Aurora HDR 2018 Review and Tutorial

Aurora HDR 2018 Review and Tutorial

Wow, there's a lot to be excited about in this new release of Macphun's award-winning HDR software editor.

I have been using Aurora HDR since it first came out, and it just gets better with each release. This time they added some really interesting and useful features, which I will get into in a minute. It’s not only an awesome editor for HDR photos, but it’s also excellent for single exposures. You can just do so much in Aurora.

I was lucky enough to get a copy a few weeks before release and have used it on dozens of my photos. Here are some of the new features in Aurora HDR 2018 and why I think they matter:

  1. Tone-mapping algorithms have been improved - your results are much more natural than ever before.
  2. New User Interface - makes for a cleaner and more user friendly view of the work area and a more intuitive overall experience.
  3. Lens Correction tool - quickly remove barrel or pincushion distortion.
  4. Transform tool - completely realign vertical lines in an image and reshape the photo to how it really looked.
  5. Better RAW handling - more support for more cameras gives you more flexibility.
  6. New Dodge & Burn filter - quickly and easily lighten or darken a specific part of an image.
  7. New HDR Enhance slider - replaces the Clarity slider but with much more natural and realistic results, bringing up details and textures in the photo without adding unwanted artifacts.
  8. More Blend Modes - offer unique and interesting results and vary widely on each photo (and great to use with textures).
  9. New Colors in the HSL panel - get more control over more colors than ever before.
  10. New History panel - snap back in time to see what you did and revisit those steps if you need to.
  11. Improved Image Radiance - give your image a romantic look, but now with better control over the shadows.
  12. New Structure algorithm - emphasize detail and structure in a photo without bringing too much noise into your image.
  13. Mac and Windows! - PC users rejoice! You can finally join the Macphun family!

Want to see some screenshots? Check out my lengthy announcement blog post from when it came out!

In total, this adds up to a lot of greatness in Aurora HDR 2018 that you will benefit from immediately. Primarily, I consider this release to be about creating a natural and realistic look with your HDR photos. HDR generally gets a bad rap because of the often-seen extreme look that can be produced with HDR. But there’s no reason to judge a book by it’s cover - like all other photo-editing products, it’s about the choices you make. Aurora HDR gives you a very natural starting point. The choices you make after that are up to you - so, season to taste my friends.

Bottom Line: this release is faster, more capable, more flexible and quite simply it is producing amazing results for me. I trust that you will love it as much as I do. Click here to read about it on the Macphun site.

Here are some videos to get you more familiar with Aurora HDR 2018

I like using video to illustrate how to use products - it's just easier and I think a better platform for explaining how to do things. So just click on any of these below to get started. You can also find plenty more on my YouTube channel here. And of course, I have plenty more already planned, so stay tuned for that!

When showing how software works and what you can do with it, videos are just a better delivery vehicle than text. So instead of me writing up a bunch of stuff with screenshots included, most of this is done via video. That way I can walk through specific steps and illustrate my points more easily. So just click play to watch any of these, or head over to YouTube and subscribe to my channel so you can see all the new stuff I publish, too. 

Some of My Favorite New Features and Updates

I have been creating HDR photos for something like 8 or 9 years now. Although I love them, I see many comments online about how they are unnatural, unrealistic, etc. Basically, people complain that they just don't look real. I get that. It's quite easy to push things past the point of reality (although note you can do this in any software, not just HDR). While many people enjoy the over-the-top look, many enjoy a more natural, subdued approach to editing HDR photos - using the benefits of high dynamic range to craft natural, realistic and beautiful images that make you feel like you are standing there alongside the photographer. While you can produce either look in Aurora, I would say that this release is very much centered around the idea of natural, realistic HDR.

In fact, that is what I would consider the overarching theme of this release - natural HDR. Here is what I have experienced so far:

  1. The base HDR photo before adjustments is completely natural and realistic
  2. The presence of halos in your images is nearly non-existent
  3. Skies looks fantastic and without the presence of "dark clouds"
  4. Colors are natural, accurate and realistic as well
  5. Details are crisp without being "crunchy"

This is what I am talking about. The photos just look great. Natural, realistic, whatever you want to call it. I call it gorgeous. They are absolutely lovely when merged into the base tonemapped HDR image. From there you have so much flexibility to create the look that you want.

So here are some of my favorite things about Aurora HDR 2018:

  1. Natural HDR - although I mentioned this above, it deserves to be atop this list. My base HDR photos are just sparkling and beautiful and look completely natural. I am very impressed. The new tone-mapping algorithms are perfect.
  2. Lens Correction and Transform - I didn't realize how badly I needed this on some images until I started using these tools. You can easily alter distortion and more and it works wonderfully.
  3. HDR Enhance slider - this slider is a "must have" on every image now. Literally, I use it all the time. It replaces Clarity and works better, bringing up details and textures but without any unwanted artifacts or noise in the smoother parts of a shot.
  4. Dodge & Burn Filter - this slider is quick, easy and very effective. Quickly add mood to a shot, bring up some shadows selectively, and more.
  5. Ease of Use - I find all Macphun products to be very easy to use and intuitive, and this one is no exception. Obviously I am familiar with the previous version, so that helps, but I jumped right into this version without any confusion and was editing right away. I love the layout of the User Interface and the feel is modern and intuitive.
  6. Updates to Existing filters - although you will recognize many of the filters from the previous version, most of them have been enhanced to some extent. Noise Reduction is better, Color Temperature is more accurate, Structure and Image Radiance have been improved as well.
  7. Image Flip & Rotate - you can find these in the Crop Tool, and it's just fun to flip an image around to completely reverse your composition. Confuse your friends if you want to! ;-)
  8. History Palette - if you use this in Luminar, you will know how helpful it can be. Now it's here in Aurora and it's wonderful to be able to jump back in time and check on your previous editing steps.
  9. Mac and Windows! While I only use a Mac, I am glad to see Macphun embracing the large PC market with this release. I have borrowed a Windows laptop to experiment with this release and I think everyone will be glad to see this advancement. Note that some features aren't in Windows at launch but the products will be at parity as soon as they can be.
  10. Overlay Preset function - this handy little button allows you to stack presets one after another really quickly. Just click the button while in the preset menu and it automatically adds a new layer, allowing you to stack a new preset for quick results. Do some experimentation!


There are so many features in this product that it is hard to keep track of it all. So I thought it would help to add the below screenshot from the Macphun site. I think this helps illustrate just how feature-packed the product really is!

I would buy this for the new features alone, but when you add in all the stuff below it is almost mind-boggling. The great thing is that all of this doesn't crowd the user interface or make it confusing. It's all situated in a logical manner and is really intuitive. You can literally get straight to work editing your photos without spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to use the product. 

I give this product two thumbs up!

I was really curious to see how Macphun would improve upon the 2017 version, which I liked very much. I am pleasantly surprised that they not only improved upon it but surpassed it considerably! Considering all the great new features I mentioned above, plus all the existing features that are amazing adds up to an excellent product. I think you will love it, too whether you shoot HDR or not. It's great for single exposures and I have even used it on portraits! Sure, it's marketed as an HDR editor - and it is one - but it's also super capable for any kind of photo editing. Give it a try!

Questions? Comments? Feedback?

I'm happy to try and answer any questions you may have. While I don't know all the answers, I can sure try and help. Feel free to send me a message via my Contact Form.

If you decide you want to purchase Aurora HDR 2018, you can use coupon code JIMNIX to save $10 (not available during the pre-order period or when Macphun has special offers).

Click the banner below to be directed to the Macphun site.

Sample Photos Edited with Aurora HDR 2018

I find that looking at images is one of my favorite ways to get inspired, so here is a group of shots that have been edited in the new Aurora HDR 2018. Take a look and let me know if you have any questions!

moraine Lake, Canada

moraine Lake, Canada

Natural Bridge in British Columbia, Canada

The amazing Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, NM

Early morning in Prague

Sunset in Rome, Italy

Evening falls on Vancouver, Canada

Sunset in Jackson Hole, WY

An afternoon at Emerald Lake, British Columbia, Canada