Samsung brings HDR photos to Instagram and I'm excited

During the unveiling of Samsung's Galaxy S24 smartphone, a little announcement got me very excited. That means the device will be able to upload HDR photos to Instagram.

The deal includes only one product family from one smartphone manufacturer and one social media app. But as a serious photographer, I'm giddy about this. Because this probably means we can expect HDR photography to spread to more devices, more apps, more web browsers, and more photo editing software.

In other words, Samsung and Instagram's partnership could help start a new, better chapter in digital photography. This is an improvement that everyone can appreciate, not just photo geeks like me.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which in photography means that the photo can accommodate a wider range of bright and dark tones. This can make photos look more realistic and vivid, especially those with dramatic lighting differences. The bright sky is bright without fading. The setting sun shines brightly. Scenes often look exactly as they do when you see them.

HDR is gaining popularity in video, but it also comes with complications. But in the case of photography, it's an anomaly. Various compatibility and feature constraints have hindered HDR photography. For this technology to work, you need a file format that can store data, a camera that can take photos in HDR, editing tools that can manipulate HDR shots, and a display that can display additional tones.

That's why I'm interested in Samsung and Instagram.

This partnership could be the starting point for more people to benefit from this technology, and it solves enough problems to avoid the chicken-and-egg problem of HDR photography. There's no point in supporting HDR photos if they don't display properly. If your photo hardware and software doesn't produce HDR photos, there's no point trying to display them properly.

Advances in HDR photography

The technology has taken a big step toward mainstreaming in 2023, as Adobe has added support for HDR photos to Lightroom, the top editing and cataloging tool for photography enthusiasts and professionals. It really opened my eyes and revealed how much scene data my camera had been capturing over the years that I didn't appreciate.

To learn more about what HDR photography offers, check out this blog post from Adobe engineer and photographer Eric Chan explaining the feature. However, Firefox and Safari do not support his HDR photos, so check in Chrome or a Chromium-based browser like Edge or Brave.

Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus with three rear cameras

Samsung's Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus come with bright displays that can display HDR photos.

James Martin/CNET

“There's more room for tone and color: brighter highlights, deeper shadows, improved tonal separation, and more vibrant colors,” Chan said. “As a result, photos optimized for HDR displays have a greater impact, with an increased sense of depth and realism.”

Another step was Adobe's creation of “gain map” technology for photo file formats. Gain maps extend regular photos to include additional HDR information, allowing non-HDR products to display regular photos and HDR-enabled products to display additional tonal range.

Google is incorporating gain maps into its Ultra HDR format in Android 14, and Samsung is taking the same approach, the company said. However, Samsung calls it Super HDR.

HDR photography requires a bright display

Your phone, tablet, or laptop must reach high brightness levels to properly display HDR photos. Adobe recommends a peak brightness of 1,000 nits. This is now common on high-end smartphones, but less so on laptops, and even rarer on external monitors.

Samsung's Galaxy S24, S24 Plus, and S24 Ultra reach a peak brightness of 2,600 nits, up from 1,750 nits in last year's S23 generation. This helped the phone earn praise from testing company DXOMark.

Detailed plans for Instagram have not yet been revealed. Parent company Meta said HDR photography is not limited to Samsung phones.

“Samsung is the first manufacturer we worked with to make this feature available, so Galaxy S24 users will be the first to be able to capture, post and view HDR photos. [Instagram’s] Feed your Galaxy S24 device as soon as it's available,” spokesperson Karen Heaney said, adding that the company is working with other Android partners and Apple to help upload and view HDR photos. It is said that it is being processed.

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