HDR images are some of the hardest to get right. They often come out too highly processed and looking terrible. In this Aurora HDR review we run through all the details of this Powerful HDR software so you can make the most of it.
Commonly referred to as the most powerful HDR software around, Aurora HDR has been getting a lot of hype recently. The latest version of Aurora has an upgraded Quantum Pro Engine and boasts a whole host of new features which allow you to create amazing High Dynamic Range photos. We wanted to test it out to see if it’s worth investing in and how it compares to other popular HDR software. Here’s the low-down in our detailed review of Aurora HDR!
If you want to download Aurora HDR you can click here. We also have partnered to make a deal for you to purchase the software at a discount, use code KIWI10 to take 10% off!
What is HDR Photography?
HDR photography is a relatively new technique for photographers. It refers to capturing multiple takes of the same image at different exposure values, and then using HDR software to merge these images to create a stunning photo. The result is an image that displays a higher dynamic range than would usually be possible in a single image taken in just one exposure. You can capture the highlights and shadows in remarkable detail and focus by using HDR photography.
Using this type of photography, you can create breathtakingly realistic recreations of what the eye can see. When you shoot just a single image, the range of lights and darks you can capture is limited. Cameras can only recreate a small dynamic range, but that changes when you add an HDR program into the mix.
HDR software, such as Aurora HDR, will take multiple images shot with varying exposure values, and carefully combine them using advanced algorithms. The result is a focused, high-contrast, accurate photo with a larger-than-life look and intensely bright colours. You can also make creative, painterly HDR images if that’s more your style, too.
One of our top photography tips is that this photography works particularly well for shooting still images such as cityscapes and landscapes. It’s not suited to capturing moving objects or people, as the result tends to be a blurred, unsatisfactory image.
For HDR photography, all you need is a camera, a tripod, and some HDR software. A tripod helps to keep your camera steady, making it easier to match up your shots for a seamless final image. It’s also a bonus if your camera has an Auto Exposure Bracketing Function, as this will save you time. If not, don’t worry – it just means that you’ll need to edit your exposure settings manually between each shot.
There are a few different HDR program options around. We’re reviewing Aurora HDR in this article, but we will also mention some of the best alternatives around too. Now, onto the Aurora HDR review!
Aurora HDR is the latest version of the highly specialised software that allows you to create top-quality HDR images. Aurora HDR is developed by Skylum, who are the masterminds behind Luminar 4 photo-editing software and six other image processing apps. Skylum teamed up with the world-famous HDR photographer, Trey Ratcliff, to fuse their program-building knowledge with his HDR expertise. It’s a winning combination.
First released in 2016, the original Aurora HDR 2017 version quickly became popular amongst photographers, both amateurs and pros. However, there were a fair few flaws in this first edition. Skylum listened carefully to their users and acted on their feedback to improve Skylum significantly, in time to release Aurora HDR 2018. Since then, they’ve gone even further to create a seamless, powerful HDR software that is one of the best on the market today.
An all-new Quantum HDR engine powers Aurora HDR, and smart AI features and groundbreaking tone mapping technology take this version of Aurora HDR to the next level. You can create some really spectacular images with no halos, overlaps, or chromatic aberrations. Additional photo editor functions allow you to crop photos, correct colours, reduce noise, boost contrast, and more, all within Aurora.
You can use Aurora HDR as a standalone program, but it works even better integrated with Lightroom, Apple Photos, or Photoshop. You can also run other Photoshop plugins within Aurora if you want access to advanced photo editing tablet tools, too. This flexibility guarantees that every photographer can find the right way to use Aurora effectively within their established workflow. And if you don’t own another photo editing program? You can use the standalone program itself with impressive results.
We have just updated our best tablet for photo editing article here if you’re looking to do some mobile editing.
Aurora HDR currently costs $99.00, or you can buy it in a bundle with Luminar for $149. You also have the option of throwing in Trey Ratcliff’s Experimental Looks bundle for $10, which might be interesting if you’re a fan of his distinctive photography. In fact, Skylum is so sure of the quality and effectiveness of their program that they include a 60-day money-back guarantee if you’re not 100% satisfied.
If you want to try out Aurora before you buy, you can download the free trial version, which gives you access to some basic tools. There’s no time limit for this trial, so you can play around with it for as long as you like, but you’ll need to pay for the advanced features.
- Amazing HDR photos
- Smart AI features
- Easy to use for beginners and pros
- Intuitive interface
- Great additional photo editing features
- The advanced selection tools are quite limited
- There’s no healing brush when you use Aurora as a standalone program
- Waiting for an image to load can take a long time
Aurora HDR: Features and Benefits
Skylum has carefully designed this product for a great, intuitive user experience. In fact, it’s so simple and easy to create an HDR photo with the tools provided that it’s a real joy to use. There’s no annoying advertising that is often found in other free or budget options either, which is a relief. You’ll also find that the sliders are very sensitive, allowing you to make a big difference to your photos with just a small adjustment.
Seamless Integration With Other Programs and Plugins
While you can use Aurora as a standalone program, it’s also compatible with other program and Photoshop plugins, too. This versatility makes your workflow go even more smoothly, as you can integrate your favourite plugins and use them right there in Aurora.
Alternatively, you can also run Aurora as a plugin within your preferred photo editing program. It is compatible with Lightroom, Apple Aperture, Photoshop, and Photoshop Elements (although Elements and Apple Aperture are only supported on Mac). This versatility allows you to combine Aurora’s HDR technology with other high-end photo editing features, presets, and more.
Powerful AI Tools
The innovative AI functions are a new feature in this latest edition of Aurora. Skylum has harnessed this AI technology in the HDR Clarity, HDR Smart Structure, and Smart Tone features, amongst others. Let’s explore what each of these tools will do for your image.
HDR Smart Structure creates a strong image with clear, enhanced details. The way it does this is by increasing local contrast, drawing out hard-to-see details, and overall sharpening of the image details. It’s amazing to see the difference this can make to your photos, especially shots of buildings and architecture. You can easily see why so many real estate businesses use HDR software for all their photos!
The Smart Tone feature adds some style to your shots by boosting the shadows and even adding a little glow to the highlights. Your images will be eye-catching and distinctive when you use this feature.
HDR Clarity is a subtle but simple tool that adds more contrast to your shots, without messing up the lighting or creating more noise in the photo.
Superb Photo Editing Functions
Not only can you use Aurora to create the best HDR images around, but it has some excellent photo editing functions built-in, too. Take your photos to the next level by cropping, resizing, reducing noise, correcting colours, and boosting contrast. You’ll even find split toning, vignette, HSL, and curves adjustment functions, which can really make a difference to your image.
If you’re having trouble with noise in your images then check out our Topaz Denoise Review as you can remove it all in one click!
It’s a real bonus to have all these features included, especially if you’re a beginner photographer who doesn’t have an Adobe subscription. You could even do all your editing within Aurora at a pinch. While it doesn’t have the same range of advanced features that Photoshop or even Luminar boasts, you can still do a lot just with Aurora.
Tonal Mapping Technology
Aurora HDR also has excellent tonal mapping technology built in. Just upload one single RAW file, and Aurora will create detailed tonal maps of your photo. This powerful technology will transform an average image into a stunning HDR photo!
Ever disappointed with the level of detail in an image? Check out our Topaz Gigapixel AI review to see how you can add retail, megapixels and make your photos bigger!
Automated Batch Processing Feature
Aurora has a superb batch processing feature which will sort through your photos into relevant sets as well as dividing single images from bracketed shots. Not only will this save you loads of time, but you can go on to select your desired processing and export settings for the whole batch. Just choose from Aurora’s available Looks, or use your own custom preset, and you’re good to go.
If you want more control, you can also select advanced settings for your batch processing, such as chromatic aberrations removal, ghost reduction, auto-alignment, and more.
With just a few clicks, you’ll have a whole batch of amazing HDR photos, without needing to make individual adjustments or correction to each image.
Experiment with the Included Presets/Looks
You get access to 8 different Collections of Looks within Aurora HDR, including Architecture, Dramatic, Artistic, Essential, and Landscape Looks. Use these looks (also commonly known as presets) to change the aesthetics of your image.
Famous names like Trey Ratcliff and Serge Ramelli have even included their own signature collections, allowing you to create images in their styles. Not enough variety for you? You can also download more Looks from the Skylum website or even create your own custom designs.
Adjustable Gradient Filter
Another awesome feature you get in Aurora HDR is the adjustable gradient function. Ever tried to edit a beautiful sunset shot, but you just can’t get the right settings for the sky and the land at once? That’s where this miraculous filter comes in! Using Adjustable Gradient, you can edit the top of the photo and the bottom of the photo separately.
With settings such as Vibrance and Warmth, Exposure and Contrast, and Highlights and Shadows, you can achieve your desired look and bring out all the details in your photo. There are also fantastic sliders which allow you to create a smooth transition between the two sections of the photo for a natural look.
Free Trial and Money Back Guarantee
You can sample the Aurora HDR program without splashing out, thanks to the unlimited free trial Skylum has made available to everyone. You can download the free trial version directly from Skylum and spend as long as you want testing out the tools and playing around making some beautiful HDR images.
When you do decide to invest in the full Aurora package, you get up to 60 days to use it with Skylum’s money-back guarantee. Not happy with the results you’re getting? If it doesn’t live up to your expectations during this period, you can get a full refund.
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Alternatives to Aurora HDR
Although we believe that Aurora is one of the top HDR programs available right now, it may not be for everyone. Our Aurora HDR review wouldn’t be complete without taking a quick look at some of the top Aurora HDR alternatives:
Photomatix Pro 6.1
Another highly specialized and popular software, Photomatix Pro was designed to create superior hdr images in a simple and easy process for users. You can make detailed, 32-bit photos and tone mapped images with Photomatix Pro. Photomatix has some great presets and clever automation tools which make it super accessible and easy to use, even for complete beginners.
It’s slightly cheaper than Aurora at $69.99, and it needs less processing power (only 4GB RAM compared to the 8GB that Aurora requires to function smoothly). If you’re choosing between the two and you have an older computer, Photomatix might be the wise choice for you. There’s nothing like a painfully slow lag to drive you crazy when you’re trying to edit your photos.
However, Aurora’s layout is more intuitive and easy to navigate through. While Photomatix  has a relatively simple interface, pop-up toolboxes are a frequent and distracting feature. Aurora also offers a greater range of options with more details and control for importing and exporting your images.
Luminance HDR is another popular HDR program, with the added bonus that it is available as a free download on Mac and Windows. Using Luminance HDR, you can create high-quality HDR images quickly – it’s super accessible for everyone from beginners to pros. You’ll love the handy drag and drop feature, and it even supports RAW photo formats.
If you’re just starting out with HDR photography but you’re on a tight budget, Luminance HDR is the ideal software for you. You can experiment, play around, and create excellent HDR images, all without spending any money. The main downside is that it doesn’t have as wide a range of advanced photo editing and HDR tools as Aurora, nor do you have the same flexibility or intricate control over the end product.
Luminance HDR  is an excellent starter. Just bear in mind that you may feel the need to upgrade to Aurora as your expertise (and desire for a high-quality finish) increases over time.
Should You Buy Aurora HDR in 2022?
So there you have our complete review of Aurora HDR. In our opinion, it is the best HDR software on the market right now . HDR images are some of the hardest to get right. They often come out too highly processed and looking terrible. In this Aurora HDR review we run through … You also get a lot for your money with this product, including a great range of additional effects, filters, and editing tools. Aurora is suitable for anyone from beginners to pro photographers, making it a wise investment which will grow with you.
If you found this article helpful, give it a share on social: Facebook Twitter, or Instagram! As always, we love to read your comments and hear your opinions, so let us know what you think of Aurora HDR. Do you dig it, or do you prefer another software? Feel free to send us any questions you have to, and I’ll do my best to reply quickly. Don’t forget to check out our other software and camera gear reviews on the blog too!
If you want to download an Aurora HDR click here. We also have partnered to make a deal for you to purchase the software at a discount, click below for a full Aurora HDR download and try it for yourself.
If you’ve ever taken a JPEG by mistake and wanted to convert it to a RAW then Topaz have a great piece of software where you can edit JPEGS as if they are raw images. Check out the How to Convert RAW to JPEG with Topaz Raw to JPEG AI.