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Do you remember why you got started in HDR photography? For me, it was the instant I first saw the magnificence of a skillfully crafted HDR photo. It touched me like no other photography I had ever seen; its' presence so real that it seemed you could reach out and touch the scene and so beautifully detailed throughout! In that moment I knew I needed to learn how to do that!
Whatever it was that also intrigued you enough to do HDR photography with any level of passion, in the end, don’t we all simply want to produce great looking HDR images as easily as possible? My idea of a great HDR might be a stunning, realistic landscape with dramatic light. So I tend to keep my HDR photos mostly on the natural looking end of the spectrum, like this one I made with Aurora HDR 2018.
Aurora HDR was first released three years ago. After giving it a spin I immediately adopted it as my new, go-to, HDR app because it fit my criteria better than what I was currently using or anything else available. Even on my website back then, I declared it; “The New HDR standard!”
It was that good! Now, with the just-released, completely rebuilt from scratch, Aurora HDR 2018, it’s really matured! So if you’re now working with an earlier version, we need to talk… It’s exciting!
What’s New in Aurora HDR 2018?
Let's look closer at some of the most important new and upgraded tools and features, which are going to awesomize your HDR work. Here's my list of the biggest improvements included in Aurora HDR 2018:
There are several others, but these are the most compelling new features for me, and what most HDR photographers will find most useful.
How Will the New Version of Aurora Improve my HDR Photos?
Aurora HDR 2018 gives you every advantage possible to easily make superior HDR photos. Let’s look at all the important new tools and features that are packed into Aurora HDR 2018 which have never been available before in one standalone program. First, let's look under the hood.
New advanced, realistic HDR algorithm
If you want the most natural looking HDR images, the completely new HDR engine in Aurora HDR 2018 delivers! Using single photos, or a set of exposure brackets, your starting point can be with virtually no processing added by Aurora. So you can begin processing your masterpiece with a beautifully merged, light rich, 32-bit image in its' natural state. Then take your art anywhere you want starting with one of the included presets or by working with the vast assortment of new and upgraded tools in Aurora HDR 2018 that we'll look at next.
HDR Enhance Tool
This is a brand new slider added to the Basic module in Aurora HDR 2018. Use it to add a light touch of HDRness, either globally or the whole image.
To localize the effect, generally, you add a layer then use your brush to target only a portion of the image with some HDR love. Like all things HDR, go easy using this new and powerful slider.
Transform & Lens Correction Tools
Correct lots of basic image problems before you get started processing your photo with the lens correction tools, all brand new to Aurora HDR 2018! Chromatic aberration, defringing, lens distortion and vignetting are all correctable using this module.
With the companion Transform module, quickly fix your vertical and horizontal lines, aspect, scale, rotation, etc., like I did with this shot from Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains. My verticals were all messed up because I shot with a super wide-angle lens pointing downward. If your camera's not level, converging vertical lines are what we have to deal with. See the before/after difference in the trees on the far shore? The transform tool straightened them up in a flash.
Dodge & Burn Tool
This one is brand new in Aurora HDR 2018 and is so powerful! If you're familiar with the targeted adjustment tool in Adobe Lightroom, this works a lot like that. It's like painting on your photo and so fun and intuitively easy to use.
In this photo of the Sunset in the Sonoran Desert, I used the burn tool to darken parts of the foreground, pushing it back. Then, switching to the dodge tool, I lightened other parts of the foreground to enhance some of the foreground highlights, which add a ton of rich texture! This tool works best if you have an editing tablet. I use a Wacom. No worries if you don't use one, then your mouse works fine too.
Radial & Gradient Masking Tool
In Lightroom, I use the radial and/or gradient tools in almost every photo, so it's great to see both of these now also added to Aurora HDR 2018.
Draw any circle or ellipse on your photo, decide what effect you want to apply either inside or outs the perimeter of the shape, and adjust the strength of the effect. Explaining it sounds more difficult than it is. I assure you that this tool you will find invaluable when it comes to stylizing your photos! There's an example of the radial filter in the before/after comparison coming up next.
Image Radiance Module
Aurora 2017 basic doesn't have this feature. It's such an elegant way to finish off your beautiful HDR handiwork, that I almost think it's a necessity. The implementation of Image Radiance in Aurora HDR 2018 is all new and improved.
What's new in the Radiance module is the Shadows slider. What happens is, when radiance is added to a photo, the shadows usually get deepened too much and detail is lost. With the new Shadows slider, it's simple to add back in however much shadow detail you want while maintaining the beautiful radiance effect on the photo. Here's an example of a finished HDR image before and after adding radiance. Notice too, that I used a radial filter at the end of the bridge to add that glowing white light:
A smart addition to Aurora HDR 2018 is a way to go back in time, as needed. Photo processing is an art, not a science. So there are times, as you know, when you're working on a photo and it just isn't working out as planned. With the new History Palette, it's a snap to go back to a place where you're happy with the image and can take a different direction instead of scrapping all your work and starting at ground zero.
Advanced HDR Structure
The last of the new features I want to mention is the Advanced HDR Structure module. It can add lovely texture and detail when applied to your HDR photos. The trick with this module is that the HDR Microstructure/Amount slider works almost exactly like sharpening. This isn't readily apparent so I wanted to make sure you know about that. Play with it. Very cool.
The upper controls in this module, under HDR Structure, are the major players in adding the "HDR look" to your photos. Since my photography is mostly on the natural side, I don't use those top sliders very often. Some of you, who really love the more flamboyant HDR look will be happy to have this new module which is brand new to Aurora HDR 2018.
Before/After shots made using Aurora HDR 2018
Looking at the following before/after shots made using Aurora HDR 2018, you can see how this software transforms some pretty bland scenes into much more remarkable art in a matter of minutes.
Thanks for Taking the Tour of the New Aurora HDR 2018
We covered a lot of big new stuff in this article, there's just SO MUCH that's NEW but I had to stop somewhere. So, making the move to Aurora HDR 2018 from will also get you:
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