Perhaps the earliest method of producing high dynamic range images started in the 1800s, when French photographer Gustave Le Gray shot and combined two negatives in the darkroom to produce a well-exposed print of a high contrast seascape. Not surprisingly, todays HDR processing tools are much more sophisticated and much easier to use thanks to software applications like Macphuns Aurora HDR.
While there are other HDR software applications out there (and most have been around longer than this one), Aurora HDR stands out for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that the application is a collaboration between Macphun and HDR wizard, Trey Ratcliff. Ratcliff has probably done more to promote and popularize HDR than any software manufacturer or photographer ever has. He is incredibly prolific and has always been extremely generous with his HDR knowledge and advice. And Macphun has done an excellent job with this software, as well as other applications such as Tonality Pro (one of my Macphun favorites), so it is a win-win in my book.
HDR has generally been a love-it-or-hate-it proposition among photographers but it does not have to be. You can go to extremes, with eye-popping colors and crunchy details or keep an image looking natural looking, with just enough tweaking to maintain details in both highlights and shadows in high contrast scenarios (HDR is ideal for real estate photography, for example).
Aurora HDR is currently for Mac only (but a Windows application is promised, so hang in there PC users). Available in Standard ($39) and Pro ($99) versions, both operate as a standalone app with multiple licenses for up to 5 Macs, and is arguably one of the best software for HDR photography. The Pro version also offers plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements and Apple Aperture, includes unlimited numbers of brackets, ghost reduction, native RAW support, PSD file support and some of Trey Ratcliffs signature HDR presets. It’s designed to work with other Macphun software as well, so you can adjust a photo in Aurora HDR and then export it to another Macphun app if you’d like. I tested the Pro version of Aurora HDR in standalone mode on a MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM.
Pay attention to the opening screen, which allows you to choose a reference image for ghosting reduction to help minimize any movement in the image. While it worked well, I would love to have a manual option within the software to re-apply deghosting if necessary. Deghosting and alignment take a little time so be patient when waiting for the software to do its thing.
A couple of my favorites include the Top and Bottom Lighting option, which allows you to adjust lighting in different areas of the image. The areas affected can be chosen much like using a gradient tool, with options for increasing/decreasing the coverage, as well as angle rotation.
I also love the glow feature as well, which adds a beautiful glow to the image. Of course, there are options to control the amount, smoothness, brightness and warmth. And, you can easily see the before/after versions.