HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography is a technique that has been around for decades but really started making waves in the modern digital imaging scene around 2005. It involves combining multiple exposures of a picture, usually taken with a technique known as bracketing, to create one final single image with bright parts that are not overexposed and dark parts that are not underexposed.

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In recent years the software required to do this has gotten more powerful, less expensive, and so much easier to use. With just a few clicks anyone can make beautiful HDR images. Aurora HDR 2018 is the latest arrival in this category, created by Skylum, a developer rooted in photography and digital image manipulation. It’s a program that caters to casual users who want a fun creative outlet while also meeting the demands of professionals who make their living from designing beautiful works of photographic art.

If you want a single program that can handle all your HDR needs no matter your skill level, Aurora HDR 2019 may be just the tool for you.

What is HDR photography?

HDR photography is all about getting the best of both worlds when taking photos, particularly of static subjects like landscapes or architecture. If you’re taking a picture with extraordinary bright spots like a sunrise or sunset, you can expose for the highlights (i.e. the bright spots) which mean the dark parts get really dark and underexposed.

Alternatively, you can expose for the shadows (i.e. the dark spots) which leave the bright parts extra bright and overexposed. HDR photos are created when a photographer takes multiple shots, usually three or more, of the same scene: one underexposed, one properly exposed, and one overexposed. Then software such as Lightroom, Photoshop, Photomatix, and others can be used to combine all the images into a single picture that has detail in both the highlights and the shadows.

BeforeAfter

Before and after image showing what is possible with HDR.

How Aurora HDR is different

Compared to other offerings on the market, Aurora HDR’s brilliance lies in its simplicity. It’s far easier to use and just as capable as other HDR applications, and also very competitive in terms of its pricing. (Unlike some other apps, it’s available as a one-time purchase instead of with a monthly subscription.) When you open the program you are greeted with one large button that lets you load a single image or multiple exposures of the same image, which is all you need to do to get started. If you dig just a bit deeper you will notice two additional options: Batch Processing and Load Sample Images.

The former is useful if you want to quickly apply specific HDR processes and presets to many images at one time. While this can be useful if you have several images to go through I don’t recommend it for beginning users.

 

Aurora HDR 2019’s bread and butter is the incredible degree of control it gives you over the entire process of creating a High Dynamic Range image. This is where most people will get the maximum value out of the software.

Installaion and Description

Installation of Aurora HDR 2019 is straightforward and no need for a reboot. The start and actions with Aurora 2019 feel snappier then the 2018 version. Aurora HDR 2019 is the world’s ultimate HDR photo editing software, featuring the new AI Tone Mapping powered by the new Quantum HDR Engine.

Its a complete and comprehensive tool kit for amateurs and pro-photographers. Its updated interface and new features complement a new release of Skylum HDR software. Perfect for single shots or multiple-exposure brackets, Aurora HDR 2019 is able to create beautiful HDR pictures from single shots, as well as the for HR photographed 3 pictures with different exposures. In fact Aurora HDR 2019 can turn any photographer into an artist.

Aurora HDR 2019 is a powerful update that has several new, and, frankly, compelling features.

Aurora HDR in practice

AI TONE MAPPING IS POWERED BY THE NEW QUANTUM HDR ENGINE

Tone mapping converts (compresses) the wide dynamic range image into one that is more narrow and can be displayed on a computer monitor. In the past, tone mapping was done manually — requiring the user to make these changes. Aurora HDR 2019’s new artificial intelligence changes this by using the new Quantum HDR Engine. This new HDR engine analyzes the dynamic range of the image to produce the best starting point to begin HDR processing.

INCREASE THE QUALITY OF AN IMAGE WITH HDR DETAILS BOOST

This filter allows you to control the details of the image, giving you the choice of making the image clearer and sharper or make it softer. This tool is useful for improving the overall quality of the image as well as to increase the quality of the images that will be used in high resolution, such as for printing. Increasing the sharpness can also compensate for lower quality optics used to make the captured image. Innovative technologies allow the HDR Details Boost adjustment to improve image sharpness without increasing digital noise or creating unnatural ghosting or halos in the image. This is a very powerful tool to improve the quality of images.

THE CLASSIC HDR EFFECT STARTS WITH THE HDR ENHANCE FILTER

Aurora HDR 2019’s HDR Enhance Filter allows adjusting an image’s detail and clarity. Using this tool you can get a classic HDR effect with great detail or get a smoother picture with less detail. This is the main tool to increase micro-contrast of an image and visualize more details.

The tool has three sections: HDR Clarity, HDR Smart Structure, and HDR Microstructure.

HDR CLARITY

The HDR Clarity slider is a single slider that adjusts a variety of controls including lighting effects and detail. It offers a special ability to configure balanced image brightness without getting completely white or completely black areas. This has the effect of making the image less realistic and more classically the look a lot of people associate with HDR.

HDR SMART STRUCTURE

Increases image detail by revealing the structure and texture of the surfaces in the image. This enhances the image and hidden details appear. This slider adjusts the overall display of details. Moving the slider to the right will accentuate details and make the image more unrealistic.

HDR MICROSTRUCTURE

This section amplifies micro-detail within the image. These are small details that form the surface of any object in the image. They can further enhance details of the image and provide a more vivid artistic HDR effect, however, it can also make the image very noisy.

Amount. Increases micro-details and contrast.

Softness. Affects the general “softness” and realism of the photo. Moving the slider to the left will cause the image to become very finely detailed and unrealistic.

NATURAL OR CREATIVE HDR

Easily create beautiful, natural HDR, or take it to the limit. New, more powerful Aurora HDR ’19 lets you achieve your unique creative vision.

CHECK BASIC IMAGE AURORA HDR 2018 vs AURORA HDR 2019

I wondered if there would be any difference in creating a HDR image from one of Trey Ratcliff’s images with Aurora 2018 and the updated 2019 version. To be fair the difference is not huge of course, still I feel the 2019 version does a better job with the sky elements. Check the left top sky and see that 2018 version shows more noise and artefacts then the 2019 update. All settings to ‘reset’ level in transformation of the image. The blue rooftop sections look much more defined on the 2019 version.

So we can state: Aurora HDR 2019 absolutely performs better then Aurora HDR 2018.

AURORA HDR 2018

AURORA HDR 2019

TONE MAPPING

Skylum AURORA HDR 2018 already had Tone-mapping feature but version 2019 has a complete revolutionary Quantum HDR tone mapping engine. I guess this is one of the most used features within this application. Nice to fiddle around, but what does it really do?

It’s the process of converting the tonal values of an image from a high range to a lower one. For instance, an HDR file merged from multiple images with a dynamic range of 100,000:1 will be converted into an image with tonal values ranging from around 1 to 255.

Why do we want to reduce that tonal range so much? Well the reason is simple. Most standard display devices (and printers) can only reproduce a low range of dynamic values (between 100 or 200:1 or lower). The goal of tone mapping is to reproduce the appearance of images having a higher dynamic range to fit/display properly on standard display devices, thus keeping the image looking realistic.

The algorithms that tone mapping use to scale the dynamic range down attempt to preserve the appearance of the original image captured by breaking the information up into two categories: global and local.

VERDICT

Skylum raised the bar again with their Aurora HDR 2019 version, which doesn’t leave much room for improvement yet. There are some other applications available right now, which offer similar techniques and adjustment settings, but I feel Skylum Aurora HDR 2019 is the easiest to master for any user. Speed improved as well as a improved techniques like the new Quantum HDR Engine. The Lens Correction and Transform Tool are the obvious implemented features. HDR Clarity, HDR Smart Structure, and HDR Microstructure complete a perfect application.

I am a big fan of Skylum software, and I tried them all ! I love their clean interface and easy use. The offered presets are limited but when you add the mentioned Free packs or buy the available Presets from Macphun you can’t go wrong anymore.

This software can make any photographer into a true Michelangelo. How’s that for software changing your world!

So, I recommend Aurora HDR 2019 to anyone looking for the best HDR-editing application.