You may be wondering why I’m publishing an article on how to do HDR Photography on a site like Shotkit. After all, HDR photography is a little… well, passé, right? People have been doing HDR photography on their iPhones since 2010 after all…!
I think a lot of us professional photographers have a knee-jerk reaction upon hearing the term ‘HDR Photography’. Whenever I think of it, I conjure up grossly over-processed images of sunsets that look like they belong in a video game rather than in a photographer’s portfolio.
Love it or hate it though, the fact is, HDR photography is still a hugely popular technique for both amateur and professional photographers.
It was this in mind that I reached out to Macphun, makers of the award-winning HDR photography software, Aurora HDR 2017 to give us a run down on why their software is the best way to produce great looking HDR images.
I’d recommend that you click here to get a free trial of the Aurora HDR software, then follow along with the HDR photography tutorial below.
If you’re ready to dive right in and purchase Aurora, click here then use Aurora coupon code SHOTKIT to save $10.
How to do HDR Photography with Aurora HDR
For those of you that aren’t yet familiar with how to do HDR photography, let’s start by defining HDR.
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and it’s a photography technique for capturing a greater range of detail and light in your photos by blending multiple exposures, than you could otherwise do with a single exposure.
To make an HDR photo, you start by taking multiple photos of a scene, but at different shutter speeds. This is usually best when done using a tripod, although it can be done handheld (all the example photos in this post were shot handheld).
The longer shutter speeds let in more light (brightening the dark areas), while the shorter ones let in less light (darkening the bright areas).
When merged into an HDR photo in Aurora, you get a well-balanced image that displays a broader distribution of light across the image.
The best way to illustrate how it works is by example, so we will walk through the building of an HDR photo in Aurora HDR 2017.
If you’d prefer to watch a video of the process, check out this quick workflow example:
Aurora HDR Photography Tutorial
If you haven’t done so already, get your free trial of Aurora HDR 2017 here so you can follow along with this tutorial with your own images.
Aurora is available as a plugin for Lightroom & Photoshop, meaning that you can access it from the editing software that you’re currently using. [On the topic of editing, check out these Lightroom & Photoshop shortcuts.]
To start, we have a 3 image bracket set that was taken using the auto-bracketing feature on my Olympus OMD-EM1 camera. If your camera doesn’t have the auto-bracketing feature, just put your camera in manual mode, and alter the exposure by +/- 2 stops by changing your shutter speed. This will give you one well exposed image, one over exposed image and one under exposed image.
The photos below were taken handheld, although a tripod is recommended since you want to ensure all the photos line up properly. This is even more important if you don’t have auto-bracketing, since each time you manually alter your shutter speed, your camera may move and the scene you are trying to capture will be slightly different.
Thankfully though, Aurora HDR contains an algorithm which will auto-align photos that were taken handheld, and it works great, as you can see below.
To begin, drag your 3 photos into Aurora HDR. You will get the merge window and it will show you the 3 photos as well as a couple of options.
Notice that in the merge window, I checked the option for ‘Alignment’, because the images were shot handheld. You don’t need to use this option when using a tripod.
Also note that there is a button for ‘Additional Settings’. When this is clicked, it will open the following screen:
Ghost Reduction has been selected here because of the potential of moving objects, such as the dog that is running on the beach. This function will align the photos properly and remove the ghosting/movement of the dog in this case.
Once you have selected your options and are ready to go, click on the big green Create HDR button, which will merge your exposures into a base HDR photo and open Aurora HDR.
Here is the base HDR photo after merging:
This is the main editing screen in Aurora HDR 2017 – from here you have access to all the tools and functions.
While we won’t cover them all in this post on how to do HDR photography, make sure you pay close attention to the right sidebar as that is where we will spend a lot of time. It contains a Histogram, the Layers Panel as well as all the Editing Tools.
To use any of the editing tools, just click on it and it will expand like the Lightroom develop panels.
In this photo, I want to add a little contrast, make some color adjustments, and then apply a new layer for noise reduction, which is thankfully quick and easy using the Aurora HDR software.
To add contrast, I choose the Tone Curve tool and apply a slight S curve to the image. This brings up a little more contrast which suits the image well.
Next, I want to make some color adjustments, so I begin by opening up the Color filter and moving the sliders to my liking.
The base HDR photo was fairly washed-out looking, so I want to bring back some of the brilliant color from the sunset.
There were a lot of blues and pinks in the sky that evening, so I have chosen to move the Temperature and Tint sliders as well as increasing the Saturation and Vibrance a bit. The scene now more closely resembles the actual sunset which I saw.
That basically covers the standard edits I would perform on a photo like this to achieve the HDR photography result I’m going for.
As you can see, there are quite a few tools at your disposal in Aurora, all of which have their place in editing HDR photos.
You can make adjustments to the Tone Mapping, increase Structure and Clarity, use the Polarizing Filter, add some Split Toning (called Color Toning here), and apply a Vignette. The options are wide and varied.
The last step in finalizing this HDR photo would be to use the Noise Reduction filter. This is an ingenious addition to the 2017 version of the Aurora HDR software and one that I use on every image.
Normally when I do this, I add a new layer and apply the noise reduction on that layer. That allows me the flexibility to use masking to selectively apply it.
To add a new layer, just click on the big + sign in the Layers panel. This gives you a few options, such as adding an adjustment layer or a texture. Choose adjustment layer and it will add it immediately. Note that this layer will default to being named ‘Layer 1’, but you can change that if you want to.
Since noise reduction is just a filter, while on Layer 1 you just click on it and open it up, then move the sliders around until you are satisfied.
This will apply noise reduction across the entire photo, so the next step is to do a little masking to apply it selectively to specific parts of the image.
To apply a mask, first click on the little brush icon near the top right of your screen. This activates the brush. Then you will be able to make adjustments to the brush size and opacity before you begin brushing.
In the below photo, I have brushed just across the sky, selectively applying noise reduction to that area. You can see how the mask looks by clicking the little eyeball icon in the top left of your screen – this allows you to go back and continue refining your mask if necessary.
You’ll notice more flexibility and an overall more natural look to your finished HDR image when using Aurora.
Here’s a short video which gives a closer look at what the noise reduction in Aurora HDR is capable of:
If at any point in your processing you would like to see a comparison to your base HDR image, you can do so by clicking on the little icon at the top of your screen near the center – it looks like two pages of a book.
This is the Before/After comparison screen and you will get a look at how far you have come with your image after only spending a couple of minutes editing it using Aurora.
Below is the final HDR image after exporting from Aurora HDR.
We have come a long way from the base HDR photo, and created a final result that is much more representative of how the scene looked when I was out shooting it.
Although we have covered some of the basics in this tutorial on how to do HDR photography using Aurora, you can do a lot more editing if you dig deeper into the software. It’s very flexible and powerful and a lot of fun to use.
Some of the additional features include Luminosity Masking, Presets and Batch Processing. There are also several other filters built into Aurora that weren’t required to edit this photo but which are fun to have for other styles of photo.
Aurora HDR 2017 is the best HDR software on the market, period. It has more features and capability than any other product, and you can literally take your HDR photo from start to finish using only Aurora (as opposed to switching between 2 applications).
The bottom line is that Aurora HDR 2017 gives you a significant amount of power and flexibility to easily and quickly create stunning and realistic HDR photos.
Disclaimer: This post on how to do HDR photography using Aurora HDR software contains affiliate links. By purchasing your copy of Aurora HDR 2017 via these links, you are supporting Shotkit and our time spent compiling posts such as these. This in no way affects your purchase price. Thank you for your support!