HDR – A love vs. hate relationship

When it comes to high dynamic range (HDR) images,  I had a rather skeptical opinion since all those super-saturated images of whatever the Photographer had in front of the lens started flooding the web – Up to now!

The basic idea is to combine / blend together several different exposures of the same scene in order to expand the dynamic range of the final image. Especially when the difference in bright and dark areas of the scene is to large to be captured in one shot (more than 10 or 11 f-stops modern cameras are able to digest) over- and underexposed frames can lead to a final dynamic range of 14 to 16 f-stops.

In my opinion the Art begins if the final image has still a “natural” look with visually appealing contrast and tonal range. This is where MacPhun‘s latest creation – Aurora HDR (Pro) enters the stage.


Developed by world famous travel Photographer and HDR-expert Trey Ratcliff (www.stuckincustoms.com) the user interface is elegant and as easy to use as we are used to from Adobe’s Lightroom or Photoshop. Starting with a selection of themed presets – Architecture, Landscape or Dramatic – to mention a few first stunning results are obtained within a minute. The PRO-version comes with Trey’s own special set of custom presets.


The more advanced user who wants to fine tune all possible aspects of the “feel and look” of the image has the full control via expandable panels (Tone, Structure, HDR Denoise, Image Radiance, Color, Details, Glow, Top & Bottom Lighting, Tone Curve, Color Filter, Color Toning, Vignette).

One feature that makes Aurora stand out from the crowd is the subtile way the color contrast, toning and glow can be adjusted from “punch in the face HDR style” to “super natural with maximum dynamic range”.


Top & Bottom Lighting is a very smart way to optimise the tonal range e.g. in Landscapes where the sky might be a bit to bright or the foreground rather dark. Also in the above Architecture shot, the top bottom lighting situation was carefully tuned. To go a step further sophisticated layer masks allow to individually adjust every single part of the image.


Although the menu structure is clear and self-explanatory in almost every aspect, the Online help and Trey’s Tutorials are a great source of information in order to understand all functions and their effect of the image.

At the moment the always super-helpful MacPhun crew is working hard on optimising the presets and to implement RAW-file support for all common cameras on the market. Important notice: Aurora HDR needs OS X 10.9.5 or higher as operating system. Let me finish this short review with two more sample images, taken during one of my Architecture Photography Classes.

Stay tuned …



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