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How To Use Aurora HDR Presets To Make Your Photos 'Pop'

Find out how Aurora HDR can help even a beginner perfect the art of HDR photography with ease.

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The art of High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging has been around for a few years now, but producing decent results without the right type of software (Photoshop, we’re looking at you in particular) can still be something of a hit and miss process, particularly if your photo editing skills are rather limited. However, instead of using Photoshop where masks, layers and other tools are needed to create the ultimate HDR image, there is software available that's designed to simplify the process and this list includes the Mac App we are using in this tutorial - Aurora HDR.


Chocolate and Wine HDR Preset

Above: Image shows 'Chocolate and Wine' HDR preset, created by Trey Ratcliff, applied in Aurora HDR. 


What Is Aurora HDR? 

If you’re a fan of HDR you’ll be familiar with the work of Trey Ratcliff who has a huge global following and his HDR image collection has been viewed over 115 billion times over the last decade. Why are we talking about Trey under the 'What is Aurora HDR' heading? Well, Trey has got together with Macphun, purveyors of various photo filter and editing packages for the Mac, to create Aurora HDR.

As you'll find out in our series of tutorials, Aurora HDR can be used to create a variety of HDR looks, from natural to highly stylised, either manually or with one-click presets. With the help of Aurora HDR, we'll be showing photographers of all levels that this style of photography, which some would say has a bit of a 'dark art' mystique to it, is actually really approachable and can be easy to achieve. 


Where We Will Begin 

We're going to begin our series by looking at the one-click presets (which can also be tweaked) to show you that HDR photography is something that even a novice can have fun with to create images that have some serious 'pop'. 



Above: Middle exposure showing what the image looked like before Aurora HDR added its magic. 


Before Opening Aurora HDR 

To successfully create an HDR image, ideally, you're going to need multiple exposures, typically three of them, to capture the dark, mid-tone and lightest areas of a scene. Software, such as the new AuroraHDR, is then used to combine these elements into one photo which is said to have high dynamic range. Sunsets, sunrise, low light with bright highlights and bright scenes with dark shadows are all situations where this technique will be particularly useful as these are when the tonal range of the scene – that’s the brightness of the darkest to the lightest tones – often exceeds the capability of the camera to capture it.

If you don't happen to have multiple exposures of one scene currently in your image collection don't worry; you can also work with single images in Aurora HDR or use the sample photos which are made available to you when you launch the app. 


Above: Three exposures, capturing the dark, mid-tone and lightest areas of the scene. 


What You Will Need To Get Started

To get started with your HDR  image, you need to launch the Aurora HDR app and click on the option to Load sample images. This will show you how it works. There are three options for alignment correction, reducing ghosting between separate shots and removing chromatic aberration, however, with the sample photos, none of these are needed so simply click on Create HDR.


Aurora HDR

Above: How the images opened / loaded first appear to you in Aurora HDR


As If By Magic, You Have A HDR Image 

AuroraHDR works its magic combining the elements and displays a typical result. An information box in the top left shows the how much the exposure has been bracketed around the middle exposure of the shots and how many photos were used (1). The tone-mapped image appears in the middle (2), the tools are to the right (3) and the presets (4), which we'll have a play around with shortly, are along the bottom.

Aurora HDR interface

Try Trey Ratcliff ’s Presets

As Trey, the King of HDR photography, has created his own presets for the software, it's worth taking a look at what's on offer in his collection. To access the presets, click on Presets and then on the particular collection you wish to view.



Above: Preset menu in Aurora HDR


Trey's presets in Aurora HDR

Above: Just a few of the Trey Ratcliff's presets available in Aurora HDR


Experiment With The 'Party in my HDR Pants' Preset

These all have wacky names but try clicking on 'Chocolate and Wine' and you'll see this immediately changes the image with the new preset values, giving it much more contrast and making the lighting really come alive. Next, try out the 'Party in my HDR Pants' preset for a completely wild version. It’s a bit too over the top for this image but you may like the effect. 


'Chocolate and Wine'  Preset

Above: 'Chocolate and Wine' preset applied


'Party in my HDR Pants' preset

Above: 'Party in my HDR Pants' preset applied


Compare Before & After 

Compare imagesYou can compare the altered image with the basic blended photo by clicking two buttons you find towards the top of the App window. Click on the side-by-side icon above the photo to place a divider over the image that separates the basic blend on one side and the preset effect on the other. Click on the side-by-side icon on the line below to get both versions in full.

It's actually a really useful tool for seeing just how much of an exaggerated effect you've applied to your image and sometimes, can be used to confirm that actually, you've slightly overbaked the shot and it needs pulling back a bit (as with the 'Party in my HDR Pants' preset used on the image in our tutorial).


Before and after comparison


Before and after comparison


Explore The Tools

If you open the Presets menu again and select 'Architecture' you'll find a 'Night City' option which actually works really well with the image we are editing.



Above: Architecture Presets available in Aurora HDR


Now look at the Tools palette and under Tone Mapping> Tone, try out the Smart Tone slider; you move left to tone darker and right to tone brighter. That’s just a general setting, though, so do try the Highlights, Midtones and Shadows sliders to make those particular elements darker or brighter.


  Tools in Aurora HDR

Above: Tools in Aurora HDR


Night Sky Preset

Above: 'Night City' preset applied and adjusted with Tone Mapping tools


Make Your Image More Punchy   

Under the Structure heading in the Tools palette is a slider for Clarity which can be used to give your image more punch. This is a local contrast function that makes the image more distinct by darkening shadow areas and brightening highlights and you can watch the Histogram move as you try it out. 


Adjusting Clarity

Above: Adjusting the Clarity slider to add more 'punch'.


Save Your Awesome HDR Image 

To save your HDR shot,  go to 'File> Save' to save the project or 'File> Export to Image' to save as an image file with a specific colour space. You can also click the 'save' icon which opens up various options for saving or opening the image in other apps. 


Save process in Aurora HDR

Above: How to save images in Aurora HDR


More Aurora HDR Tutorials 

We'll be taking a more in-depth look at the tools available in Aurora HDR, along with some advanced techniques you can use to create HDR photos with in future tutorials but for now, 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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