How to disable Smart HDR and re-enable manual HDR imaging on iPhone XS & Max

Disable Smart HDR

iPhone photography fans couldn’t be happier with an all-new Smart HDR imaging feature that brings better color accuracy, increased highlight and more shadow detail to your photos. Your phone automatically takes advantage of Smart HDR “when it’s most effective,” according to Apple. This step-by-step tutorial will teach you how to disable Smart HDR at will.

About Smart HDR

High dynamic range (HDR) is a computational photography technique that improves the dynamic range of high-contrast situations by taking multiple photos in rapid succession at different exposures and blending them together. Your iPhone takes three photos quickly when using HDR imaging and the resulting photo has better detail in the bright and midtone areas.

PRIMER: What are HDR, Auto HDR & Smart HDR shooting modes?

Smart HDR brings better color, plus more highlight and shadow detail to your photos.

The feature takes full advantage of machine learning powered by the 10x faster Neural engine hardware of the A12 Bionic chip and 2x faster camera sensors with bigger pixels in these new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max smartphones.

Disable Smart HDR

Smart HDR example: more detail in low‑light areas without blown-out sky

HDR was a hit and miss until it wasn’t. As iPhone has gotten more powerful, so has HDR.

And when the Cupertino company debuted its machine learning-focused Neural engine in last year’s A11 Bionic chip, HDR became so good that all iPhones from iPhone 8 onward default to HDR imaging for the rear camera and front-facing camera “when it’s most effective.”

How to disable Smart HDR

On 2018 iPhones, Smart HDR is always on and no longer saves the normally exposed photo alongside its HDR version. To disable Smart HDR and re-enable manual HDR, do the following:

1) Open Settings on your iPhone XS or newer.

2) Choose Camera from the list.

3) Slide the switch Smart HDR to the OFF position.

From now on, your iPhone will no longer use Smart HDR “when it’s most effective”.

With Smart HDR off, the yellow HDR button will reappear in the Camera app. Like before, tap the button to manually control HDR imaging by choosing:

  • On: Use HDR when taking an image
  • Off: Your photo will be snapped without HDR
  • Auto: iPhone will use HDR when appropriate without reenabling Auto HDR mode.

For best results with HDR, keep your iPhone steady and try to avoid subject motion.

TUTORIAL: How to re-enable manual HDR on iPhone X, iPhone 8 and Plus

You may want to disable Smart HDR if you’re shooting scenes in low-light or high contrast situations but it’s not yielding desired results. The vast majority of normals, however, won’t have any need to change the default setting.

TUTORIAL: Switch to HEIF/HEVC shooting formats to save iPhone storage space

This is for a good reason: on iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR, nearly every photo taken uses the Smart HDR feature (the “HDR” badge is only displayed in the corner of the image when Smart HDR is really extreme).

Using manual HDR

As we mentioned, the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus models are the first iPhones to features automatic HDR mode, called Auto HDR, stemming from their fast processors with Apple’s Neural engine that accelerates machine learning tasks like computational photography.

On these devices, disable automatic HDR by turning off Smart HDR in Settings → Camera.

Disable Smart HDR

On models older than 2017’s iPhone X and iPhone 8, you get manual HDR, just like before, that is on by default. To disable the feature in the Camera app, tap HDR at the top of the and choose Off (or disable HDR imaging permanently in your camera settings).

If you’d like your iPhone to save both the HDR and non-HDR versions of the image, be sure that the option Keep Normal Photo has been turned on in Settings → Camera.

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And that, boys and girls, is how you switch from automatic to manual HDR on your iPhone.

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