If you know anything about HDR, you probably know it shouldn’t be used for portraits. High Dynamic Range photography techniques usually increase the ability to see details, and nobody wants to see more detail in the skin in a portrait. However, used properly, HDR can give you softer transitions from shadows to highlight areas, and that can be flattering and it can help rescue portraits made in bad lighting.

Harsh Light Makes Dark Shadows

I made this picture late in the morning on a mountain top and the sun was quite direct and contrasty–really dark shadows and bright highlights. With the clouds in the background and a white hat and a white horse, I had to make a darker exposure to make sure I kept details in those areas, which makes the shadows even darker. But this is where HDR software comes in.

Try Aurora HDR 2018

I used the brand new Aurora HDR 2018 from our friends at MacPhun to adjust this single image (you don’t necessarily have to use multiple pictures in HDR apps). Aurora is cool because it not only lifted the shadows and kept control of the highlights, but it also includes a whole bunch of cool presets. Forgive me, but I chose this preset with a gentle glow which may remind you of 1988, but since it’s a wrangler in Montana it reminds me of 1888. I think I’ll probably end up finishing this in black and white.

My favorite thing about Aurora HDR is that it includes layers so you can blend various effects and apply them only in certain areas. That means that if there is too much detail coming out in the skin you can use the brush and remove the detail from only the skin, or even blend in the person’s face from an image without any effects applied at all.


HDR has become a powerful tool for landscape artists, but I think you should learn a few methods for using HDR in your portraiture, especially those portraits which include grand vistas. Take a look at Aurora HDR 2018 which will be available at the end of the month. There’s a 14-day free trial and there are both Mac and Windows versions.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.