It’s been three years since the inception of Aurora HDR and man, this thing has grown in ways I didn’t imagine or expect.
When I first started using Aurora back in 2017 it really felt like the beginning of something awesome. Like the baby alien that just burst out of Kane’s chest in the first Alien movie, it took off running doing all these mysterious things behind the scenes.
The little creature continued to grow while occasionally popping out for an update here and there. It was exciting and still powerful, but we only got to see hints of what this beast would become. Finally, with the launch of Aurora HDR 2019, its true form has been revealed as the perfect landscape-devouring monster.
Like the Alien franchise, Skylum has started a new form of evolution, stepping beyond the perfect harmony between intelligence and raw power into something new, AI.
I wasn’t expecting Aurora to go in this direction but it makes sense. Intelligent processing tools that manipulate the image based on what is needed for the scene, rather than blanket features that blindly adjust the global values of the image.
Not only did they make the software smarter, faster, and more compatible with different operating systems and tools like the Loupedeck, but they completely refined the user experience. They cleaned up some clutter in the UI and made a few things easier to comprehend.
The guys and gals over there at Skylum really care, and it’s been an amazing experience working with them and watching everything grow. Now I just wish I had more time to shoot HDR.
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Aurora HDR 2019 Review
With this updated Aurora HDR review, I’m going to do things a little differently. Since you can download a free demo any time and mess around with all the features until your little heart is content, I’ve decided to instead just highlight what I think is really cool with the software.
Then, I’ll break into some individual features and tutorials in future articles.
What’s new and better with Aurora HDR 2019?
Besides some basic improvements in the core systems and the addition of a new Smart HDR Slider, the processing of the photos seems to have gotten smarter and better.
Improved HDR Noise
There is now very little of the HDR noise. Aurora HDR has always been great at handling unwanted HDR noise, but now it’s rarely a problem and I find myself almost never needing to mask back in the unprocessed sky layer.
There is less of an issue with those ghosting halos that used to force to you back off some of your settings or looks. Granted, if you really push it, you will see some simply because that’s the way tone mapping works. But those annoying little halos you would see on a flag pole at the end of a pier or something have been reduced.
Now if you want to create a very clean and natural-looking landscape photo you can do it very easily. Then if you want to punch up the look, you have the tools for that too.
Right out of the gate, from the moment you immediately load up your shots, there is a dramatic improvement in colors, tones, and details over the earlier versions of the software.
The New Slider And Quantum HDR Engine
They got rid of the HDR Enhance slider and replaced it with HDR Smart Structure.
I’m noticing new slider combined with the new Quantum Engine gives the image more detail and color tonality right out of the gate.
Improvements To Highlight Control
The new engine is smarter with the way it handles dramatic highlights, like a blown-out window in an indoor setting. I use to have issues with this in the past where I always had to use the luminosity masks with layers to clean it up.
As long as you got the exposure in one of your bracketed shots right, those highlighted regions are a little easier to recover for a natural look.
What I Love About Aurora HDR 2019
The biggest takeaway for me with this new update would be that it’s way easier to get everything looking and feeling more natural. I don’t always want the HDR effect in my landscape shots and sometimes I just want to use a few of the tools in Aurora for some minor enhancements.
Before Aurora HDR 2019, I found myself still hand-blend some HDR shots in Photoshop where I would then go to Luminar for the effects. Now I’m finding myself back using Aurora for all but the most complicated landscape compositions.
It’s really nice.
Aurora HDR 2019 Review | Final Thoughts
The bad HDR of 5 years still echoes in the minds of many photographers today and I’m afraid it’s still going to take a while for people to recover what they think HDR is.
The look of HDR was always associated with tone mapping and they’re really two completely different things. While Aurora HDR can tone map your images, it’s designed to assist you with all the technical mumbo jumbo so you focus more on the creative part. If you want a crisp and clean natural looking landscape, you can do that, if you want an enhanced-looking landscape with some creative flare, you can do that too.
Today, landscape photography has never been easier to process because of tools like Aurora HDR and Luminar. They are invaluable to my workflow and I couldn’t imagine shooting and processing landscape photos without them.
Aurora HDR Sample Images
Leave any questions or thoughts in the comment. I’ve already recommended it to a few people and they love it.
I will continue to update this review as I learn new tricks.
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