This HDR photography tutorial has been in the making for several years and as things change and new software comes on the mark then I update it. This version has been completely rewritten to add in the things I've learnt over time. 

This is completely free and hopefully you find it useful and you'll learn how to make beautiful HDR photos. 

Let's get to it. 

Skylum Aurora HDR 2018 - For Mac and Windows

This is the best HDR photography software you can get. Having previously only been available on Mac it has now been released on Windows. For 2018 it has been completely redesigned with new features and every update it keeps improving. 

If you'd like to give it a try you can download it here. If you're a current Aurora user check this link to see if you qualify for the upgrade price. 

I've been using it lots for a while now and I think you'll enjoy it too! 

A Quick Look at Aurora HDR 2018

This is a quick look video that I made when it was first released, it gives you a look at SOME of the new features. 

Interested In A Video Tutorial Instead?

If you prefer to learn by watching videos, go grab my HDR Video Tutorial! It’s great because it has 17 different lessons that start out for the beginner and then gets into ALL the aspects of the software. As the lessons go on, I show more and more tools and some pretty fancy stuff I think you’ll like. And hey, I’m a great teacher, well, according to my students! Plus, you’ll get access to all my source photo files so you can follow along! 

What is HDR Photography?

HDR or High Dynamic Range Photography is a fairly new way of taking photos. Some people like it and others hate it. 

HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. To put it simply it is a post processing method that takes a series of photos (or one single photo) and merging them to create one final image. Then a week of the contrast and tones to create something unique to make the photo pop.  

The usual way is to take three photos of the same thing using image bracketing which allows you to take a underexposed, normal and overexposed photo.

Anyone can create HDR photos. The real way of making them is to merge a series of photos together. The photos are all exactly the same except for the fact that exposure is different.

Come over and chat on social media! Follow me on:

Some of my HDR Photos

These are a few HDR photos I’ve created and shared, you’ll find more on and on my Instagram page Photalife.

Part 1: Let's Get Ready

Pop off and get your copy of Aurora HDR, remember it works on both Mac and Windows and is perfect for HDR. Every time they update it gets better and better. 

The camera really doesn’t matter, the real work comes in the post processing. You can take a single image on your phone and with the use of software create a HDR photo. Equally a mirrorless or dSLR will have the option to image bracket and will in my opinion take a better quality photo.

If you fancy treating yourself to a camera, you can have a read of some of the camera, lens and other goodies recommendations here

Part 2: It's Photo Time 

Now traditionally HDR were created from multiple photos but more and more I find myself using a single image. It still works perfectly well. 

If using a single photo ideally it needs to be a RAW file. All new cameras shoot in RAW but are usually set to JPG as a default so you'll need to change this in your settings. 

A RAW files holds so much more information that a JPG and allows you to bring out a lot more detail. Aurora HDR works so well with these files. 

The other way of creating a HDR photo is to use bracketed photos. These are a series of images of the same scene but with different brightness levels. I usually shoot 3 bracketed photos, so I'll pop it into Aperture mode and then the camera adjusts the shutter speeds automatically. My exposure settings when doing this are -1, 0 and +1. In basic terms this means one is under-exposed, one perfectly exposed and one over-exposed. 

You'll usually find bracketed options under your shooting settings on a camera. 

Single RAW files make a great source for the new Aurora HDR, which is especially tuned for these. I used to do multiple photos in bracketing (see next section if you don’t know what that is), but I find a single RAW is sufficient for almost all situations.

Bracketed shots work really well when the sky is bright or when there is a dark park of a photo. 

Part 3: Getting Your Photos into Aurora HDR

It's now time to have some fun and edit the photos. 

You can move your files from Lightroom to Aurora HDR if you wish but I tend to open straight into Aurora. 

If you're using a single image you'll see an option "Tone Mapping" make sure that box is ticked. You have other choices under the settings but on single images I don't use these. 

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It looks a little bit different when you import bracketed photos. The first one is the Alignment part, I always click this event when using a tripod. Under the gear option you'll find Ghost Reduction which is handy if you've people in the frame or things moving. 

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After selection the options click Create HDR and boom you'll be presented with a single image in the next screen. 

Part 4: Starting With Presets

So the image is now imported and you'll see that the image already looks different. With a press of the \ or the eyeball on the top you can flip between before/after. This is also handy to do when editing the photo. This is just the start. 

Along the bottom of the screen you'll find all the presets. Some which are all ready installed or you can add your own. This part of the editing is all down to your personal taste, one persons preference is different to someone else's. 

The presets are arranged into different categories such as Indoor, Landscape, Basic and so on. Play around with them, anything you do can be's not like you can break the photo. When you select a preset it will apply it straight to the photo at 100%, the slider can be scaled down so you can alter it to your personal taste. Simple right?!

For me the presets are a good base to begin the journey, but there is nothing wrong with selecting a preset and stopping right there. Do what is right for you!

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Part 5: Using Sliders

At this stage you've either found a preset that you'd like to tweak or you want to build your photo from the very start. The sliders on the right-hand side...if they're not there you can toggle them from the top bar. The sliders are pretty endless and much like you'd find on other editing software. 

Don't let the amount put you off, there are a select few that you'll use and over time you might experiment with the others. 

The first ones are the chosen ones, Exposure, Contrast, HDR Enhance, Smart Tone, Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks these are the ones to focus on first. 

The order I tend to work in is HDR Enhance, then Smart Tone, a slight slide of the Exposure and then Contrast. That gives me a good base. Towards the end I might revisit these. 

I'll then scroll down to the HDR Structure and this is very personal for each person and photo. How HDRery do you want the photo. It's at this point you'll want to just keep an eye on the noise, especially in the sky. 

Scroll just a little bit and you'll see the HDR Denoise and this is a great tool that has been enhanced over the updates and is a really great way of reducing that noise. 

Then the final magic piece of the puzzle is Image Radiance which is prefect for nigh time photos or ones with glow, think street lights or candles. If at any point you want to take the slider back to where it was simply double click and it goes back to the beginning. Or under each subheading click the eyeball and it shows the different before and after of that section. 

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Part 6: Layers (More Advanced)

Layers with Aurora HDR can completely transform a photo, and allowing you to personalise certain parts of a photo without effecting another part. I find I tend to use this on water, skies on areas where I want to enhance the textures. 

There are a few different types of layers you can add but I find I use the Adjustment Layer 99% of the time. 

To add a layer click the + which is at the top of the sliders sidebar. Now all the adjustments you make from here are for the layer. Move the sliders and you can see the effect. This is at the moment changing the whole photo. 

Click the paintbrush next to the layer and paint over the photo where you want these changes to have an effect, so the sky, or the water etc. As you paint click the eyeball and it shows in red where you've painted. 

That is a layer and how to use them. You can keep adding layers to different parts of the photo. You can keep tweaking the sliders for each layer to get it perfect. 

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Part 7: Enjoy!

I know there's a lot to take in and it can be scary. 

The best thing to do is just dive straight in, everything can be undone and I think playing around with the software can often lead to the best results. 

Move those sliders, test to see what you like. 

The History Panel is on the top bar, click that and you can back to a point in the photo you like and try again. 

Some Video Help

A couple of videos that might help you along the way. 

This first one is using a single iPhone image in Aurora HDR. 

Then this one is adding presets, using layers in Aurora HDR. 


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