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First Look at the New Aurora HDR 2019

Skylum has been making software for Mac computers for years but now they're really stepping up their game both with Luminar and their latest update, Aurora HDR 2019.

hdr photography software Aurora HDR 2019

There are a few HDR software options available, including Lightroom and Photoshop. So you really just need to find the one that works for you and suits your style of imagery and editing.

In this overview, I'll give you a quick comparison between Aurora HDR 2019 and Lightroom.

Aurora HDR 2019 First Look

In the video below, I will show you examples of four different scenes shot as bracketed sets and merged to HDR using both Lightroom and Aurora HDR 2019. As well, I will do a single image HDR in both programs for comparison to see how they perform.

My notes on Aurora HDR 2019

As I mentioned in the video, I think the new Aurora HDR software does a really nice job.

There's a bunch of new stuff, but it's mostly how it works under the hood. If you're highly technical those improvements include:

  • New Quantum HDR Engine
  • LUTs support with 11 New Integrated LUTs
  • Photoshop plugins support
  • New HDR Smart Structure filter for realistic and artifact-free structure (can be found in the new HDR Enhance filter)
  • Presets are now called ‘Aurora HDR Looks’
  • Improved Adjustable Gradient filter with new sliders for Shadows and Highlights added
  • Improved HDR Details Boost Effect ( the photo is shown in high-resolution while fine-tuning the filter)

Told you it was all geeky technical stuff!

aurora hdr 2019 logo

My thoughts are more real-world application stuff, such as:

  • Aurora does a nice job on Chromatic Aberration, noise reduction, and lens distortion control but I wish it had a targeted tool for doing the CA removal and/or defringing.
  • It does a nice job of keeping things realistic looking with some of the “natural” and “realistic” presets or looks.
  • You can use layers and masking to apply one filter only to a certain area of your image.
  • On some images, Aurora did a better job at ghost removal than LR did.
  • Aurora does a nicer job of increasing detail in the image and making an HDR “look” without going over the top.
  • The Color Contrast is a nice feature that adds punch.
  • It has many of the same filters as Luminar: Image Radiance, Glow, Color Contrast, Dodge & Burn, etc. so if you are already familiar with Luminar you'll feel at home with Aurora HDR 2019.

HDR Software Comparison

Example Images

Here are some example images including one original RAW file, one processed using Lightroom and one done with Aurora HDR 2019 for an HDR software comparison.

A Blue Hour Image

Aurora did a good job on a tricky subject.

It tried to straighten the lines and perspective of the building and kept nice detail in the bright areas and dark shadows.

Raw photo straight out of camera to use for HDR software example
Single shot RAW file, unprocessed.
Same raw image processed for HDR in Lightroom
Merge to HDR in Lightroom and tweaks applied afterward in LR as well.
third photo showing HDR software processing donbe with Aurora HDR 2019
Merged and processed using Aurora HDR 2019, no tweaks done in LR afterward.

High Contrast Scene

I chose this 5-image bracketed set of a high contrast sunset scene to test next.

I was really impressed with how Aurora HDR 2019 handled it right out of the gate with no filters. After a few tweaks, it was even better.

second example image, raw out of the camera showing a high contrast scene
Original RAW file, unprocessed.
high contrast scene processed in Lighroom for HDR
Merge to HDR in Lightroom and associated adjustments.
same image but HDR done with Skylum Aurora HDR 2019
Aurora HDR 2019 version.

Moving Subjects

I wanted to see how both Lightroom and Aurora handled moving subjects and ghost removal.

In this next set of images, the tree was blowing. They both did a good job but a really close inspection has me giving Aurora the slight edge.

example photo testing moving subjects
Original RAW file, cropped but unprocessed.
HDR version done with Lightroom
Lightroom version of HDR. Not bad.
HDR version done with Aurora as a comparison
Aurora HDR version. Better!

Now just to address the issue before you say anything. Yes, I probably could have gotten a similar or identical result from Lightroom.

BUT let me stress here that I did almost nothing except merged them in Aurora and applied the Natural preset and a bottom gradient to darken the water and that was it!

So Aurora HDR 2019 was much faster, and with fewer steps.

Shooting Handheld

This final bracket set of images were shot without a tripod. 

When doing HDR photography, it's always ideal if you can use a tripod but it's not always possible. So I wanted to see how well these programs did at aligning the images before doing the HDR merge.

Both performed admirably!

raw example photo to use for comparring Lightroom and Aurora HDR
Original RAW file, one of three images in the bracketed set.
HDR processing done with Lightroom
Lightroom version. This image just sort of lacks a bit of oomph, don't you think? I was not able to get it to look any better in LR only.
HDR processing done with Aurora
Aurora HDR 2019 version. I was really impressed with this! Not only did it align the images perfectly (no halos or double imaging), but the color and tonal contrast of this version surpassed the Lightroom one in my opinion.

Single Image HDR

Recently I've found that if the scene I'm photographing isn't super high-contrast that I can pull good detail and color out of it from a single image in Lightroom. So in this final comparison, Aurora and LR go head-to-head one more time.

Original unprocessed raw file
Original unprocessed RAW file.
example showing lightroom version
Lightroom version. I WAS happy with this before . . .
example photo showing HDR done with Aurora
Aurora HDR 2019 version. Now I like this one better!

Who is Aurora HDR 2019 for?

In my opinion, if you already have Lightroom and are happy with the HDR images you're making with it, great. But if you want to do a little more and have more options – you may want to try Aurora HDR 2019.

If you haven't got Lightroom or any other HDR software, then for sure I'd say give it a go!

Luminar integrates with it nicely as a plugin as well, so if you are already using that program that's a nice benefit for you. They also use a lot of the same filters and terms so it will feel like home in Aurora.

If you have any other plugins like Topaz, then you'll be happy to know Aurora works with them too.

Give it a go, share your HDR images in the comment below, and let me know how you like it.

Aurora HDR 2019 DISCOUNT CODE: Get a discount if you decide that Aurora HDR 2019 is the best photo HDR software for you. Use the code: DIGITALPHOTOMENTOR when you check out to save $10 USD.

Darlene Hildebrandt photographer DPM

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