Aurora HDR 2019 Software – Part 3

In case anyone forgot or didn’t read Part 1 or Part 2, this and the two previous posts are about software (Aurora HDR 2019) geared toward processing scenes shot with bracketed exposures. The software is by Skylum and some might remember they also offer Luminar, which I discussed in THIS post.

“Bracketed exposures . . . what’s that?” ask readers who haven’t read any of my linked posts.

Before I answer that, a quick warning: this is not a short post and it’s repetitive. Meaning, I take three photos, merge them, and marvel about the output. If you’re interested in the performance of Aurora at the hands of an amateur, read on. If not — and you still want to see the Alaska photos — you’re better off clicking on the link two paragraphs below this one.
Very brief HDR explanation: you have a chess board; you take a photo and while the white pieces show up really nice, the black pieces are too dark (underexposed) to show any details. You take another photo, this time with the flash. Now, the black show up nicely, all the fine details visible . . . but the white pieces are washed out (overexposed), with no details visible. If only you could take the two photos and merge them, keeping all the portions that show details but getting rid of the stuff that’s either too dark or too light. Basically, that’s what HDR programs do.

You need to plan such shooting and you need a camera that can bracket exposures. In 2012, when we went on our Alaska Cruise, I encountered many instances where I thought it prudent taking three photos (EV -1.0, EV 0.0, EV 1.0). Mind you, I didn’t have much hope for the practice because a) I didn’t have a good HDR program to take advantage of the bracketed shots, and b) I was shooting hand-held so I knew aligning the photos would be difficult. Because of both a) and b), I skipped merging HDR shots for my posts.

Mind you, I didn’t do too bad just editing what I had.

But, take a look at this series of shots . . .

Alaska Cruise 2012
Alaska Cruise 2012
Alaska Cruise 2012

That’s a scene that didn’t appear on the posts about the 2012 cruise because no matter which versions I started with, I wasn’t happy with the results.
Enter Aurora HDR . . .

The above three photos merged into a single photo by Aurora HDR 2019

Look, it’s not perfect and it’s not exactly how I would eventually end up with but as a starting point, and with minimal effort on my part, I got something presentable as opposed to nothing.

Here are three shots similar to the first photo above . . .

Alaska Cruise 2012
Alaska Cruise 2012
Alaska Cruise 2012

Here’s my post-processed version of the first of the three photos:

My processing of a single photo

. . . and here is Aurora’s HDR try using all three photos.

Output from Aurora HDR

Again, there are elements of that photo that I would tweak, but that was right out of the program with me doing nothing more than picking three files. in contrast, the photo above it took some time to process (Lightroom, onOne software {when it was still good}, Photoshop, and back to Lightrooom).

And, here are a couple more variations with just a click of the mouse:

A “cooler” version; cool as in color and not social status.
Drama with glow

Now, sometimes the results are not at all to my liking, as in this next photo:

HDR output

I mean, it looks fine but it seems a bit too stark. Here’s the version I had posted on the blog in December of 2012.

Something in between those two is what I’d prefer and I can easily get it with Aurora . . . but not right now.

Right now, I want to show a couple of variations from Aurora’s canned looks.

drama plus glow
my attempt at B&G&W

I gotta tell you . . . as far as one-click edits go, those are pretty good. The B&G&W almost reminds me of Ansel Adams, except the blacks are not as deep and the contrast is not as sharp.

OK, so, I have lots of photos I want to show and showing all the source files will make this pretty boring . . . er . . . more boring than it already is.
Still, the original are worth showing in case anyone is considering the software because seeing the originals gives them an idea of the heavy lifting done by Aurora HDR.

So, here’s the compromise . . . the reference photos will be in a small gallery right before I post the output from Aurora and anyone interested can look at the gallery. If I have it, I’ll also include a previous edit of the scene for comparison. Some of the photos I show below don’t have a priviously-posted version.

Anyway, here we go.
Reference gallery (with a prior attempt at HDR):

Output from Aurora HDR.

One other note . . . for the photos out of Aurora, I didn’t bother with aligning the horizon or doing any of my other steps like removing noise and blemishes (spots on the sensor). That means that some of the previously-posted versions might be cropped or slightly rotated from the originals. Again, I’m doing quick comparisons here.

Output from Aurora HDR

You could argue some of the colors are a bit too . . . vivid. It could even be argued the imaged I previously processed is better. I wouldn’t argue against you, but I’d point out I could easily tone the above down a bit and that the on in the gallery required more time and work. My interest in Aurora HDR is mostly as a starting point; it’s processing I would do prior to tweaking the final output to my liking.

Output from Aurora HDR

Sometimes there’s obvious differences between what I can do on my own from a single photo and what Aurora outputs from the three-photo bracketed scenes. Sometimes it’s fairly subtle if even noticeable at first glance.
Buckle up because there’s more . . .

Output from Aurora HDR

Here’s one I think I might have messed up . . .

I don’t know if the HDR processing was skewed by the modified version of the third photo.

Meaning, one of the three RAW files I picked had some processing done in Lightroom. I don’t know if Aurora HDR used the modified RAW file or if it knew enough to take the base RAW file for its calculations. Either way, I think it did a good job and with less — a lot less — effort than I expended in obtaining my previous version.
Here’s a similar scene:

Output from Aurora HDR

Perhaps the processing that impresses me the most is how Aurora treats photos of the glacier in Juneau. I have post-processed photos I’m pleased with but the ones output from Aurora surprised me. They surprised me because I didn’t have to do anything to them. Sure, I could tweak them, but they easily stand on their own.

I think Aurora nailed this one

Here’s a similar one . . .


I know readers don’t realize how long it took be to get the ice color the way it should be while maintaning the other colors as best as I could. One-click-Aurora didn’t even break a sweat and shows more detail than I could coax out of the photos.

I was also pleasantly surprised with this next shot. I wasn’t sure how Aurora would handle the waterfall as no two photos are the same. Not a bad job, it did.

Capably handled by Aurora.

It makes me wish I’d bracketed shots duringout 2017 Alaska Cruise. I mean, I did some with the phone but not with the D7000. Oh, well; perhaps next time.

Here’s a difficult shot to process . . .

Output from Aurora HDR

As with other instances, it’s not that the color rendition is that much better, but the detail and depth of said detail is better than what I could do.

I think this has to do with the blending of the layers (but I don’t know for sure) because straight sharpening gives diminishing returns as far as how the photo looks. Too much sharpening, and the photo starts looking odd. Too little, and it’s “soft”.

Aurora HDR, most often than not, finds a good balance.

These next few sets were difficult for me and — truthfully — Aurora also seems to struggle with them (or maybe I’m too picky about how they look).
OK, I admit . . . the quality of the photo is lacking and that’s the limiting factor to getting a decent photo regardless of the method.

Output from Aurora HDR

It’s not that it’s a bad result (mine or Aurora’s); it’s that the lighting of the scene is not to my liking . . . but i don’t know who I complain to regarding the weather.
Another difficult shot (no reference output for this one) . . .

Output from Aurora HDR

These are the landscape shots of the above scene (and wider zoom) . . .

Output from Aurora HDR

I know it’s sounding repetitive, but I want to stress that me editing the original photo was not trivial and involved tweaking the shot with various software packages.

Output from Aurora HDR (could use a bit more tweaking and contrast)

Here’s another dark valley (hey, that would make a good title for a book or movie!) with a bright glacier and even brighter sky.

Output from Aurora HDR

Here’sthe gallery of the next example (I don’t have apreviously-published version).

Output from Aurora HDR

I got curious and wanted to see what Aurora could do with just the middle shot . . .

Output from Aurora HDR from single image (the middle image)

The two are close enough to make me think a backet of EV +/- 1.0 is not enough spread; Perhaps a EV +/-2.0 is more useful. That makes sense in retrospect (as most things do) because the properly exposed RAW file has at least that much adjustment in it so the addition of the other two at the extremeties doesn’t add that much.

I then have to wonder (and I plan to read about) what the recommended bracketing is and how many exposures are needed to fully capture the dynamic range of a scene. The D7000 could only take three (3) bracketed shots. The D7500 can bracket nine (9) shots unless the exposure bracketing is EV 2.0 or EV 3.0, which then limits the bracketing to five (5) shots.

I’d have to read about it more but that implies it can shoot EV +/- 6.0. It also means it can shoot five shots from EV 0.0 to EV +12 or five shots from EV 0.0 to EV -12. Not that most people care, but if you’re on a tripod and take 10 shots, you can bracket from EV -12 to EV +12.

I’m not even sure where you could use that or why but, by golly, it’s now something I want to try.

Side note: both the Matrix and Center Weighed metering on the D7500 is very good (by my limited experience) so I imagine I probably don’t have to bracket more than about four stops but it’s nice to know I have the option. Also, 3 or 5 shots are about as much as I want to give an HDR program because the process is computation-intensive. As I said, I plan to play around with bracketing to learn the limits and benefits.

Here’s my next example:

Output from Aurora HDR

Again, a nice surprise with hardly any effort on my part.

By the way, readers can click on the Aurora HDR shots and a larger version will open up in a new tab or window. The reference photos are all small as that’s how they had been processed. The full size versions are in the Alaska 2012 Galleries.

My final photo from the 2012 cruise is of a ship docked next to our ship in Vancouver.

Output from Aurora HDR

While this concludes the HDR shots from the 2012 cruise, I have many HDR trios from the 2017 Alaska cruise. BUT . . . all shot with my then phone, the Samsung Note II. That phone could be set to bracket a scene and save all the raw files. They called them raw but they were saved as JPG files and my then programs wouldn’t handle JPG files. Aurora does.

I don’t have a reference photo of this shot because the foreground is out-of-focus. There’s another issue with these photos; see if you can spot the issue.

Output from Aurora using all three photos.

I must have moved the phone or something else happened and the three shots don’t line up. It’s evident from the output that there’s major ghosting taking place.

I tried processing only two photos and got this (no ghosts):

However, I was curious about what Aurora could do since there is an adjustment option for ghosts and one of the settings is “highest”.

All three shots merged with Ghost reduction set to Highest.

Now, if it could just do something about the out-of-focus foreground . . .

OK; just a few more. First, I don’t know what was going on when I processed this next photo:

My processing but I don’t know what I was thinking.

I mean, it’s not bad but not good, either. That’s a photo I used in my post about Haines, Alaska (HERE).

The above photo is from the middle photo of this trio:

I mean, the original is pretty good as is. I think I was processing a bunch of photos in batch mode and what looked good then, doesn’t look good now, especially given the Aurora HDR output from those three shots.

Output from Aurora HDR

Which brings me to a favorite photo from Haines; the wood waterfall . . .

Output from Aurora HDR

I wish I could get rid of that light flare and make it look like it had never been there. I think I could do it by spending a lot of time in Photoshop . . . instead, I’ll just live with it. But, take note, Aurora came very close to what I had and with (probably) better color fidelity.

OK, one last exampleand since I’ve not processed these photos yet, I don’t have an example of my processing . . . but you can bet I’ll be using Aurora HDR when I do get around to processing these shots.

Output from Aurora HDR

I don’t know where people fall as far as what I’ve shown. I can only give my opinion and my opinion is this: Aurora HDR will be integrated into my workflow when I process photos. Also, I might start shooting more bracketed shots.

. . . or, maybe not.

My last post is all about Aurora HDR processing single shots. I’ve shown a few examples already but the next post will strictly be me taking single photos and processing them through Aurora HDR.

You see, I think the program is useful even if one is not intent on creating HDR compositions. We’ll see if my readers agree.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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