If you have photoshoots in less than ideal lighting situations, you’ll be excited to learn how HDR editing is now possible with a single image. This is extremely useful to bring out striking details in your portraits!

Step 1: Import your single image in Aurora HDR

Yep, you heard it right. Aurora HDR can create amazing results with a single photo. Just drag and drop it on the software’s icon or click the “Open Images” button on the top left of its workspace.

Then click “Create HDR” and it will automatically render an upgraded image based on an expanded dynamic range.

Import Aurora HDR
The RAW file at the import in Aurora HDR

Step 2: Basic editing

I like to start my very first layer with some basic editing. The filters I often use for this step are:

  • HDR Basic
  • Color
  • HSL

You can also use any others you want to apply to the entire image — just don’t touch any detail/structure-oriented tool yet. As a reminder, everything is non-destructive so don’t be afraid to try different options to really perfect your own look.

Basic editing Aurora HDR single image portrait edit

Step 3: Details and texture

This is where your photo comes alive with striking details! Go ahead, create a new Layer and this time, play with HDR Enhance and HDR Details Boost.

These tools are AMAZING to bring a realistic, gorgeous 3D effect. Apply these filters to a new layer so that you can create a mask and paint it to specific areas of the photo. It’s very useful if you don’t want to overdo the “HDR look” in the face features and if you want to isolate your subject while keeping the background as blurry and soft as possible.

Once you’ve applied the desired detail amount effect, you can create and paint your mask by clicking the small brush on the right of your Layer icon like so:

Brush tool mask Aurora HDR

This is what the image will look like with the painted mask layer on. You can clearly see the red part — where the mask is being applied.

Texture layerPainted texture layer mask

Step 4: Stylize

In this specific image I’ve used three filters to stylize it:

  • Color
  • LUT Mapping
  • Vignette

… but use any of all the other great tools available in the software to personalize yours. I really like Adjustable Gradient, Tone Curve and Color Toning to add extra mood.

Stylize HDR single image

Optional step (manual face light)

If you ever happen to have a very poorly lit portrait (just like in this example), you might want to add a little more brightness to your model’s face. To do so, create a new layer and increase the exposure. By using the same brushing and masking technique in step 3, paint the area of the face (or any area that you want to bring light back).

Face Light Aurora HDR single image portrait

Final result

Here’s the final look after applying all steps. You can witness dramatic changes with this HDR technique — even with a single image portrait edit:

  • Highly recovered exposure
  • Heavy color correction
  • Boosted details
  • Professional-looking overall style
Before Aurora HDRAfter Aurora HDR

These suggested steps are based on my very own personal experience in Aurora. I’ve been using the software for the past three years and this technique is the most efficient for me. There are many different ways to successfully edit in Aurora for non-landscape photography. Just as for the sundae technique, I encourage you to dare new creative options and come up with a yummy recipe of your own!

Happy editing!