Whether you're aiming for completely natural inconspicuous HDR images, or in-your-face HDR drama this software can get you where you want to be quickly and easily thanks to powerful and intuitive controls. For now Mac users have access to what is arguably the best HDR software created to date.
Power and intuitive controls
Can be used as a plug-in with Lightroom
Over 70 presets
Non-destructive file format
Level of manual control
You need a decent spec Mac
Fiddly scroll bars
File sizes can be huge
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If you've been taking a look at the amazing landscape, cityscape, interior and travel photography online, chances are you've seen a lot of HDR. It's so good these days that quite often you wouldn't even know the technique had been used.
Gone are the days of muddy mid-tones and eye-watering halos, HDR photography has undergone something of a Renaissance. The results are so natural they're not even noticeable, and Aurora HDR 2017 is a part of this photographic revolution.
Aurora HDR 2017 is the latest version of the award-winning Aurora HDR software that was created with the HDR photographer Trey Ratcliffe. The aim of was to create the best HDR software in the world. With the ability to work as a standalone program or as a plug-in for software such as Lightroom and Photoshop, and with over 600,000 downloads of the software, there's no denying its popularity.
The latest version of the software brings with it a whole host of new features including new and improved tools, and more powerful algorithms offering even more realistic and natural results.
Ease of use
Editing software needs to be easy to use to attract more users, and in this department Aurora HDR is fantastic. Once the software has been started you'll be guided through the process of loading your images with explanations of what you need to do. For beginners this is great, and more experienced users can ignore them. If you need help at any point you can access the user guide and tutorial videos from the Help menu.
Once your HDR image opens you'll be presented with an interface that's well laid out and easy to navigate. The main part of the interface is taken up by the image window, with the main tools and tool bars along the top and the image controls in a panel on the right. At the bottom there are over 70 presets in eight groups, and you can of course create your own. This means you can create fantastic HDR images in a wide range of styles in seconds. Whether you're looking for natural effects or the ultimate grunge looks, you'll find them here.
These can then be personalised by adjusting the main adjustment sliders to you liking. The alternative to presets is to start from scratch and do everything yourself. The beauty of this software is that it allows you to take as much, or as little manual control over your images as you wish, but still achieve great results.
What's more, whether you're working with JPEGs, TIFFs, PSDs, raw files and more, the software can read your image files and you can even create Layers. If you save a non-destructive Aurora HDR Document you can save Layers and other localised adjustments. However, it is worth noting that file sizes can be huge because of all the data they hold.
There are so many existing, improved and new features in this new software that it would take a short novel to list them all. So whether you're new to Aurora HDR or looking to upgrade, you certainly won't be disappointed. There's a new Zone System for Luminosity Masks – yes, you read correctly, you can create luminosity masks in Aurora, and it's incredibly simple. Not to mention powerful.
Adding to the Gradient Mask that can be used to create ND grad effects, there's the new Radial Mask allows you to take full control of elliptical areas of the image. And this can be used in conjunction with the Brush tool for refinement of the area you're adjusting. The Brush can also be used on its own for fine-tuned localised adjustments.
Polarising filters, up until now have been exclusive to the shooting process. But the new Polarising Filter in Aurora HDR allows you to apply the effect to your images during processing. While the effect isn't exactly what you you'd get from a real polarising filter, it's not a million miles away. Blues are deepened and highlights including reflections are darkened. Used with reserve, it can produce satisfying results.
At this stage it's worth remembering, these features are just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more powerful controls available to you. The only things that are missing are cloning and healing tools, which would potentially remove the need to process images in Photoshop afterwards. As it stands, you really need to use both to make your images look their best.
Aurora HDR 2017 was tested on the lowest spec current Mac Mini with dual core processor and 4GB of RAM. This is slightly better spec in terms of the processor than the basic requirements of the software, with RAM on par, but the computer really did struggle. RAW image processing was slow, full size JPEGs were better but image rendering and saving still took time.
It's worth bearing in mind that you're really need at least 8GB of RAM and a faster processor to really enjoy the software. Higher spec Mac Minis, iMacs and pro spec Macs should have no problems and will allow you to enjoy the full Aurora experience. When the software was tested on a 2012 iMac with a quad core processor and 8GB RAM it performed significantly better.
Aurora HDR one of the best HDR software options on the market, and this latest version brings a huge number of improvements that make it even better. Whether you're aiming for completely natural inconspicuous HDR images, or in-your-face HDR drama this software can get you where you want to be quickly and easily thanks to powerful and intuitive controls. Of course, like any software it takes time to master it and feel totally confident, but the fact you can create amazing HDR images with no experience of the software is certainly appealing.
There are a few issues: poor performance with slower computers, the huge size of Aurora HDR Documents for saving editable HDR images, and the fiddly scroll bars at the bottom and side of the interface to navigate adjustment controls and presets. But these certainly aren't a deal breaker.
The fact you can save a HDR images with Layers and localised adjustments is amazing. The major downside to Aurora HDR 2017 is that it's currently only available to Mac users. Although MacPhun have said that they are working on a Windows version of the software, but until then Mac users will have one of, if not arguably the best HDR software created to date.
James Abbott is a professional photographer and freelance photography journalist. He contributes articles about photography, cameras and drones to a wide range of magazines and websites where he applies a wealth of experience to testing the latest photographic tech. James is also the author of ‘The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing’.