Whether you are a professional photographer or an enthusiast, chances are you’ve come across the term ‘HDR Photography’. If you haven’t yet experienced HDR photography, then the whole idea can be overwhelming at first. However, turning an image into an HDR one is not very difficult and has many benefits, as you will see moving on. You can create HDR images quite easily using excellent software programs like Aurora HDR, Adobe Photoshop, or Photomatix.
So whether you wish to enhance the dynamic range of your photos by creating true HDR images or be using tone mapping to give an individual image the feel of an HDR photo, you’ve come to the right place. But before we move on and see what kinds of software programs you can use for HDR photography, let’s take a brief look at what HDR photography really is.
An Introduction to HDR Photography
‘HDR’ stands of High Dynamic Range. The dynamic range of an image is a calculation of the various intensities of the highlights and shadows present in it. A wider range means that more details are preserved in the photo. High Dynamic Range Photography essentially tries to create images that have the maximum amount of details both in the bright highlights and the dark shadows.
This HDR image of a train shows how much details can be captured both in the bright sky and the shadowy smoke.
In order to create an HDR image, you need to take multiple photos of the same thing at different exposure settings. A common practice is to take three shots – one that is exposed for the highlights, one for the shadows, and one for the mid tones. Once you have your shots, all you have to do is combine them together and your HDR shot is ready. Yes, it really is that easy!
Some cameras have built-in HDR capabilities too, so be sure to check your camera’s shooting modes once. It might save you a lot of time and tinkering around.
When Should HDR Be Used
Taking HDR photos is a great way to make sure that every important detail of your image is being highlighted. The types of photos taken in HDR most often include landscape and architecture, or real estate, photos. Both these kinds of photos rely heavily on the weather, therefore making it nearly impossible to plan the perfect day to shoot. This is where HDR photography comes to aid. Instead of having to worry that the beautiful sky you’re trying to shoot becomes a white mass or the intricate details of a building’s stucco work are lost somewhere in the shadows, taking an HDR photo will ensure that everything is exposed perfectly. Other than these situations, HDR can help:
- Even out the skin tones of a portrait taken in sunlight. Harsh sunlight usually creates for not-so-pleasant portrait photos. HDR can brighten up your subject’s face a little more in such situations.
- Brighten up your subjects in the dark if there is strong backlighting, without ruining any of the details in the portions with good light.
In these photos, you can see how a non-HDR photo (left) can look flat and dull while an HDR photo (right) looks crisp and full of details.
Now that we all have a general grip on what HDR photography actually entails, let’s dive into the various software programs that can be used for the process.
The Best HDR Software You Can Use
Doing a quick Google search about HDR software will reveal how many of these you can actually use for free. Some of these are great, others are just not. That is why we have brought you a shortlisted selection of the best HDR processing engines you can invest your money and time in:
- Aurora HDR – For the best balance of usability and features.
- Photomatix – For some serious tone mapping control.
- Adobe Lightroom – For its familiar user interface.
- Adobe Photoshop – For its excellent post processing capabilities.
Let’s see what these programs can do in a little more detail:
The All-New Aurora HDR
Aurora HDR is not only great for its vast array of features but also for its affordable price and ease of use. The software has been known to provide natural-looking results without too much effort while also giving its users the choice to go full pro on their photos and take them to a whole new level. Other than allowing users to combine multiple photos into single HDR files, the program also allows them to use tone mapping algorithms to turn individual photos into HDR-like images.
The new version, dubbed Aurora HDR 2018, has been made a whopping 4 times faster by its makers. Many new features have been added, including lens correction filters and control over chromatic aberrations. The user interface has also been revamped to make it ideal for both professional and casual photographers.
Watch the following video to see how easy it is to use Aurora HDR 2018.
For two years, Windows users have wanted this excellent software created by photographer Trey Ratcliff made available for their operating system too. This year, the company behind the HDR processing engine announced that the new version of Aurora HDR would be available for Windows as well, making it the best overall HDR processor on the market. You can also use the software’s free trial before deciding to buy it.
The Very Capable Photomatix Pro
Photomatix has been on the scene for quite some time as one of the leading HDR processors. It allows for the creation of HDR images by stacking multiple images together like Aurora HDR but also has some promising tone mapping techniques that aim to put control of even the smallest aspects of your photos at your fingertips. These methods include Contrast Optimizer, Detail Enhancer, Tone Compressor, and Exposure Fusion. You can mix and match them to give your photos the look you want, or just stick with the default settings for fairly good results.
Photomatix comes in two versions – Photomatix Essentials and Photomatix Pro. Both the versions are very affordable at $39 and $99 respectively. The Essentials version has an easier to use interface and focuses on the basics of HDR processing. The Pro version allows for more detailed editing, and also allows for batch processing of images.
The Familiar Adobe Lightroom
The biggest reason for using Adobe Lightroom as your main HDR processing engine is that most people use it anyway for post processing their photos. If you shoot RAW, chances are you use Lightroom alone to develop your photos from start to finish. Making HDR photos in Lightroom gives you the advantage of staying within the same environment while editing.
In order to create an HDR image in Lightroom, simply select the different exposures you have taken, right click, head to ‘Photo Merge’ and click on HDR. These easy steps will convert your photos into one HDR file. You can then process this file like you would edit any other photo in Lightroom, and it will have a much higher dynamic range than your normal photos.
So you can rely on Adobe Lightroom for your HDR work if you already have it and don’t want to spend more money on a dedicated HDR software.
The All-Powerful Adobe Photoshop
You really can’t challenge the power of Adobe Photoshop when it comes to photo editing. This piece of software has it all, from fixing the smallest of issues in photos to converting them into complete digital paintings. That is precisely why Photoshop can be a good HDR editing software for you. If you are invested in Adobe’s photography products, or if you wish to convert your photos into more than what they are by editing each individual pixel to your heart’s content, then you really don’t need to spend money on a new HDR processor.
However, if you are someone who has never used Photoshop or doesn’t use it often, then it is much better to buy something like Aurora HDR because of its easier to use interface and overall better HDR capabilities.
So hopefully now you are all familiar with what HDR photography really is and, more importantly, how easy it is to create stunning images with a few clicks for not a lot of money. Whether you are a traveling landscape photographer or want to take attractive pictures of real estate, or just wish to create some experimental and conceptual photos, using HDR photography techniques is a great way to achieve all of this.