LR) now supports HDR editing – Mac or PC via both Classic and the cloud version, LR iOS, LR Android, and even the website version. This includes editing and exporting, as well as an option to share HDR images in an online gallery.

Note: Be sure to enable LR preferences / Presets / “Enable HDR editing by default for HDR photos”. This will turn on HDR mode in the develop panel automatically when you import an existing HDR edit (such as a TIF you edit in Photoshop), otherwise your HDR will show as clipped to SDR.

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 (Windows support requires ACR v15.1).

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.

If you proceed to open your HDR image in Photoshop (whether as a Smart Object or regular layer), you should open it as a 32-bit document to preserve the HDR content.

 
To get the most out of ACR’s HDR editing, you should work with a RAW file which has been properly exposed to the right (ETTR). When you click the “HDR” button in such an image, you will frequently see bright pixels get even brighter and more detailed. What’s happening is that the SDR version of the image was compressing several stops of highlight values into the brightest values near white, and the HDR version has room to properly display these values.
 
Note that in my testing, I do not see HDR headroom improve with 14-bit RAW files (vs 12-bit) on a Nikon D850. Both show very similar HDR highlights. However, the 14-bit image has other advantages including better shadow color, reduced shadow noise, and better detail. I would generally shoot RAW in the highest bit-depth offered by your camera, but my initial testing does not suggest that HDR processing is improved with it.
 
ACR v15.1 also supports the ability to export images as AVIF (or JXL), which is a new image format that supports HDR content for the web. Other legacy formats like JPG will simply clip the HDR content. This is a complex topic, please see my HDR e-book for more details on how to export AVIF images to share HDR images on the web.

Creating HDR images with Photoshop

Photoshop v23+ supports proper display and editing of HDR images in 32-bit RGB mode. To enable support in Photoshop, go to PS Prefs / Tech Previews / “Precise color management for HDR display” and restart Photoshop (this feature is only available on MacOS).
 

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.

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, as well as support to edit the RAW as HDR (see my e-book for problematic settings which can clip the results to SDR). Use the 32-bit Preview panel to help control visualization. Change the limits under the histogram to see HDR values, and use the interactive color sampler to see actual values (the info panel only shows clipped SDR readings).
  • Pixelmator Pro for MacOS supports both HDR photos and HDR video. Click the HDR button at top right to enable HDR photo editing. Support includes a wide range of file formats.
  • 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.
  • Photomator for iOS devices. This is a great option for mobile editing if you do not subscribe to Lightroom.

 

The following tools do not support HDR display and editing currently:

  • CaptureOne has a “High Dynamic Range” section right under exposure, but this appears to be just tone-mapping to help better convert RAW images to

JPG Gain Maps: Share great images with everyone

One of the fundamental challenges of HDR photography is that the images will ultimately be viewed on both HDR and SDR displays. They will also often be viewed in-between – that is on HDR monitors are aren’t as capable as the one used to create the image.

When HDR is displayed on a less capable monitor, the content must either be compressed into the dynamic range of the display or it will clip. This process of compressing the dynamic range is known as “tone mapping”. It can produce an acceptable and sometimes very good result, but is never as good as the result you could create by simply editing the image for SDR. So this creates a tradeoff the for photographer – do you enable the benefit of HDR if it risks many people seeing a degraded result? Thankfully, that tradeoff is no longer an issue.

A new standard called a “gain map” allows a range of file formats (including JPG) to effectively includes both the SDR and HDR version of the image. JPG gain maps are backwards compatible with both SDR displays with browsers that don’t understand gain maps at all. So if the viewer doesn’t have the right monitor, browser, or settings – they will see a great-looking SDR image. But if they have proper HDR support, they will see your vastly improved image. And if they have limited HDR, their display will look much better than tone mapping of a simple HDR without a gain map. This ensures everyone sees a gorgeous version of your image, even if they don’t have an HDR monitor.

Note: Google refers to a JPG with a gain map as “Ultra HDR JPG”.

See my HDR JPG gain map gallery for an example of how these images look. You might try viewing the page with an HDR monitor using Chrome vs another browser which does not support gain maps to see how it automatically adapts.

There are some minor caveats with gain maps at this time:

  • Adobe LR / ACR have given us a very nice tool, but we really need complete control over the SDR to optimize in certain situations (including when editing SDR for print and then upgrading that to HDR). If you’d like to see Adobe add support for full control over the SDR rendition, please vote on this feature request.
  • The JPG files are slightly bigger (about 30%), though future support for AVIF gain maps could help offset that.
  • The other limitation is that you need to send your gain map to the viewer without it getting altered by third parties to get the HDR benefit. If you upload to social media or a service which reprocesses your image (to compress, crop, or shink it), it will likely strip the gain map. That will result in the SDR image being shown everywhere, instead of allowing the HDR where possible. The best way to avoid that is by sharing images from your own site / server or sharing links to a service like DropBox or Google Drive (the previews on those sites will be rendered as SDR, but the download will be the original gain map version). This concern should go aware as support rolls out to more platforms. See here for more details on gain maps.

AVIF: the future of HDR

The image formats we’ve used on the internet for decades (JPG, PNG, GIF) do not properly support HDR. The best format for sharing HDR images is the new AVIF format.

AVIF is a file format developed by Alliance for Open Media. It’s an open standard which already enjoys fairly broad support in major web browsers for standard images. AVIF offers numerous advantages over JPG, including:

  • Native support for HDR. This offers higher quality than a JPG gain map as AVIF supports higher bit depths and produces fewer artifacts. Browser support for the AVIF does not automatically mean support for HDR images, and may be limited to SDR in some cases (see my test page with HDR detection and automatic rendering).
  • Vastly smaller file sizes than JPG, PNG, and webP at similar or even better quality. An AVIF is often 25% smaller than a comparable JPG, and I’ve several images shrink by 85%. The results are about 10% smaller than webP as well. These ultimately means websites load faster, reduced bandwidth costs, faster uploads, smaller email inboxes, etc.
  • Higher bit-depth encoding (10 or 12-bit for AVIF vs 8 for JPG). This can help avoid banding in smooth gradients like blue skies. It also eliminates the need for dithering in 8-bit images. This benefits both SDR and HDR images.
  • Transparency. This makes AVIF an ideal replacement for PNG, as the files are much smaller.
  • Lossless encoding. These files are of course not nearly as small when encoded this way, but this offers a great alternative to sending TIF when quality really matters. I expect this will be a great way to send images to print labs in the future.
  • Support for animation (AVIF is based on a video format). This offers vastly better quality than an animated GIF.

Note that AVIF is compatible with gain maps as well and that will make it an ideal replacement for JPG gain maps (for smaller, higher-quality files) when ready. At this time, Chrome can view such images (under a developer flag), but there is no encoder available. Hopefully, we’ll see support for this take off in 2024.

You can both open and export HDR images (as AVIF or JXL) through ACR v15.1. You can open directly in PS (you’ll see the ACR dialog and can open in PS). Exporting is a little more complicated as you only have the option to save as AVIF/JXL when the image is opened directly into ACR (so this isn’t something you can do directly from a layered 32-bit file).

You can use Web Sharp Pro to help export AVIF as shown in the video below. In addition to facilitating AVIF exports, it offers batch processing, sharpening, borders, custom cropping, social media templates, watermarks, and much more. Learn about its AVIF support here.

If you wish to optimize your website to show HDR image for HDR monitors and SDR versions of your work otherwise, that can be done with methods I describe in my free e-book and shown in my HDR gallery test page. It will automatically detect your display and render the most appropriate image, but you can click the green button to toggle (so you can see what an HDR image looks like on an SDR screen).

There are no good alternatives to AVIF or JPG gain maps for HDR on the web:

  • HEIC / HEIF supports HDR and is great for the photo roll on mobile devices, but not supported by browsers (not even Safari). This could become a viable HDR format on the web in the future given widespread use in iPhones, but AVIF is far ahead (not even Safari on the iPhone supports it).
  • JXL is another competing royalty-free standard which supports HDR. It offers many potential advantages over AVIF, but Google Chrome has just removed it from development. Without JXL support from the dominant web browser, and it appears AVIF will be the primary format for sharing HDR images on the web.
  • JXR supports HDR and has been used for  Xbox and Windows Game screenshots, but it not compatible with any major web browsers and was even removed from MS Edge. This format is history. 

Sharing HDR images for the web

The best way to share images for many users right now is on your own website, where you have full control over the image and can avoid reprocessing which may break the HDR content. Many websites will resize or otherwise process thumbnails and other versions of your upload and these may render as SDR or simply fail. See my HDR JPG gain map gallery, which was created with self-hosted WordPress (share your images using the “full” size variant to avoid image reprocessing by WordPress / ImageMagick, which currently strips the gain map).

There are a couple options for sharing images on portfolio sites:

  • Lightroom web albums show HDR versions of your image. This is a very nice feature built right into the cloud and mobile versions of LR (and may be integrated with LR Classic with a little more setup). See my demo LR gallery. If you view on a supporting HDR display/browser, you’ll see an HDR AVIF in the large view of the image (grid view is currently not HDR). If you don’t have support, you’ll see an SDR JPG (try comparing full-sized view of the same image in my gallery in both Chrome and FireFox to get a sense of the HDR vs SDR rendition, as FireFox does not support it and will show SDR).
  • zonerama.com supports HDR display. I haven’t used it personally, but they do a nice job of rendering HDR (AVIF) where supported and automatically falling back to SDR (JPG) when it is not supported. Their paid tier also includes an option to embed your gallery on another website, which should make it easy to integrate if you have an existing site. If you try it, please let me know your thoughts in a comment below.

Sharing HDR images for iPhone / iPad

The October 2023 updates from Apple added support in the native Photos app for HDR AVIF images. You can export these with LR, PS, and via Web Sharp Pro.
Apple does not yet support JPG gain maps, so you should use AVIF for showing images on your Apple phone/tablet separately from JPG gain maps you use to share images on your website. This is all very new, and hopefully it won’t be long before we can share a single high quality file that just works everywhere.

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 quite well.

SDR HDR
SDR HDR
SDR HDR

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 AVIF 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 AVIF image format support HDR images 10 or 12-bit depths. These file formats can encode SDR images in those same bit-depths as well (for example, a 10-bit AVIF can avoid banding that might occur in an 8-bit JPG).
  • 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 like HDR, you’re probably all set.

What is the dynamic range of HDR?

I’ve heard a lot of experts and articles claim that SDR offers 6-8 stops of dynamic range. That sounds reasonable to me, but I haven’t seen data backing it up and I haven’t seen test methods and data backing that number. What ultimately matters is the ratio of the peak SDR brightness to the minimum black a viewer can discern on the display.

If you have an SDR monitor set at 80 nits and increase the brightness to 320 nits (which is well within the limits of many SDR monitors), you’ve just increased the dynamic range by about 2 stops (doubled the peak brightness twice without changing the black of the monitor). Nothing about your source image changed, but the display itself is higher contrast and will show a lot more visible detail in the shadows. So the dynamic range of SDR is not fixed (even though we have a very clear black and white point encoded in those images) because we can display the same image in different ways or under different conditions.

The minimum black is a bit trickier. If you use an OLED, your pixels can be pure black and the ratio from any peak brightness to zero is “infinity”. We obviously do not have infinite dynamic range in our images. There are a few limiting factors at play with the black point:

  • Monitors always reflect ambient light or objects lit by the screen. This is more true for glossy OLED displays than those with an anti-reflective display, but all monitors are affected to some degree. The reflections ultimately set a minimum practical black value (a darker pixel than the reflection cannot be appreciated).
  • Most displays other than OLED (mini-LED, traditional LED, etc) do not offer true blacks because they use a backlight for multiple pixels and cannot perfectly block that light. So most “black” pixels are just dark grey.
  • Human vision can only discriminate dark values down to a certain point. This limit depends on a number of factors, particularly how your eyes have adapted to the ambient light or the bright parts of the image display. So we can only benefit so much even when using a monitor with perfect blacks in a dark room with no reflections.

 

So what about the dynamic range of HDR? Just like SDR, it depends on the monitor’s peak brightness, how you use it (SDR brightness setting), and the ambient lighting.

You could make a pretty good argument that if you set your monitor brightness appropriately for normal use, then the HDR headroom measurement in test #1 above is the additional dynamic range you’re getting from HDR. If you use typical SDR brightness values (80-250 nits), that’s about an extra 1-2 stops on a 600 nits display or roughly 2-4 stops on a 1600 nit display.

That’s paints a fairly clear picture, but it isn’t the whole story. That’s the dynamic range of the display. You could stretch the contrast of an SDR image to cover a 1600 nits range, and that’s in fact what I’ve done with many SDR to HDR conversions (in a very specific way, I’m not just boosting contrast). But the processing of a RAW image is different. With SDR, we compress the highlights significantly and loss substantial highlight color. We do this because we would otherwise see very flat and dark shadows and midtones. When we process a RAW for HDR, we don’t need to make such tradeoffs and so we process the same RAW data differently. We’re effectively revealing about as much extra range from the original scene as the HDR headroom allows.

Your camera (when capturing in RAW at native ISO) probably captures around 12-16 stops of dynamic range. If SDR display supports 6-8 stops and HDR adds up to 4 more stops, you’re able to process your images with nearly the full dynamic range of your RAW file. 

Human vision can accommodate about 14 stops in a still image (more under dynamic conditions if you give your eyes time to adjust, but that’s not how we typically experience photography). This leaves room for more artistic benefit with even brighter screens in the future (further increases in dynamic range would be useful), although I believe the primary benefit of going above 1600 nits will be a better ability to preserve HDR detail in brighter ambient conditions.

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 (iPad HDR is limited to the last two 12″ Pro models).
  • A wide range of Android phones including the Pixel 7 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 or later. This requires Android 14, which will be released at various dates in Q4 ’23 (varies by platform). It looks amazing in the current beta on a Pixel 7 Pro using the Chrome Canary browser.
  • Many recent HD TVs and most of the high end models.
  • Lightroom (including edit, exporting JPG gain maps and HDR AVIF, web galleries, iPhone, iPad, and Android)
  • Adobe Camera RAW (including support to export JPG gain maps and HDR AVIF)
  • Photoshop (MacOS offers full support, Windows offers editing support without proper display outside of ACR).
  • Affinity photo (for editing).
  • Pixelmator Pro for MacOS (v3.5+).
  • Google Chrome / Edge / Brave / Opera. Both HDR AVIF and HDR gain maps work beautifully in these browsers. This includes support for proper HDR display and high-quality tone mapping of HDR images for images not encoded with a gain map.
  • The Apple Photos app in iOS 17 and MacOS 14. This includes proper HDR display when viewing an HDR AVIF full screen (thumbnails are not supported). This makes it
  • All your existing photos. I’ve gone back to my oldest RAW files from 2004 and found detail I could never see before. Any any SDR image can be converted to a beautiful HDR image – nearly all your existing edits stand to benefit (with the exception of images which are deliberately low contrast or low key).
 

What’s missing? (I’ve put the most important needs towards the top of the list, in rough order)

  • 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. However, you can convert an HDR photo to an HDR video and post it to Instagram. I’ve posted a few HDR examples on my Instagram account (you’ll need to view on an iPhone and click to view full screen – any other scenario will show a lower quality SDR version of the image).
  • iPhone and iPad web browser support (WebKit): these devices have excellent HDR hardware on several models, but due to a lack of WebKit support, we cannot view HDR images of any kind in a browser on these devices yet. Apple has been expanding HDR support recently quite a bit and we just need browser support to really unlock the potential of these devices.
  • An encoder which allows complete artistic control over the SDR rendition in a gain map. Please upvote this feature request for better gain maps support in Photoshop (and this request for core AVIF support, as that’s an even better format than JPG gain maps).
  • Photoshop for Windows. You can work around by just using ACR, which does fully support HDR on Windows – or of course Lightroom.
  • 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. 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. It’s only a matter of time before economies of scale kick in and this becomes much more the norm, as it already is for many mobile devices and big screen TVs.
  • PC laptops. There are very few Windows HDR laptops and fewer still with great support. It’s been improving in 2023, but the Apple is well ahead of the PC market.
  • Adobe Bridge: No support.
  • Photoshop: native support to open and export AVIF: ACR is great, but you cannot easily do batch exports, support exports via extension panels, nor have full control over the SDR version.
  • 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 more complicated (you need to enable it on every screen, loss of support when mirroring, calibration issues, etc). My (limited) experience has also been that connecting a Windows computer via HDMI to an HDR TV produces disappointing color, while MacOS looks very nice by default on the same TV.
  • Enable HDR by default on Windows. With MacOS, you have HDR support if you have the hardware and software. On Windows, you have to enable it manually – which means people with supporting computers may fail to see HDR images. Any outstanding quality issues holding this back from being on by default should be addressed ASAP. I’ve generally had a positive experience with it on Windows, but there are of course millions of software/hardware configurations I’ve never seen used with it, so I don’t know if there are any significant edge cases holding it back.
  • iMessage. You can view an HDR AVIF in the iOS Photos app, but if you receive one via iMessage, there is no way to save it to the camera roll in order to view it. You can send a DropBox link, save to the Files app, and then save to Photos from there – but that’s a complex workaround. HDR support in iMessage would be ideal, but at least direct support to save the image to the photos app would offer a much simpler workaround.
  • Affinity (as o v2.2) has great HDR editing (including RAW and layers), but lacks a useful way to export for the web (as HDR AVIF or a JPG gain map).
  • FireFox browser support: HDR does not render properly, unsupported.

 

What is coming?
  • AVIF gain maps. Chrome has support under a dev flag (chrome://flags/#avif-gainmap-hdr-images) and it looks great. This file format offers both higher image quality and smaller files than JPG gain maps (at the same time). They also allow the option to encode the base image as HDR for highest quality (though encoding the base as SDR is the safe choice until gain maps are universally supported). We need to see an encoder to use the format, and MS Edge needs to add support for the AVIF file format to make this useful. But will be very exciting in the future.
  • MS Edge v121 will add AVIF support. To try AVIF support now, install the Canary version, right-click the app icon and update the target to append the following extra text after the existing program location in quotes: “C:\Users\{{username}}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Edge SxS\Application\msedge.exe” –enable-features=msEdgeAVIF

 

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.

HDR technologies

There are several display technologies which support HDR and it is helpful to have a basic understanding of them. The key category is emissive (each pixel is self-lit and can therefore offer true black) or transmissive (a backlight is used for multiple pixels and therefore prevents pixels from being truly black).
 
This section seeks to summarize general principles for the various technologies. There are many tweaks of each of these designs and the general technology used is not the whole story for a given display. Please be sure to also see recommended monitors for reviews and a list of key specifications you should review when considering an HDR monitor. 
 
For HDR photography, mini-LED is probably the best technology today for general use on computer monitors, while OLED is outstanding or superior for computers in dim environments or for smaller phone and tablet screens. In the next couple years, improved OLED designs offering greater peak brightness will likely become the best option. By the late 2020s, micr0-LED may start replace both as the ultimate HDR display technology. 
 
Transmissive displays:
Transmissive displays shine an LED backlight through an LCD layer to illuminate the pixel. This makes most of them subject to not being able to achieve true black.
 
FALD (Full Array Local Dimming)
This uses a large number of independent backlights, so that a pixel may be darker or truly black if there are no bright neighboring pixels. When you hear about things like 2500 dimming zones or miniLED (such as Apple XDR displays and ASUS ProArt), you’re looking at a FALD display. The more zones, the better (more control over dark pixels). Watch out for marketing which promises just “local dimming”, you should be looking for thousands of zones to ensure mostly very deep blacks.
  • Pros: High peak brightness and sufficiently deep blacks for a great HDR experience.
  • Cons: Does not offer true blacks (subject to blooming/haloing around bright pixels), limited range of viewing angles, slower response time may limit frame rates for gaming/video.

QLED (Quantum Dot LED)

These offer significantly improved colors as well as high brightness. But does not achieve the same high contrast ratio as mini-LED.

LMCL (Light Modulating Cell Layer)
This uses a single backlight and an extra (grayscale not color) LCD layer to control how much the backlight illuminates a single pixel. You’ll probably never see one of these if you don’t make Hollywood movies (they tend to be $30k+ reference monitors and will probably be replaced by other technologies below in the next decade).

  • Pros: True blacks and high brightness.
  • Cons: Increased energy consumption to provide enough illumination through the extra layer, narrow viewing angle.
 
Emissive displays:
In an emissive display, each pixel is self-illuminating (there is no shared backlight). This offers true blacks and tends to offer a great HDR display in dark environments (which makes them well suited for the way we tend to watch TV and movies). But the versions currently available often have limited peak brightness, which limits HDR capability in the typically brighter environments where many photos would be viewed.

 

OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode)
Some computer displays and many TVs offer this. These use color filters to turn a white light source into the red, green, and blue sub-pixels. There are several newer variants of OLED discussed below which use different approaches.

  • Pros: Emissive (true blacks) allow extremely high contrast ratio for excellent HDR in dark viewing environments.
  • Cons: Limited peak brightness means that you may not have much HDR benefit if ambient lighting levels are not very low. Newer variants of OLED (including QD and MLA) may help significantly overcome this.

Note that you may read about “burn in”, which refers to potential ghost images if pixels are lit the same way for a very long time (such as the logo you see at the bottom of most news networks). This isn’t a big issue with modern OLED displays (thanks to various compensation strategies), though it may not hurt to set your dock to auto-hide to avoid continuously showing the same content on the screen.

 

QD-OLED (Quantum Dot OLED)

Instead of color filters (which reduce light output significantly), uses quantum dots (nanoparticles which convert UV light to various colors based on the size of the quantum dot) to convert a blue OLED light source into other colors. This offers great improvements in both color and peak brightness. You’d probably only find this in a premium TV at this time. Note that this technology is so significant the three scientists were awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for it.

 

MLA-OLED (Micro Lens Array OLED)

MLA adds little hemispheres to help increase brightness by directing more of the light to shine out of the OLED (rather than being lost internally). You’d probably only find this in a premium TV at this time.

 

WOLED (White OLED)
This is OLED with white pixels in addition to RGB. LG and Panasonic offer TVs with this technology. You may hear this referenced as WRGB due to the 4 sub-pixels it uses. This technology is used in some excellent TV monitors like the LG C2, which makes it a commonly used technology for mastering HDR movies and something to consider as an external monitor for photography.

  • Pros: Enables brighter displays than typical OLED.
  • Cons: Lacks saturation in brightest values, calibration is more complicated (CalMAN supports), not necessarily optimized for computer use.

AMOLED (Active Matrix OLED)

An “active matrix” means a pixel is lit continuously (thanks to electronics that help keep it lit). That is in contrast to a “passive matrix” where the pixel is lit while the display is refreshing a given line in the display. A “passive matrix” OLED (PMOLED) is a simpler design where the pixels are driven very bright briefly and then fading or off until the next refresh (this is over a very fast period of time and would not appear to the naked eye to be flickering). You may also encounter “Super AMOLED”, which just means that touch screen sensitivity is built into the AMOLED display.

I’m only including this here because you’re likely to see some smartphone or laptop screens described as using AMOLED. This is not an important distinction because any OLED you use for HDR photography will have an active matrix if it isn’t for some small display with low resolution (like a fitness tracker on your wrist). So you can generally think of AMOLED as being the same as generic “OLED” for our purposes.

 

Stacked (or “tandem stack”) OLED

There are efforts to create a transparent OLED, meaning that you can see through it (ie any additional light behind the display would shine through). This might enabled novel displays that look almost like floating holograms (such as a “heads up display” in a car). On its own, it may have limited applications as you wouldn’t be able to control blacks. But you could stack it over other traditional or transparent OLEDs, which means you could generate R, G, and B in the same space. This would avoid the conventional sub-pixels thus offering less risk of seeing color separation as close distances and potentially higher resolution. This also may improve brightness (as you can use dual blue emitters). This may also improve longevity (as smaller sub-pixels are driven at higher voltage and don’t last as long, especially the blue ones), though that tends to be less of a concern with consumer usage.

 

Micro-LED

This is analogous to OLED but with an inorganic construction which promises many benefits over OLED. While these are several years from production for a computer display, they promise to deliver the best possible results. You may find them appear in small screens like camera view finders, smart watches, or VR headsets before they are common in smart phones, tablets, or computer monitors.

  • Pros: Promises to potentially offer many benefits over both LED and OLED including higher peak brightness (including better visibility in sunlight), better power efficiency, wider color gamut, wide viewing angles, faster response times (for high refresh rates in gaming), and an improved ability to work in extremely hot/cold temperatures. 
  • Cons: Future technology, no consumer offerings at this time. Likely not available on consumer TVs and computer monitors for many years, and will probably have premium pricing when available.

HDR standards

This new world of HDR is going to be a bit confusing for a number of reasons:
  • Name confusion. The vastly improved HDR displays we’re discussing here are going to frequently get confused with the completely separate “HDR” tone mapping 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”.
  • Lack of standards. There is no agreed standard for tone mapping, which is the reason an HDR image may look different when viewed on an SDR monitor using Chrome vs Safari. Upcoming file standards and increased adoption of HDR displays should reduce this impact, but there are likely to be some differences in any display which cannot match the peak brightness of a given image.
  • 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.
  • Various levels of adoption of standards. While there are many great standards in development, it will be years before they are consistently adopted. This is likely to result in scenarios where an image is unexpectedly altered. 
  • 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 come up frequently in discussions involving 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.
  • EDR (Extreme Dynamic Range): This is Apple’s name for its software support for HDR in MacOS. You probably won’t see this term much if you aren’t a software developer.
  • 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.
  • Gain maps: A file standard for including both the SDR and HDR rendition of an image in a single file, so that the artist is able to optimize the image for both types of displays. This is a critical technology for transition to HDR, as it removes the loss of quality associated with using “tone mapping” to automatically generate the SDR version when HDR is not supported. 
  • Tone mapping: The process of compressing the dynamic range of an HDR image to display on SDR or a less-capable HDR display (without clipping) through an automated algorithm. The result is a usable but much less impressive image. There are numerous methods of doing this, it is not a fixed standard. The opposite of this (up-converting SDR to HDR) is known as “inverse tone mapping” (Web Sharp Pro offers this via its “enhance SDR to HDR” option).
  • HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) and PQ (“Perceptual Quantizer”, aka ST2084): These are the two primary electro-optical transfer functions (EOTF) which is used to encode HDR data. These are analogous to “gamma” we’re used to hearing related to SDR images. HLG is a relative standard using no metadata (everything is relative to the brightest value possible for your display). HLG is very nice for live sports or events, as it avoids the delays that would be required to generate metadata for PQ. HLG allows encoding up to 12x reference (SDR) white, ie about 3.5 stops of headroom.
  • PQ is an absolute standard measured in nits. However, tone mapping is applied by the viewing software based on metadata (so you’ll have an accurate display rendering the image as intended when possible, and tone mapped as needed – at least when proper metadata is stored in the photo and used by the viewing software). PQ with metadata offers video which should be more consistent/optimal, and theoretically would provide better future proofing for quality if we ever get HDR displays exceeding 5000 nits (this won’t be a factor for a long time, if ever). PQ allow encoding of roughly 5.6 stops of headroom (assuming the 203 nits standard SDR for photography).
 

The following standards come up frequently in discussions involving HDR video, but aren’t directly relevant or necessary for still HDR photos:

  • HDR10: This is an open standard for encoding HDR video, and probably the most common. It uses 10-bit PQ, D65 white point, and is mastered for 1000 nits. Tone mapping is not standardized. Metadata is static for the entire video, which can limit the quality of tone mapping for movies with a wide range of light.
  • HDR10+: This is HDR10 with dynamic metadata to help optimize tone mapping for scenes with different brightness.
  • 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. Apple products using Safari support it. Seeing support for DolbyVision is generally a good indicator of quality and concern for HDR support. (Some notes on it for video use: It uses 10 or 12-bit PQ, D65 white point, and is mastered for 1000 or 4000 nits. Tone mapping is standardized for more consistent playback on different devices, dynamic metadata is used to help optimize tone mapping for scenes with different brightness, and it has numerous other features for creating better video.)

HDR video

You would assume that HDR video and photography are quite similar as the only real difference is the image constantly updating in a video. However, there are some very real and practical differences, including:

  • HDR video support is different and varies by platform. In general, there is greater support for HDR video playback than HDR photos right now because the video content has been around much longer (probably due to a combination of Hollywood budgets/resources for creation and a wide range of HDR TVs). So you can watch an HDR video on FireFox with YouTube and Vimeo, but you can’t yet view my HDR photos on this web page.
  • As rough as HDR photo creation is currently, HDR video is even more challenging in my opinion. The learning curve is very steep and color management is a mess with video.
  • HDR video tends to be mastered by professionals for 1000 nits. Most TVs probably adapt 1000 nits content effectively to use the full range on brighter TVs, so this probably wont’ be much of a limiting factor for video.
  • Video tone mapping can be done scene by scene or frame by frame, but in general is going to have more compromise trying to find values that work across multiple images. Photos can be optimized in a more controlled way, which will likely prove to be more ideal when we have tools for gain mapping.
  • Video is edited primarily for P3 (or Rec2020 limited to P3), whereas prints can benefit from gamuts wider than P3. It’s a niche consideration and easy to manage with proper color management.
  • RAW source material is common for photography, but not video (log footage offers great results, but isn’t the same as RAW video). This may have implications for fieldwork. Video is simply vastly more data and it creates the need for some compromises.

In the near term, HDR video is a bit more established. But the standards which are be developed suggest that HDR photography may be a bit simpler and more uniform in a few years. Unless a free alternative to DolbyVision emerges, it is likely that photographers will have greater creative control over SDR / tone mapped versions of their HDR work.

Please see this HDR video playlist for some outstanding examples of HDR. Make sure you see the red “HDR” over the gear icon on the playback screen. If you don’t see it, you are viewing the SDR version of the video. If you have two monitors (or can set your HDR monitor to SDR only), it is very interesting to watch these same videos in both HDR and SDR to compare.

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:

  1. 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. Web Sharp Pro has an automated “enhance SDR to HDR” option. And my NYC: from Start to Finish course includes a couple of bonus videos on how to use WSP or Lightroom.
  2. 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).
  3. 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 it could allow you to optimize both in unique ways for special images.
  4. Use HDR selectively. Most images are never printed, even for those of us who print a considerable amount. HDR can enhance many images which will never be put on the wall, and HDR can often simplify the workflow for your secondary images.
  5. 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 use a mix of #1 (which is simplest and supports my older edits) and #2 (which can extract unique highlight color or detail from many RAW files).

Will HDR offer other benefits for printing? Possibly, but probably not. If it could, the old HDR tone mapping techniques would have let us do that long before we got enhanced monitors. 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 use Lightroom’s merge to HDR feature to combine images, I ultimately send 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.

HDR e-book

As detailed as this page is, I have much more information in an HDR e-book to go through the specifics of sharing HDR images on your own site, setting up your TV, etc. It’s linked from the bottom of all my newsletters, where you’ll also get updates on my latest HDR tutorials and more.

Further learning & podcasts

I’ve been a guest on the following podcasts, where we discussed HDR in great detail:

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 in software/hardware 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 and the brightness must not be set to the maximum if it does not offer >600 nits

    • an HDR-compatible browser (Google Chrome is highly recommended)

    • the operating system must be configured to enable support HDR

    • See my FREE HDR e-book for more details, especially if you’re trying to use a 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 (HDR headroom will be reported as 0 in the tests above), whereas the 1600 nit peak brightness on the 2020 M1 MacBook Pro will still show significant HDR headroom.

  • If you are using a TV and see that your mouse moves slowly, this is because the TV is doing some processing and therefore creating a delay. Try setting the TV to gaming mode or turning off features which may cause lag. 

  • 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 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 able to pass test #1 above (confirmed headroom), but the display is clipping to SDR, you may have a conflict with custom profiles or 3rd-party software. See the section on profiles / calibration above.
  • 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

Acknowledgements

I would like thank and acknowledge the numerous experts I’ve collaborated with at Adobe, Google, Apple, Netflix, Cloudinary, and other photographers 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.

standard (JPG) HDR (AVIF)
standard (JPG) HDR (AVIF)
standard (JPG) HDR (AVIF)
standard (JPG) HDR (AVIF)
standard (JPG) HDR (AVIF)
standard (JPG) HDR (AVIF)
standard (JPG) HDR (AVIF)
Greg Benz Photography