Last updated on April 7th, 2021
One of the most effective ways to capture and edit a dynamic is scene is with HDR Photography.
What is Aurora HDR?
Aurora HDR is a photography application that merges bracketed photos to create one single HDR image. It helps recover the highlights and shadows through a process called tone mapping.
This Aurora HDR review will go over the basics of the high-dynamic-range editing software developed by Skylum (formerly Macphun and creators of Luminar 4) as well as my first impressions. I’ll let you know, what I believe, are the most important features.
I should first point out that the software is a direct competitor to the main HDR program I use, Photomatix. Therefore, I was a bit hesitant on the quality of Aurora HDR since HDRSoft’s Photomatix was known to be king of HDR tone-mapped images.
Aurora HDR was first introduced in 2015. Until now, I haven’t used it for the reason mentioned above. But I thought I would give it a chance, especially since it now had a few years to improve.
The last major release of the software was Aurora HDR 2019 and is still going strong. There have been no other major releases but the software still receives maintenance updates. It still tops our list of the best HDR software.
Basic Review of How Aurora HDR 2019 Works
Aurora HDR 2019 has many features and filters to produce high-quality HDR photos.
Here are some of the main highlights of the software.
Quantum HDR Engine
The main hype around Aurora HDR 2019 is its new Quantum HDR Engine technology. Cool name, right? Consequently, it sounds like a neat marketing strategy.
Nonetheless, I’ll bite.
According to Skylum, they tested thousands of bracketed photos which provided the results to develop the Quantum HDR Engine.
What this means is that the patent pending AI-powered technology helps reduce problems that many HDR software have: ghosting, halos, noise, color burn, chromatic aberration, and loss of contrast.
Use Smart Tone to intelligently brighten or darken your photo without modifying the areas that are already bright or dark. It’s a quick way to make your HDR image look vivid.
HDR Smart Structure
The HDR Smart Structure feature allows you to add more detail, texture, and depth to your image. Be careful to not overuse this feature as it can make your image looked overcooked.
Make enhanced color adjustments and give your photos an aesthetic look with LUT mapping. The software comes with preinstalled LUT’s or you can load your own LUT’s.
Aurora HDR Looks
Probably the best feature is the Aurora HDR Looks, which is just another name for presets. There are several high-quality presets the accompany Aurora HDR. You can also download my free Aurora HDR Looks.
This feature allows you to add more vibrant colors by increasing global contrast. With slight use of image radiance, you can give your image a utopian or dreamy feel.
Aurora HDR Includes Plugins
The benefit of plugins is that it speeds up editing workflows. Unfortunately, the initial installation of Aurora HDR on your computer doesn’t automatically install the Lightroom and Photoshop plugins.
How to Install Lightroom and Photoshop Plugins
- Open Aurora HDR
- On Mac, select Aurora HDR → Install Plugins
- On PC, select File → Install Plugins
Example of 3 bracketed photos that I edited in Aurora HDR 2019
I photographed these images in Tikal, Guatemala. The first 3 images have exposure values of 0, -1, and +1. The fourth image is the final HDR image. I tried to make this image look realistic by making simple adjustments in Aurora HDR without being too creative. You can also watch the YouTube video of this demo.
At the time of writing this, the price of Aurora HDR 2019 is $99. You can use discount code aperlust for a $10 discount.
I have to say that I’m very impressed with Aurora HDR 2019, even as far to say that it’s better than Photomatix.
I really can’t find any mentionable cons with the software. Maybe the manual work to install the Lightroom and Photoshop plugins is a nuisance for some photographers. Or that it doesn’t have a sharpening tool – which is easily resolved in Lightroom and Photoshop. Of course, I shouldn’t assume you have LR or PS.
With the multiple features mentioned above including the benefits of adjustment layers and masking brushes, this software is worth buying for your high-dynamic-range photography.