(Editor’s note: Aurora HDR 2019 is now available. Create amazing HDR photographs with Skylum’s Aurora HDR 2019. Purchase today and save plus get a free bundle of training, LUTs and Looks too!)

HDR — High Dynamic Range creates photographs with more tones from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights by combining a series of bracketed exposures. The gamut of exposure goes from severely underexposed to vastly overexposed to capture a series of photos that reveal detail in both super bright highlights and deepest dark shadows respectively. The HDR “look” is created from these high-bit merged files. Now Aurora HDR 2019 from Skylum adds its artificial intelligence enhanced tone mapping Quantum HDR Engine to single images.

Toning single photos

There are times that the HDR “look” is a great solution to a concept, but…yep. There’s only one exposure. This could be because the subject moves like a person does in a portrait or a handheld photo where brackets were forgotten. It doesn’t matter thanks to Aurora HDR 2019. The Quantum HDR Engine works amazingly well with regular photos. This one is loads of fun. In only a few minutes I was able to create several different styles using looks that are either included with Aurora or available on the Skylum website.

This is not a tutorial on Aurora. Photofocus will cover how to use Aurora in upcoming articles. Aurora HDR 2019 will be available to try or buy in early October. Get a copy, as soon as you can, explore this rich tool. Have fun. PLAY! See what you create, then share it on the Photofocus Readers page on Facebook. Here are the results of my having a great time with one photo and Aurora HDR 2019.

Photographing an HDR bracket series

The concept is simple. Make photographs by bracketing the exposure so the resulting series of photographs includes a range from so dark that highlights just barely show all the way through to so bright that there is lots of detail in the darkest shadows along with images in between. In general, this means creating a series with a minimum of three brackets.

  1. 2 stops underexposed
  2. Normal exposure
  3. 2 stops overexposed

This is a solid “rule of thumb” to follow for most situations. The key is creating a bracket that shows detail in the highlights (the 2 stops underexposed photo) a regular, properly exposed photo and one that shows detail in the shadows (the 2 stops overexposed photo). In situations like skyline scenes, additional brackets may be needed.

In the 2 stops underexposed bracket, windows in the building on the far right edge are burned out. An additional bracket underexposed 2 more stops (a total of 4 stops underexposed from the normal exposure) is needed. In that bracket detail in the middle window of the building is revealed.

Tools and techniques

Making a series of brackets like this one requires a solid, steady tripod. For this bracket, I used a Really Right Stuff VC-34L Versa Series 3 Mk2 carbon fiber tripod equipped with the BH-55 ball head. The exposures required long shutter speeds. HDR brackets must be done with either the shutter speed or ISO. Using the aperture to bracket results in photos that are slightly different in size which ruins the merge. I prefer using the shutter speed for bracketing to reduce noise in the overexposed bracket(s). The exposures for this series were at f/8.0, ISO 100 with shutter speeds from 13 seconds, 3.2 seconds, 0.8 second and 1/5th second from overexposure to underexposure.

Aurora HDR 2019 HDR merge dialog.RAW adjustments

Aurora HDR 2019 boasts a powerful RAW processing engine. If the scene needs adjustments to the RAW file like sharpening, lens corrections, Guided Upright for perspective correction, for example, save out a 16-bit TIFF the drag the brackets into Aurora. Once the Aurora has created the merged HDR file, there are a host of enhancements that can be applied — too many to mention here. There are also adjustable looks that come with Aurora HDR 2019. There are many more looks and LUTs on Skylum’s website.

Want to get an early start once Aurora HDR 2019 ships?

If you are a Photofocus reader and you purchase Aurora HDR through the links on our site, we’ve got you covered. To help you get the most from Aurora HDR, we’ll send you:

  • Aurora HDR 2019 Hands-On Video Training Class
  • Inspiration by Photofocus preset pack
  • 20 Bonus LUTs for Color Grading
  • 10 High-Resolution Textures