Oftentimes, specifically with landscape or architectural photography, you’re dealt a situation where a typical HDR image just won’t cut it. Th sky might be completely blown out, or you might have a super dark foreground. It’s times like these where I’ll pull out Aurora HDR 2018, and use some of the tools it provides to further enhance my HDR image.

One of my favorite tools to use is the Top & Bottom Tuning filter. This takes the gradient tool that’s become a commonality in most image processing tools and enhances it for your image, allowing you to have ultimate control. This allows you to in turn create a more balanced light situation in your final photograph.

Not your Office ’95 gradients

The first time I remember playing around with gradients was in Microsoft Office ’95. At the time, there was a new tool called WordArt, which allowed you to create text with effects like drop shadows, glows and yes — even gradients. And while my high school self, thought that these were really cool back in the day, let’s just say it’s for the best the tool has been elevated a bit to not look so cheesy.

Fast forward 23 years, the same idea can be applied to your photographs. While you can manually create gradients in tools like Photoshop and Lightroom, Aurora (and its sister tool, Luminar) take it a step further, allowing you to not only easily adapt these gradients to your photographs but also to have complete control over what’s applied.

Getting started with the Top & Bottom Tuning filter

When I was in Ireland, I dealt with some super cloudy skies, so I knew that bracketing was necessary. Even with that, I still had some issues with skies being too overblown or landscapes being too dark.

To get started, open a series of bracketed images with Aurora HDR 2018.

Once the images are combined into an HDR image, begin making your usual adjustments. Look at your sliders for contrast, saturation, clarity and more. Once you do this, your image will start to look a bit more “life-like,” but in this example, there were still some major issues with the image.

This is when I opened up the Top & Bottom Tuning filter. I chose the Top tab to begin with, as I wanted to darken the sky, and bring in a little bit of blue tones. I set the Exposure to -34, Contrast to 15 and Warmth to -20.

This helped the sky out quite a bit, and it was a good start. But it was affecting some of the middle portion of my image, which was part of the greenery landscape that I didn’t want effected. So I wanted to make an adjustment. To do this, I click the “Set Orientation” button and brought the marker down to where it would no longer affect the middle point of my image.

From here, I adjusted the bottom part of my image, increasing the Exposure (+40) and Contrast (+15) sliders.

Using multiple Top & Bottom Tuning filters

The image was much closer to what I wanted to see. There were still some dark areas at the bottom portion of my image. I could have done a number of things here — everything from dodging out specific parts of my image to toning down the shadows. The easiest thing was to create a new adjustment layer and re-apply the Top & Bottom Tuning filter.

I wanted to add some exposure to the bottom of my image gradually, so I clicked “Set Orientation” again and brought the marker to the very bottom before extending it to the part of the image where the mountains started. Then I increased the Exposure slider to +20.

My last step was to crop, straighten and make any other final adjustments to my image.


When you’re in a tricky lighting situation, having control over specific parts of your image to control exposure, contrast, etc. is important. With the Top & Bottom Tuning filter in Aurora HDR 2018, it’s one quick step to getting your images looking that much better.