AuroraHDR is now shipping and holy moley it's awesome

 AuroraHDR Interface : Image Courtesy Macphun

AuroraHDR Interface : Image Courtesy Macphun

Regular readers know that I am sometimes overly cautious about HDR. It can be a highly subjective effort in terms of outcome and drives a wide range of responses.  I don't personally subscribe to the "HDR Must Die" school of thought, but I personally prefer more realistic uses of dynamic range extension over the glow in the dark nuclear waste look that some folks love.  The outcome is your art, how you get there determines the ease, flexibility and customization available to you as you make your art.  I wasn't blown away to hear of another HDR software tool but I have been very pleased with everything I have used from the folks at Macphun so I gave them the benefit of the doubt.  I did so because they write excellent software, limited only by its availability only on the Macintosh.  The acclaimed photographer, Trey Ratcliff, was heavily involved in the development, and that in itself will draw many buyers.  What really matters to me is how incredibly good this product is!

 AuroraHDR Tone Mapping Tools : Image Courtesy Macphun

AuroraHDR Tone Mapping Tools : Image Courtesy Macphun

HDR originated because the dynamic range of digital camera sensors was limited and photographers wanted to make images with more dynamic range closer to what the human eye could see.  We can buy cameras today with an incredible 14 stops of dynamic range, so the potential need for HDR has diminished.  The human eye can still see over 20 stops so the need for HDR is not dead at all.

AuroraHDR takes the approach of all HDR products, combining together multiple exposures of the same scene, over a range of under exposure to over exposure.  Doing so pulls details out of highlights and shadows that would otherwise potentially be lost.  Some digital editors are comfortable doing this with only the shadows and highlights sliders, but a good HDR file gives you even more latitude.

Most HDR software offers the combination engine that also incorporates image content alignment, removal of ghosting (multiple iterations of a moving subject over different exposures) amongst other techniques to maintain sharpness and image quality during the combination process.  I have been a steady user of Photoshop's merge to 32 bit HDR because I wanted to be able to edit the final image in Lightroom or ACR.  These combinations of multiple files take a long time to process and still need work.  I was never a fan of the 16 bit combinators that would then get stamped with a preset from a limited selection.  The good news is that all HDR software has continually improved, but with the release of AuroraHDR, the bar just moved.  And it moved a lot.

My frustration with most other HDR functions was the limited amount of control offered by the applications outside the presets.  And I am speaking of real HDR engines, not the amateur night not really HDR now built into Lightroom.  Photomatix Pro, HDR Efex Pro and others do a nice job if what they do is what you want out of the presets, with somewhat limited control after that.

 AuroraHDR Preset Categories ; Image Courtesy Macphun

AuroraHDR Preset Categories ; Image Courtesy Macphun

AuroraHDR changes this game entirely.  It has an enormous selection of presets, just like the rest of the Macphun family and as expected these presets run the range from subtle to outworldly.  You will choose something that suits you.  I tend to a more natural look and the OOB (out of the box) Natural actually looked pretty good in my test images.  What really blew me away is the attention to artistic control that's here.  The Preset bundles include Basic, Architecture, Landscape, Indoor, Dramatic, and Trey Ratcliff originals.  You can also create your own and collect Favourites in one place.

 AuroraHDR Brush and Layers Tools : Image Courtesy Macphun

AuroraHDR Brush and Layers Tools : Image Courtesy Macphun

As it should, AuroraHDR uses a Layers model, so you can control layer level opacity and use different approaches on different layers.  A masking engine is included as one would expect and it's very nice to find the ability to create Luminosity Masks right from the drop down menu.  If you aren't a layers person, you can still use AuroraHDR without painful learning curves, but having the ability to do layers in the application is a real bonus.  Each layer also supports the use of built in brush tools to manipulate the effects being used.  Photoshop equivalent blend modes are also provided.

Where AuroraHDR takes its competitors out back for some teaching is in the scope and breadth of adjustments.  There are so many, a new user could become a bit frightened, and that's not a serious concern because the presets are already very good.  For me, I want that level of custom control and I am thrilled to find it here.

The list of toolsets is extensive and I share it with you for interest as there is no way for me to go through every single element.  Macphun has tutorials on their website that you can view to learn the software, and everyone should, because there is so much power on tap here.

  • Tone Mapping
  • Tone
  • Structure
  • HDR Denoise
  • Image Radiance
  • Colour
  • Details
  • Glow
  • Top and Bottom Lighting
  • Tone Curve
  • Colour Filter
  • Colour Toning
  • Vignette
 AuroraHDR Colour Selector and Colour Toning : Image Courtesy Macphun

AuroraHDR Colour Selector and Colour Toning : Image Courtesy Macphun

I like that the section header colour changes when a setting has been made in a section so you can see at a glance where a preset is engaged, and where you might choose to augment it.  You can of course change any setting during your process even if a preset made it.  Colouration of the sliders shows precisely where changes have been made.  The Macphun folks really understand User Interface design and it shows in their products.  Powerful and Easy to Use should not be polar opposites and with Macphun they never are.

 Screenshot of an HDR built using my own images with AuroraHDR

Screenshot of an HDR built using my own images with AuroraHDR

Like most other Macphun applications, AuroraHDR can be a standalone application or act as an Export plugin for Lightroom, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Aperture.  I'm happy to see Aperture included because while Apple dumped it in the ditch, their Photos app is nothing like Aperture and the move from Aperture to other apps has not been paved with smoothness and ease, so plenty of folks are still using it.  Because it can work as a standalone, AuroraHDR has its own native RAW conversion engine.  It wasn't clear on the source of RAW profiles, so I suspect that the application is using the Apple delivered RAW profiles that Aperture and Photos would use.  No problems there.  I have not tried connecting AuroraHDR to Capture One yet, but I suspect it will work just fine.

Sometimes really good noise management systems get flustered when dealing with HDR images.  AuroraHDR has a Macphun developed HDR Noise Reduction function.  Macphun is crystal clear that this is their proprietary technology and good for them for innovating in this space.

I noted that there was a promo early purchase option for AuroraHDR that has now expired.  You can still purchase AuroraHDR through the links on my site, and doing so helps me keep things running

One of the other things I noticed about AuroraHDR right away is that it is really fast.  A 32 bit HDR is much faster here than in other services.  Since waiting around and I don't get along very well this is a nice thing to discover.  

/RANT

I did find that because it works as an Export plugin, if you send the originals to AuroraHDR from a collection in Lightroom's develop module, the returned HDR does not come back into the Collection, instead it goes into the folder where the original files are located.  I don't blame Macphun since all export plugins work this way but perhaps the Macphun people could impress on the Adobe people just how fundamentally stupid this is since the Develop module works from Collections not Folders.  Not Macphun's fault or problem, but as an educator I run into this end user frustration constantly.

/rant

You can get a free trial from Macphun through my links just as you can for any of their software if you want to try before you buy.  I noted at the beginning that I am cautious about HDR.  I think that AuroraHDR is now my go to tool for HDR and since it works the way I want it to, I will do more HDR work as a result.

Until next time, peace.

 The final HDR image.  Canon 1Dx w Canon 11-24/4L 11mm.  Five shot bracket at 1 1/3 stop intervals made into a single image in AuroraHDR.  All processing was done in AuroraHDR

The final HDR image.  Canon 1Dx w Canon 11-24/4L 11mm.  Five shot bracket at 1 1/3 stop intervals made into a single image in AuroraHDR.  All processing was done in AuroraHDR