Nowadays, people are more inclined towards capturing different moments of their lives in the form of images to cherish those memories forever. Different forms of photography, like HDR photography, have made it very convenient for the people to capture their precious moments in the best way possible.
While HDR photography is mostly associated with architectural and landscape photos, it can also be used to make all sorts of creative high dynamic range images. HDR photography can lead to really high quality images that everyone desires but if the images are not treated with proper software then the resulting HDR photos can actually be destroyed. For the convenience of people interested in HDR photography, we have prepared a list of excellent software programs for creating true HDR images.
A Guide to HDR Photography
HDR is an abbreviation of High Dynamic Range. As the name explains it, this type of imagery is used for creating life-like photos with a far better dynamic range than single images usually have. HDR photos are a true play of intense light and shadows in a scene to give a very realistic feel to it. The wider range photography helps with capturing more details and balancing out the contrast of bright lights and dark shadows.
For creating high dynamic range images, one has to take more than one shot of the same thing with different exposure settings. The most appropriate way is to take at least three shots at a time; one shot for each category of light, which are highlights, shadows, and mid-tones. Once this exposure bracketing is done, you simply have to combine all the images within a bracketing software to get your HDR photo. Most digital cameras these days come with Automatic Exposure Bracketing, or AEB, features as well. AEB basically does all the bracketing work for you automatically, and then the camera merges all the photos and creates an HDR photo right in the moment.
What is HDR Software Useful For
Creating HDR photos is rather an easy task once you get the hang of it. Architecture, landscape and real estate are usually the areas of concern for HDR photos because these subjects are usually very dependant on the weather and the naturally available light. However, as mentioned earlier, an HDR photo can also be a very creative way to capture an important memory, so the sky is really the limit with this kind of photography. Whether you are using AEB or manual bracketing, you can do a lot of creative stuff with the right type of HDR software at your disposal.
The Best HDR Software to Use
Now that we have answered ‘what is HDR photography?’, let’s talk about some of the best HDR software that is available on the market right now for all kinds of needs.
1. Aurora HDR
Aurora HDR tops our list of the best HDR software because it is a blend of affordability, ease of use, and an advanced feature set. The software comes with a number of tools that make the editing process easier and quicker. Users can also benefit greatly from the built-in presets that provide a one-click solution for your HDR photo editing. This is an HDR software that has made its name known very widely in the world in a very short amount of time because it brings a wide variety of tools and controls for a price that is considerably lower than many other HDR photo software.
The new version of Aurora HDR is marketed to be 4 times faster than the old one, making it even more popular among the users. A few more new features have been added which include lens correction filters and control over chromatic aberrations. It has also been made more user-friendly to make it easily approachable for the beginner photographers as well as the professional ones.
2. Photomatix Pro 6
Before many of the well-known HDR photo editors that exist today came into being, Photomatix was pretty much the only one of its kind available to professional users. Due to that, this HDR software has a large following of people that use it on a regular basis. Over the years, it has also improved quite a bit already, and its version 6 comes with some interesting new features.
The Tone Balancer is aimed at achieving better, more realistic results. There are also Edge Aware Brushes here that make it easier to fine tune the edges of your HDR images as well as new and improved color control tools. With these additions, Photomatix Pro 6 does have a lot that you would need from the best HDR software for your needs, but for the price it comes at you might be able to do better.
3. HDR Efex Pro
HDR Efex Pro is part of the Nik Collection which also contains other editing programs focusing on different things. This particular program is aimed at creating HDR images quickly and easily. It’s not just an HDR filter software but rather a complete HDR photography software that gives everything from presets and quick editing features to deeper controls over the aspects of your final photos.
This software can also be used to add to Photoshop’s high dynamic range capabilities when used as a plugin. Whether you need to practice HDR real estate photography or just need to add realistic HDR effects to landscape photos, HDR Efex Pro is a good choice. There are better, more feature-rich options out there for HDR photography, but if you want something quick and easy then this will do.
Fotor, despite what you may have heard, is not just a program with bad HDR filters or one that creates a fake HDR effect. Instead, it has an actual HDR editor that it offers online for completely free. Users are able to create HDR images by merging two or more files, and use the software’s ghost reduction and alignment tools to get the best results possible.
However, as Fotor is a free HDR photo software, you shouldn’t expect amazing results that will be hyper-realistic. But if you don’t need that and would rather have something to create quick and fun HDRs, then it’s worth a shot.
If you are looking for an HDR software that is easy to understand and use, EasyHDR might be for you. This may not be the overall best HDR software but can be very good for you if you’re just getting into this kind of photography. Upon loading your images into EasyHDR, you’ll see the software automatically merging them together into an HDR photo. This is not just some HDR filter that is slapped onto a photo but is a proper HDR file that you can tweak to your liking by playing with the color curve, exposure tools, and more.
6. HDR Projects
HDR Projects is a fully developed HDR photo editor that comes packed with features to make your HDR photography easier. It has a modern interface, understandable controls, a host of tools that will appease pretty much all your editing needs. Whether you use AEB or take your exposures manually, EasyHDR’s “ultraHDR” technology aims to help you generate detailed and natural-looking photos.
HDR Projects also comes as a plugin to Lightroom and Photoshop so you can enhance the capabilities of your photo editor without the need to use a completely standalone program. The software can also handle single files really well and adds a very convincing HDR effect on these. However, despite all these positives, the program may seem a little too confusing for some people because it comes in three different variants, each with different feature sets.
7. Oloneo HDR
The main reason why you would want to use the Oloneo HDR photo editor is because it places a heavy focus on speed and real-time editing. The software comes with some very cool features including different tone mapping engines, a natural HDR processing mode, auto contrast and auto exposure, ghost removal tools, built-in presets and much more. It offers a plugin for Lightroom as well, making it a strong offering for HDR real estate photography, landscape photography, or even other creative imagery.
At its current, introductory price, Oloneo HDR could be a good overall software for HDR, but its actual price is a little too high for what it brings to the table, especially when you do an HDR comparison between it and other similarly priced editors.
8. Adobe Lightroom CC – Photo Merge HDR
Photo Merge HDR in Lightroom is a basic way of creating HDR images. With this tool, you can merge multiple images, apply effects like deghosting and auto-align, and then adjust how your image looks within Lightroom to add the final touches. It’s a good way of getting occasional HDRs done as it can be used within Lightroom with not much extra effort. But if you want to be more serious with your HDR work, you should look elsewhere.
9. SNS HDR
SNS HDR may not be the best HDR software out there, especially when you an HDR comparison with another program, but it is a good option for getting into this kind of photography. SNS HDR comes with support for various image types, including RAW and OpenEXR, ghost reduction tools, masks, a batch processing module for saving time, and single image processing. The program also doesn’t need a very high-end computer to run well. However, the features it brings are a little lacking and the interface looks dated. But if you can live with those compromises, do give this one a try.
10. Full Dynamic Range Tools
FDR Tools relies on its tone mapping technology to make noise disappear from photos while your create an HDR with it. The unique thing about this HDR photography software is that it lets users see the tone-mapped image after merging different exposures, and then go back to the source images to decide if they should be merged in a different way by changing each image’s opacity. This makes the final image very editable and puts all of the control regarding the merging of photos at the user’s disposal.
11. Picturenaut 3
Picturenaut 3 comes with a refined user interface and support for the newest RAW format as well as PNG files. It also boasts having a very fast operational speed, calling itself the ‘fastest tone mapper in the world’. It is not as feature rich as other editors, but if you want something easy to use that is fast at what it does, it may be well worth it for you.
12. Luminance HDR
If you are looking for a free HDR software, then Luminance HDR is a good choice. It runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows as a standalone editor that allows for both merging of photos and adding an HDR effect to single photos. It’s easy to install and easy to get the hang of, with a good enough tone mapping engine that will let you make some good looking HDR photos. However, the software’s speed is only average at best, but if you really don’t want to pay for your editor, this is a compromise you can live with.
13. HDR Expose
HDR Expose is a new software on the market aiming to grab the title of the best HDR software for 2019. It comes with a sleek, modern interface and a ton of features to appease the most demanding photographers. The new version of HDR Expose has adaptive tone mapping technology, strong deghosting tools, color correction tools, and fast processing, among other things. It is a little pricey but offers a free trial for users to check it out first.
14. HDR Darkroom
We recommend HDR Darkroom to those people who don’t mind giving up some advanced control over their HDR photos in order to get a very clean, very simple to use editor that does the basics quite well. With HDR Darkroom, you’ll be able to create nice-looking HDRs in not a lot of time and will be very happy with the minimalist interface of it. But do keep in mind that for its rather limited functionality, it costs about as much as some of the much more advanced editors on this list.
15. Machinery HDR
Machinery HDR has a polished interface and comes with many features packed inside it. You have a lot of control over the lights and darks of your photos, many presets to give your editing process a boost, and very natural results that don’t look like they came out of a fantasy novel. If you do decide to give Machinery HDR a try, be sure to do some research beforehand because the company’s own manual isn’t a lot of help when navigating the interface.
Other than a cool name, Hydra offers powerful HDR effects and features in an HDR software that looks very clean and modern. It offers users with multiple controls to get a grip of the dynamic range in an image, the alignment of their brackets, and advanced tone mapping to give their images the look they want. There are many presets to choose from, ranging from ones that look realistic and natural to those that look more creative and artsy. However, what’s keeping Hydra from being one of the best HDR software programs is its Mac-only nature.
17. PaintShop Pro
Corel’s PaintShop Pro is more of an overall Photoshop-style image editor rather than a dedicated HDR software. It offers brushes, layer controls, presets, the ability to draw on images, and RAW editing as well as being able to create HDRs. However, due to the fact that it’s not a dedicated HDR solution, you may find it a little lacking in that department. But if its an overall photo editing program you want, then PaintShop Pro is a great choice.
GIMP is perhaps the most famous Photoshop-style open-source, free image editor that exists in the world today. With the amount of features it has, it’s no surprise that GIMP also offers HDR effects. Now, the process of creating an HDR with GIMP is not as simple as merging photos and requires a little more effort, as explained in this helpful article, but it is nonetheless a great way to get some basic HDR editing done if you don’t want to buy a dedicated program.
19. Dynamic Photo HDR 5
With its new update, Dynamic Photo HDR 5 flaunts a brand new interface with improved speeds, countless effects and layer control, ability to create HDRs out of single images as well as handling multiple exposures, and other enhancements like ghost removal, custom presets, and unlimited undo. All of this combines to make Dynamic Photo HDR 5 a very strong contender for the top HDR programs available in 2019.
And if you had thought that we forgot about Photoshop, we did not. It’s without a doubt one of the best overall photo editors in the world and lets users do pretty much anything they can think of with their photos. However, just like PaintShop Pro, it’s not a dedicated solution for creating HDRs which is why it is last on our list. But if you already have Photoshop and are not super into hyper-realistic HDRs, you can do well with its own HDR capabilities.
And with that, we conclude our list of the HDR comparison between some of the top HDR software you can give a shot to in 2019. All of these programs have their own pros and cons, which is why we suggest that you first give their free trial versions a go before spending a whole lot of money on one of them.