You love HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography but don’t exactly know which software to use? Let me introduce you to what I believe is the best HDR software ever – Aurora HDR.
Note, even though the video says 2019 – they since dropped the year and simply kept calling it Aurora HDR, also in 2022! You can save on Aurora, simply head here and use the promo code “LETSIMAGE” during checkout. Saves 10%, so why not?!
Before We Start – Get Ready
Do you know HDR Photography?
Before we dive in, there is one important question you need to ask yourself: Do I know What HDR is? If the answer is no but you are intrigued, then read this article first! I tell you the principle, what you need, software alternatives to Aurora HDR, and anything else you need to get started.
How to get your images into Aurora HDR
When you drag and drop your exposures into Aurora HDR, you will see an interface where you can make some decisions:
Auto Alignment | When you take your different exposures, there is a good chance that you did not have a tripod at hand. If so, merging the images could result in the exposures not aligning perfectly. Setting this option will allow Aurora HDR to analyse the images and make sure they merge properly. If you have taken the images with a tripod, then this is usually not needed.
Ghost Reduction | It happens often that moving objects have different positions in your exposures – for example people walking, cars, birds, or whatever it might be. If this is the case, Aurora can detect these objects and make sure this “ghosting” is reduced as best as possible.
Chromatic Aberration Reduction | When light is behind objects (happens often with sunsets), their outline sometimes get a purple/red/green outline. This is usually not great and this function reduces it.
The Interface of Aurora HDR
Auroras interface is super simple and can be split into 5 sections that you can see below. Note that there are so many thing you can do, which all together make Aurora HDR the best HDR software ever!
1 – Open, Zoom, and More
The top bar in Aurora HDR allows for some basic functions. You can open documents, zoom into your picture, check out the before/after once you did some editing, see the history of your edit, and finally, export your final image.
2 – The Information Center
3 – Layers
One amazing thing about Aurora HDR and its predecessor is the ability to use layers. They might be known to you from Photoshop and work very similar, but more to layers later. Not many HDR softwares have layers, which is a big reason why Aurora HDR is the best HDR software ever!
4 – The Editing Pane
This is where you make all your edits to your images. You have a massive selection of sliders and tools available – some of the best one are listed below.
5 – The “Looks” Section (aka Presets)
Aurora HDR has a wide selection of pre-prepared looks that you can apply to your images. Once you import your image to edit, Aurora will create little previews as to what a look would look like on the image. Click the thumbnail and you can see the settings be applied to the editing pane on the right. You can then take it from there and make any changes you need to make to adapt the look to your liking.
The Editing Options in Aurora HDR
As I mentioned above, you have a ton of editing options available to you. Here are some of the ones that I like most to give you an idea and a head start!
HDR Basic | This section offers some of the basic adjustments such as highlights and shadows, but also one of the best sliders: Smart Tone. This will essentially brighten up your shadows and even out the light situation a little bit. Try it!
HDR Denoise | Does it exactly what it says! Sometimes when the HDR image is being created, noise is being added in the sky regions or dark grounds. This slider does an amazing job of removing this.
HDR Detail Boost | This tool allows you to essentially sharpen your image on different levels. ‘Small’ is great for sand (for instance) while large is great for uneven surfaces like rocks or so. The ability to control the sharpness on different levels is awesome and adds to the pool pf reasons for Aurora HDR to be the best HDR software ever.
Curves | This is one of the greatest tools in existence! You might know if from Photoshop (here is a tutorial showing you 5 great things you can do with curves). In short, curves allow for brightness adjustments, setting white- and blackpoint, adding or removing colours into your image, or simply adjusting the contrast.
Image Radiance | Image radiance is one of my favourite tools in Aurora. It adds a little bit of a glow effect (much like an Orton Effect) which works very well in many many images. Have a sunset? Adding a bit of this rarely hurts.
LUT Mapping | LUTs, or Look Up Tables, are essentially another way of applying a preset to your images. Many photographers and videographers have their own LUT that you can buy or simply downloads – this way, you can make your photos look similar to what your idols create. This is new in Aurora and was not previously available.
Examples of Aurora HDR
Here are some examples of images I edited in Aurora HDR. Some of them are from its predecessor, but as they are very similar in functionality it should be fine to give you an idea of what is possible! What do you think, best HDR Software ever? 😀
How Layers Work in Aurora HDR
Layers are often perceived as difficult when you start out, but they do not have to be! In fact, once you spend a little bit of time working with them, you will wonder how you ever worked without them. Let me give you a quick tour.
In Aurora, imagine a layer like a folder. If you have a layer and make adjustments to your photo, then these adjustments are specific to that layer. If you were to switch that layer to invisible, all adjustments within that layer are also invisible.
How can I use this you ask? Here is how: Say you want to make edits to your sky but not the foreground. Well, make a new layer, make all the adjustments so that the sky looks good and then selectively make the adjustments within that layer visible. You can do that by clicking on the little brush symbol next to your layer name.
Either use a brush, a radial mask, or a gradient mask to add your layer’s effects into your image. You can then repeat the process for your foreground and thats it!
Some Important Questions for Aurora HDR
If I already have Aurora HDR 2018, is it worth upgrading?
That depends. I know you probably hoped for a yes or no, but it is a little more complicated. When it comes to functionality, Aurora 2018 and the current version are very similar. The new version has some more tools such as LUT mapping, but I do not think this is enough reason to upgrade. However, current Aurora HDR uses a different process to merge images together, which is far superior to the way it worked in the previous version. Images have less noise, light is much more balanced, the processing is much faster and the app feels much more fluent than it did before. I will release a post soon addressing this in a bit more detail – for now, if the 2018 version works for you, that is fine. If you want better merging processes as well as the stuff I mentioned before, use this link and promo code “LETSIMAGE” to upgrade and save 10%!
Do I need any editing experience for Aurora HDR?
Nope – this is something that makes this the best HDR Software ever – Aurora HDR needs no prior knowledge whatswhoever. After playing around with the sliders for maybe 30 min, you will be able to use the software easily. Layers might be a little but intimidating, but you will quickly get used to that, too! The “Looks” will allows you to dive in right away and then change them to your liking.
There Seems to be a Version Every Year – So I have to Buy the New Version Next Year?
Not if you don’t want to. Here is the thing – If you buy Aurora, you pay 99% (89$ using this link and promo code “LETSIMAGE”). That comes to about 7.50 a month for that first year if you were to split it onto the months. You can then decide if you wanna upgrade, but you dont have to! If that version works for you, use it forever! If you want to upgrade to the new version, this would be 59$ (49$ using this link and promo code “LETSIMAGE”). This is about 4$/month, translated to a subscription model. So for me, upgrading when it makes sense it fine considering the low cost. Again, you do not have to though!
Are There Any Hidden Costs for Aurora HDR?
Nope. Buy the best HDR Software ever – Aurora HDR or upgrade from your old version and that’s it. No subscriptions, no nothing.
Why Aurora HDR and not any other software?
There are several reasons that make Aurora stand out. Apart from its user-friendliness, the simple interface, the integrations with PS/Luminar and others, it also won the App of the year award in 2017 and 2018. Do not take my word for it though, use the free trial and form your own opinion!
Is Aurora HDR for Professionals as well as Beginners?
Definitely both. Many professional HDR Photographers use Aurora – Trey Ratcliff, Serge Ramelli, myself… and beginners love it as well. In fact, many professional HDR photographers were involved in creating Aurora HDR, trying to make this the best HDR software for anyone.
What are current issues and general negatives?
Like in any software, there are some very minor hiccups. For instance, there is no erase tool (as far as I have found), so removing dirt spots or so is tricky. Also, if you use tons of layers, the software can become a little slower. These are the only two issues I have experienced.
Can I try it before I buy it?
You sure can! Aurora has a trial that you can use to figure out if it is the best HDR software for you.
The Price of Aurora HDR
You can either buy Aurora HDR for a one-time price of 99$ (or 89$ using this link) or you can upgrade from an older version of Aurora for 59$ (49$ using this link) – make sure to use Promo Code “LETSIMAGE” at checkout for either to save 10%.
The definition of a perfect HDR software is something everyone has to create for him/herself. Having said that, for me personally it is clear which one is the best HDR software ever – Aurora HDR. The numerous tools available, combined with layers and the fantastic merging technology simply do it for me. If you are still searching, use the trial to check it out. Thanks for reading!