7 Best HDR Software Options for Photographers

Having the right software is essential if you want to get beautiful HDR images. But, if you're not sure where to start, here we share the best HDR programs for photographers— plus, some practical tips!
7 Best HDR Software Options for Photographers

Let’s be honest. There is a bad reputation around HDR photography. Probably because these images often look overprocessed and unrealistic. However, this only happens when you don’t use the right tools.

And that’s why we are here.

There are countless HDR software options to get natural-looking results. But, before downloading any program, you need to understand how to create HDR images correctly.

So, let’s go step by step.

What is HDR photography?

What is HDR photography

High dynamic range (HDR) photography is a technique to expand the range of highlights and shadows in a photo by blending multiple exposures. That way, you can get a balanced exposure in high-contrast scenes. This technique is widely popular among landscape, real estate, and architecture photographers.

But, how does it work?

First of all, keep in mind that our cameras can’t see the world the way our eyes do. So, there will be complex lighting situations where it will be impossible to get the perfect exposure in a single photo. You will either lose detail on shadows or highlights— and it is really frustrating.

For example, let’s assume you want to take a picture in a room with an open window in the background. You want to show all the objects inside but also the scenery outside. The problem is that if you try to set the right exposure for the inside, everything outside the window will be overexposed.

That happens because our cameras have a limited dynamic range.

You can check out our post here on What is Exposure Triangle for more details.

What is dynamic range?

What is dynamic range

In short, dynamic range is the distance between the darkest and brightest areas of a scene that a camera sensor can capture.

When we talk about a high dynamic range, we mean there are very bright and very dark areas in the same scene. Like in the room example.

In these cases, you need more than a powerful sensor to capture details, textures, and colors in all parts of the photo. That’s where HDR imaging comes in.

How to make HDR photos

To create an HDR image, you will have to merge multiple takes of the same photo at different exposures. By doing this, you will get a wide range of highlights and shadows, and you’ll see more detail in between. This process is called bracketing.

Some cameras have an automatic bracketing function so you can get an HDR image in-camera. However, you won’t have that much control over the final image. Because of that, it is always best to take the photos separately and blend them using HDR software.

Here are some tips to achieve the best results:

  • Use a tripod. That will make it easier to align the images in post-processing.
  • Shoot RAW so you can have more data to work with later.
  • Take at least three photos: one underexposed, one overexposed, and one right in the middle of the exposure meter.
  • Keep the same aperture for all shots. Adjust the exposure just using the shutter speed.
  • Set the lowest ISO you can to avoid noise.

Once you have all the photos you need, use the best HDR software to merge all images and voilà!

What can HDR software do?

What can HDR software do

If you want to do professional landscape or real estate photography, HDR programs are indispensable. With them, you can do much more than combining a group of photos.

Take a look at what an HDR editing program can offer:

Tone mapping

When you merge several RAW files for creating HDR images, you will get flat, uninteresting photos because of the lowered contrast. Besides, digital screens won’t be able to display that high dynamic range accurately. Tone mapping fixes that issue.

Without getting too technical, HDR tone mapping brings back some contrast to add depth to the picture and make it more realistic.

Noise reduction

Sometimes, you’ll have to deal with noise in low-light situations. Fortunately, HDR photo editing software will help you remove noise to ensure a beautiful, clear image. In addition to that, it will also help to brighten dark areas without lowering image quality. Just remember to shoot in RAW format!

Ghost removal

If something in your frame moves between shots, like clouds or trees, it will create ghosts. But, by using the best HDR software, you can fit this problem in a few clicks.

Image alignment

A good image editing program ensures automatic alignment to combine all photos seamlessly.

High-level editing features

HDR software doesn’t work as a filter. Instead, it is an advanced editing tool equipped with practical features to have absolute control of your images. In that sense, an HDR program allows you to fine-tune details and adjust all the changes you make. It might even include built-in presets and other stuff to try out and get creative.

Top 7 Best HDR Software for Photographers

1. Aurora HDR

Aurora HDR

Price: $99 (or $149 if you buy it in a bundle with Luminar)

Compatibility: Windows and Mac

Aurora HDR is probably the best HDR software option in the market. It has a user-friendly interface and provides superb image quality thanks to its AI-based Quantum HDR Engine. Plus, it includes presets, RAW support, batch processing, and many advanced features powered by artificial intelligence.

You can use Aurora HDR as a standalone program or as a plugin for Lightroom, Photoshop, or Apple Photos. It is a complete, powerful HDR pro tool that ensures natural-looking results and versatility for creative photographers.

If you want to know more about its features, read our in-depth Aurora HDR review!

2. Photomatix Pro

Photomatix Pro

Price: $99 for Photomatix Pro / $49 for Lightroom plugin

Compatibility: Windows and Mac

Photomatix Pro is a popular and long-standing program for HDR editing and tone mapping. Like Aurora HDR, Photomatix Pro offers batch editing, numerous presets, and smart tools that make it easy to use, even for beginners. It also has a Brush tool to make local adjustments and an excellent ghost removal feature.

You can buy Photomatix Pro as a standalone program or as a plugin for Adobe Lightroom. Also, if you are an iPhone user, you can get the Photomatix Pro Real Estate Camera app for $9.99.

3. Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom

Price: various subscription plans are available from $9.99/month (including Adobe Photoshop)

Compatibility: Windows and Mac

Adobe Lightroom is one of the favorite tools among professional photographers. If you already use Lightroom to organize and edit your photos, you can also create stunning HDR images using its Photo Merge feature. That way, you don’t have to invest in any additional software.

What’s great about Lightroom is that it has countless photo editing tools, batch processing, and many advanced features for experts. It also handles chromatic aberration very well to ensure clean results. Yet, it is not a dedicated HDR software, so you might be a bit limited in some cases.

Besides Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop is another good alternative for professional image editing. And, of course, it also has an HDR function (Merge To HDR Pro). However, Photoshop has a complex learning curve and is best suited for other stuff beyond HDR photography, so we didn’t include it in this list. Still, if you are into photo editing or graphic design, Photoshop might be perfect for you.

If you want to know how to create an HDR photo using Adobe Photoshop, you can read this article.

4. HDR Efex Pro

HDR Efex Pro

Price: $149 for the entire Nik Collection

Compatibility: Windows and Mac

HDR Efex Pro is part of the Nik Collection by DxO, and it works as a plugin for PhotoLab, Lightroom, and Photoshop. It has an advanced tone-mapping algorithm that allows you to get a clear, realistic HDR image even from a single RAW photo. Additionally, like all Nik Collection editing software, HDR Efex Pro has U Point technology. With it, you can make local adjustments using its Control Points.

Unfortunately, to use HDR Efex Pro, you’ll have to buy the entire Nik Collection. But, if you’re curious, you can download a 30-day free trial to test all the software!

5. Eclipse HDR Pro

Eclipse HDR Pro

Price: $150

Compatibility: Windows

InPixio Eclipse HDR Pro provides exceptional features in an easy-to-use interface. Some of the most exciting tools include creative presets, batch mode, raw files processing, and a noise reduction function. If you are familiar with other InPixio products, you might go for this option.

On the downside, Eclipse HDR Pro is a bit expensive compared to other HDR software alternatives. Plus, it is only available for Windows users.

6. Easy HDR

Easy HDR

Price: $39 for the Home version / $65 for the Commercial version

Compatibility: Windows and Mac

Easy HDR is a solid choice for beginners. It is simple, but it has everything you need to achieve professional-looking HDR photos. On top of that, it has low system requirements (at least 4GB RAM ) and provides great features for the price, including a plugin for Lightroom. This might be your winning option if you’re new to photography.

7. Luminance HDR (best free HDR software)

Luminance HDR

Price: free

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, and Linux

Luminance HDR is an open-source HDR software alternative for photographers at any skill level. It has eight tone-mapping algorithms to ensure better results, and it also includes a wide range of features to get started. Plus, it has a customizable interface, RAW support, and fast performance.

This free HDR software option offers ghost removal, noise reduction, basic image transformations, and more. With it, you can create striking HDR photos without spending money. So, if you are on a budget and want a quick and easy-to-use tool, Luminance HDR might be for you. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for advanced post-processing tools, you’ll have to go for another option.

Bonus: SNS-HDR

SNS-HDR

Price: €30 for the Home version (non-commercial use) / €85 for the Professional version (commercial use)

Compatibility: Windows and Mac

SNS-HDR is another well-known HDR software alternative that is worth mentioning. It includes features like ghost removal, image alignment, batch processing, masks, and more.

Moreover, SNS-HDR supports several image formats and can read RAW, Radiance HDR, and OpenEXR files. Another great thing about it is that it has super low system requirements. You need at least 2GB of RAM, 50MB of disk space, and an Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 64 processor. All of this makes SNS-HDR a good option if you don’t have a powerful computer that can run advanced HDR software.

How to Choose the Best HDR Software?

How to Choose the Best HDR Software

When it comes to HDR software, choosing the right option can be tricky. For that reason, here are some tips to help you find the ideal choice for you:

  • Consider the type of photographer you are. Unless you are a professional photographer that constantly faces high dynamic range situations, you won’t need anything fancy. If you already use Lightroom, Photoshop, or another editing program that offers an HDR tool, that’s perfect.
  • Take a look at the features you need— and be honest with yourself. Some programs include countless functions that you might never use. So, why spend extra money if you only need the basics?
  • Compare costs. Not all programs match all budgets, so you must look for the one that fits your wallet. Don’t go for the most expensive software just because it is the highest-rated.
  • Look at the minimum system requirements! If you can’t afford a high-end computer, you should look for simple software that can run smoothly on your device. Then, in time, you’ll be able to upgrade your equipment.
  • If you are new to this world, make sure you find resources or tutorials to master your editing software. Try to look for a popular and accessible choice.

Final thoughts

Final thoughts

HDR photography is stunning; yet challenging to achieve. Luckily, this brief list can help you get top-notch quality HDR images with no effort.

If we had to choose the best HDR software, Aurora HDR seems like the most solid choice. It has a reasonable price considering all the features it offers. Plus, it includes advanced tools and AI-powered functions for all kinds of photographers. On the other hand, if you want a free HDR alternative, you should definitely go for Luminance HDR.

We hope this article has been helpful for you. If you liked it, feel free to share it!

Don’t forget to check out our Photo Editing section to read more about editing programs and our blog for general photography tips!

Save $10 On All Software

We have partnered with Skylum.com to offer the best deal on  ONE TIME PURCHASE RAW EDITING SOFTWARE. If you click on the button below, we will take you to their exclusive discount page

color harmony review