How To Get Started With Aurora HDR 2017

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How To Get Started With Aurora HDR 2017

The Aurora HDR 2017 interace is shown.
Aurora HDR 2017 is loaded with big and small improvements and new features.

Earlier this year I wrote a piece on Aurora HDR and had this to say:

Aurora HDR Pro from Macphun Software is one of those pieces of software designed to do one thing spectacularly well and meets that goal. Whether you are new to HDR and are looking for a way of creating HDR images or you are a control-freak managing every pixel to create your HDR image, Aurora may just be your tool of choice.”

As of today, I am going to have to retract that statement and change the word “Spectactularly” to “amazingly.” As of September 29, 2016 Aurora HDR has been updated to Aurora HDR 2017 and just when I though the software couldn’t get any easier to use … it got easier to use.

For those of you new to this subject, High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a popular photographic technique designed to overcome the limitations of image sensors in digital photographs. This process utilizes multiple images of the same subject, each shot at different exposure values called “brackets”. The images are then automatically merged into a single shot which encompasses a greater exposure range

What has me so “hooked” on this application is the simple fact that HDR – High Dynamic Range photos – is relatively hard, for the average person, to accomplish in Photoshop and Lightroom. By that I mean you need to be quite familiar with the controls and techniques that create HDR photos.  Aurora approaches this technique from both perspectives. For the pros, the range of tools matches those of Lightroom and Photoshop including some new features they don’t have. For the rest of us, there is a full complement of filters and presets that can provide you some pretty amazing results.

Among the new features and improvements added to Aurora HDR 2017 are:

  • A new Polarizing Filter which is comparable to Photoshop’s Dehaze Filter.
  • A Radial Masking Tool
  • Luminosity Masking
  • Batch processing
  • Top and Bottom Adjustment Controls
  • Over 70 HDR presets from Trey Ratcliff, Serge Ramelli and Captain Keno
  • Plugins for Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture/iPhoto
  • Export to jpg, png, tiff and psd formats.

Enough talk, let’s take a look at the application.

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How To Use The Aurora HDR 2017 Interface

The Aurora HDR 2017 interface is shown as are the Trey Radcliff Presets
The Aurora HDR 2017 interface is easy to navigate and will appeal to everyone from pros to amateurs.

When launching the application, the first thing you will be asked for is an image.

The formats read by Aurora include, jpg, tiff, png, psd, RAW and a series of bracketed photos intended for HDR output. Once you identify the image, the interface opens and you can go to work.

Along the top of the interface from left to right are

  • Zoom
  • Quick Preview: Click this and you can see what you started with.
  • Compare: Click this and you get a split screen view of before and after.
  • Crop Tool
  • Undo
  • Redo
  • Grabber Hand
  • Brush Tool: Used primarily for masking
  • Presets: Click this to hide the presets and buy more screen space.
  • Layers: Turns the Layers on and off.
  • Histogram: Click this to turn off the Histogram.

Along the right side are the controls which allow you to edit very specific areas and aspects of the HDR photo. One thing that I noticed is that all of the Lightroom controls are here along with those specific to Aurora. To collapse a panel, click the panel name. To collapse them all, hold down the Option key and click a panel name.

The controls are all sliders and if you want to return a slider to its default position, simply double-click the name in the panel. This is handy to know in case you make a mistake.

The presets panel has changed in this version. To access the preset collection, click the round preset and the panel opens.

Along the bottom are the presets. One thing I like about these is their size. Though they are called “thumbnails” they are quite large and show you a preview of you image

There are a couple of other features built into the interface that should appeal to photographers. In the upper left corner, you are shown the ISO, Lens and f-stop information. Over on the right, you are shown the physical dimensions of the image and the color bit depth of the image.

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How To Use An Aurora HDR 2017 Preset

Image shows the Before and After split view and the Captain Kimo Waterway preset is selected.
Over 80 fully editable HDR presets are built into Aurora HDR 2017.

For those new to the HDR universe, a great place to start is with the presets. There are over 70 of them and they can do some amazing things with your images. The key to using the presets is to not regard them as a one-click solution. In fact, they are a great starting point because they are fully editable.

To access the presets, click the preset name on the far right of the thumbnails. This will open the presets panel. In the above example, I applied the Waterway preset from the Captain Kimo presets. Though the preset has been applied you can still “tweak” the effect.

The first place to start is to click on the preset thumbnail. The resulting slider allows you to “tone down” the effect on a global basis. This means that all of the properties changed by this preset will be reduced or increased as you move the slider.

If you look over to the controls, all of the properties and adjustments used to create the preset will be higlighted. Click on it and you can fine-tune your ‘teaks” by adjusting the sliders.

You can also compare the final image with the original by clicking the Compare button and then clicking the Horizontal button which splits the screen, as shown above, into Before and After views. In fact, when you are in this view changes can still be made to the image showing in the After view.

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How to Save An Aurora HDR 2017 Image

The Aurora HDR 2017 Export to Image dialog box is shown.
Aurora HDR 2017 offers you the ability to save the image in a number of formats.

Once you have made your edits you are most likely going to want to save the image. There are a number of options for this process and the most “dangerous” one is most likely the one you will instinctively choose: File>Save or File>Save As. I say "dangerous" because either of these choices will save to Aurora’s native file format. To save your image to JPG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, PSD or PDF formats you need to select File> Export to Image  …

The resulting dialog box is actually quite robust. You can determine the amount of sharpening to be applied to the output. Sharpening can also be applied in the Controls pane.

The Resize pop down is rather interesting. Basically, it is scaling by the numbers. If you select Dimensions and change one of the values – Height is on the left and Width is on the right – the other number won’t change but when you click Save the image is proportionally scaled to the changed value.

You also get to choose between 3 color spaces—sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB. This really isn’t much of choice because color spaces are like balloons. The Adobe and ProPhoto spaces are large balloons compared to the sRGB regular size balloon. If the image is destined for a smartphone, tablet, computer or print, the bulk of those devices can only handle sRGB. Thus, the Adobe and ProPhoto balloons will be deflated to fit the sRGB balloon. What that means is some color depth will be lost.

Bottom line? Go with sRGB until further notice.

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How To Create An HDR Image Using Bracketed Photos

The five bracketed photos that wil be used are shown over the final result.
Bracketed exposures can be used in Aurora HDR 2017.

As mentioned earlier the true power of HDR is unleashed when using bracketed photos to create the image. In the above image, the five photos in the bracket  have been dragged into the Start screen and once they are loaded you see the dialog box shown.

I would like to thank the Aurora Wizards for permission to use this photo in this example. There are times when it makes sense to defer to the pros and this is one of them.

The reference image is EV 0.0 which uses the correct exposure determined by the photographer. The two photos on either side of it have been over or under exposed by two f stops on the camera. The HDR process takes all five photos and merges them into a single photo.

At the bottom, you have some options around how to treat the merged photos. Select Alignment to ensure they are perfectly aligned with each other. The Additional Settings allow you to compensate for ghosting. This simply means the merge will look for moving subjects like people or cars in the images and compensate for it. The other setting, Chromatic Aberration Removal, reduces any green or purple fringing appearing around the edges of the photos.

Once you have decided which Additional Settings to apply click Create HDR and once the process is complete the bracketed image appears in the Aurora HDR 2017 interface.

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How To Use Luminosity Masking In Aurora HDR 2017

The Luminosity Mask options are shown and the sky has the mask applied.
Luminosity Masking in Aurora HDR 2017 is new and a huge time saver.

One of the more complicated tasks in Photoshop and Lightroom is creating masks that let you work on the sky or the foreground in an image. You can use channels and other techniques to create the masks but it is both time consuming and rather imprecise. There is always a piece you miss such as the sky  in the branches of a tree, for example. The addition of Luminosity Masking in Aurora HDR 2017 makes this a relatively simple process.

There are two ways of adding a Luminosity mask in Aurora. The first is to select Luminosity Mask located above the image or to roll your cursor over the Histogram. In either case a scale shows up and the numbers refer to the Luminosity Values of the pixels in the image. In the case of the above image wanted to brighten the sky so I selected the values 6 to 10 which allowed me to select only the pixels which fell within that range. The selections appear as a green mask. If you want to deselect a value, click it. The eye ball icons lets you turn the mask on and off and if you want to keep the mask you click the Green check mark. When you do, the mask is created and you can use any of the sliders in the Controls to adjust any of the mask area’s properties without affecting areas outside of the mask.

If you want to see the mask, right click on the Mask thumbnail and select Show Mask from the Context menu. To hide the mask, select Show Mask again.

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How To Use The Aurora HDR 2017 Plugin With Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Photos

Phioto shows filter selection Photoshop, Editing in Aurora HDR and the Aurora image in Photoshop.
The Aurorora HDR 2017 plug in is available for Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Photos.

Using Aurora HDR with Photoshop is a rather simple process. With the image open in Photoshop select Filter > Macphun Software> Aurora HDR  2017 and Aurora will open. When you finish in Aurora simply click the green Apply button and the image will appear in Photoshop.

Adobe Lightroom is a bit different. In either the Library or develop modes select File>Export with Preset> Open original image in the Aurora HDR 2017 area of the submenu. The image will open in Aurora and when you have finished, once again, click the green Apply button and the image will be added to the Lightroom library.

Apple Photos also has a plug in and using it is rather easy as well. Open the image in Apple Photos. When it opens select Edit>Extensions> Aurora HDR 2017. The image will open in Aurora and, once you are finished, click Save Changes.