Aurora HDR 2019 Review: A Vast Array of HDR Effects

Bethany Walsh

Jul 09, 2022

The approach of Trey Ratcliff, a well-known HDR photographer who has significantly raised the bar for HDR photography, was the inspiration for Aurora HDR 2019, a Mac and Windows-friendly software.

Because Trey is a part of the design team, the interface and aesthetic are unquestionably unique. Aurora can build a tonal map from a single Raw image or merge bracketed photos collected at various exposures, just like other HDR tools.

In the end, you get a more comprehensive dynamic range and more info in the shadows and highlights than your camera can result in a single exposure. It can be used as a stand-alone programme or as a plug-in for Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Elements, and Apple's Aperture application.

Each HDR application has a different method for combining photographs. Aurora HDR 2019 leverages AI in its new Quantum HDR engine, and the results are fantastic.

While the opening image isn't always better than what I worked on within the 2018 edition or Nik's HDR Pro, it's consistently better than what I worked with in my initial bracketed exposure sets. Better than anything I've ever done with Photomatrix Pro).

Aurora is also the most powerful and user-friendly HDR software I've ever used, and I've tried many of them. The tiniest modification may significantly impact the UI and controls, making it feel like driving a race car.

Features and Filters

Don't be deceived by the simple interface regarding the many filters and functions — they're powerful and unique in some circumstances. HDR Clarity, Smart Tone, and HDR Smart Structure are just a few examples. In addition, Luminar, Skylum's sister application, has these features.

The sliders in Aurora HDR 2019 are highly sensitive in this most recent edition. When working with filters like HDR Clarity, Smart Structure, and others, I rarely need to make more than 10-20 modifications to achieve a natural-looking image.

There is a fine line between adding too much and making anything tasteless. In my landscape photography, the Adjustable Gradient filter is one of the most valuable. The top of the image can be adjusted independently from the bottom.

Even in HDR photography, the sky is often significantly brighter than the foreground. This feature saves me a lot of time because I can fast and modify the atmosphere without changing the foreground (and vice versa).

Another layer and layer mask are not required. It's as simple as adjusting the orientation. This function comes in handy when you're editing sunset images.

The HDR Enhance panel, colour contrast slider, and the Image Radiance filter are some of the more exclusive filters that significantly impact my images' final appearance. When appropriately utilised, all of them can dramatically improve a photograph's appearance.

In addition, I'd like to bring up the race car analogy again. Only the tiniest alterations can make a massive difference with the AI filters (HDR Clarity, Smart Tone, and Smart Structure).

If you're performing realistic photography, a tiny nudge is typically all that's needed instead of yanking the wheel.

LUTs and Presets

The presets in Aurora HDR 2019 have been renamed as "looks" like those in most other HDR editing tools.

The single slider in each preset and the adjustment panels on the left make fine-tuning a breeze. Almost all of these have a substantial impact, so you'll probably want to tone them down.

Skylum's website offers a broader selection of Looks than the ones included in the 2019 release, and you can easily design and share your own. LUTs are available in both Luminar and Aurora HDR and in a similar vein. Not just movies that can benefit from using Look Up Tables; they can also be utilised to create stunning still photographs.

There are several LUTs included in Aurora HDR 2019 that you may use, like presets, or you can utilise other LUTs that you may have found elsewhere.

However, I'm unsure if any other HDR programme offers this feature. With Aurora HDR, loading LUTs into Photoshop is much easier than doing it in Photoshop.

However, presets and LUTs in Aurora are of limited value to me. I can tweak the sliders down the left-hand column to get what I want.

When I can't get an image to look as fantastic as I'd like it to, I turn to the presets for inspiration. For those times when I'm on the prowl for something new but am stumped as to what it is.

The history pull-down menu is a godsend to me because I rarely find a setting I like. Therefore I can go back however many steps I need to.

However, I do utilise Luminar's LUTs and presets on occasion. But when I'm using Aurora, they come at the end of the process, not at the beginning. Some of the best ones can be downloaded directly from the Skylum website.

Final Thoughts

With the new Quantum HDR Engine, importing an image into Aurora HDR 2019 produces better results. I saved quite a few older photographs that had been rendered unusable by either Nik's HDR Efex Pro 2 or Aurora HDR 2018. Even in 2022, Aurora HDR 2019 has remained my favourite HDR application despite its antiquated moniker. It produces the most realistic images I've ever seen in an HDR programme.

It's a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom and a breeze to use. This fantastic piece of software is a no-brainer.

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