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How To Create Amazing HDR Images Using Just One Shot

Here, Duncan Evans shares with us how you can create amazing HDR images using just one photo in Macphun's Aurora HDR software.

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Using One Image With Aurora HDR Pro

While the standard practice for creating HDR images is to use bracketed exposures, this won’t help you out with a back catalogue of photos where you only shot one exposure at the time. However, with Aurora HDR you can actually use just one image and have the app tone map the image to create a HDR-style effect. With all the options and control that Aurora offers, you can be as subtle or creative as you want, but it does mean that it’s possible to give drama, colour and impact to images that previously were written off.


Clean Up The Image Then Open In Aurora HDR Pro 

Before you load your image into Aurora HDR, make sure that you’ve cleaned up any dust spots or water marks from rain and the like. Also, make sure that the full tonal range of the file has been used. Most photo editing apps have a Levels function that allows you to drag the Histogram out to cover all the shades from dark to light. Then load it into Aurora HDR. You don’t need to tick any of the options, unless it specifically has chromatic aberration problems. Just click on the create HDR button and get to work with the presets or individual controls.

Aurora Article 3 Mousehole


Making One Image Work

The last used preset may be automatically applied to the image you just loaded so to clear that off, click on the Reset button, next to the Plus sign in the Presets palette. Then head up to the Tools palette and look under Tone. Having already got a good spread of tones there shouldn’t be much needed here, but it’s a chance to lighten shadows or bring back overly bright highlights.


Aurora 3-1


Find The Structure Category, Increase Clarity 

Create a new Layer and name it sky so it can be processed separately from the ground. Head for the Structure category and increase the Clarity. Use this to separate tones in the middle area of the histogram. Then use the HDR Look and Detail to increase the definition. Try to keep the noise increase to a minimum.


Aurora 3 2a


Image After Adjustment Is Applied 

Aurora 3 2a


Remove Unwanted Noise 

Tweak the HDR Noise to remove overt graininess from the sky. Now go to the Color palette and increase the Saturation and Vibrance to put the colour into the sky and get the tone you want. Select the Brush from the tools along the top and click on the sky area. Now use the brush to completely clear the adjustments from the sky, revealing all of the changes you’ve made.

Aurora 3-3b


Image After Noise Is Removed

Aurora 3 - 3a



Adjusting The Foreground 

Add another new layer called ground and use the Brush as in the last step to paint over the ground area. Refer to the mask to make sure you cover it all. If you do this last, the sky will show extreme effects and be distracting. Now add the Clarity and HDR Look and Detail you need.


Aurora 3 4 b


Image After Foreground Adjustments 

Aurora 3 4a



Adjust Radiance, Blend & Restore 

Go to Image Radiance and increase the Amount, blend it with Smoothness and restore darker areas with Brightness. This control increases highlight brightness but darkens shadows so use with care. Use the Warmth slider to increase the overall warmth of the ground – ideal for landscapes and architecture. Slide to the left for seascapes. Then use the Color palette to add Saturation Vibrance and Temperature.



Aurora 3 5b


Before / After Adjusting Saturation Vibrance and Temperature, Plus Highlight Brightness And Shadows 

Aurora 3 5 a



See If The Glow Adjustment Works 

For some images, Glow works well but in others it ruins the sharpness. So, go to Details and use the Small, Medium and Large sliders either globally or separately in shadow and highlight areas to increase the definition and sharpness. For scenes with lots of details here’s where they come alive. Use other features like Top & Bottom Lighting to even out any exposure problems, then save.

Aurora 3-6b


Image After Adding Definition And Sharpness

Aurora 3-6a



Here's The Final Result:

Mousehole HDR


Try Aurora HDR For Free 

Take a look at the Macphun web store where Aurora HDR is now available. There's also a downloadable free trial so you can try the software out with your own images.

Start A Free Trial Of Aurora HDR

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