The Aurora HDR 1.2 update announced today brings a number of new features to the Windows version and speed improvements on both Mac and PC. The new version offers RAW support for a number of new cameras and is reportedly much quicker when working with both bracketed shots and single images.
In fact if you shoot RAW files rather than JPEGs and you’re careful about the exposure, you can often capture a single image with a wide enough tonal range for a successful HDR image. So here’s an example of how this works using a single RAW file from a Sony A7R III, one of the new cameras supported by this update. It’s also a chance to take another look at some of the editing tools and filters in Aurora HDR 2018 1.2 (all screenshots and instructions are from the Mac version).
This shot was taken on an overcast day with some structure in the sky, but the lighting was pretty flat and it’s going to take a little work to turn this into something more dramatic. There is a full range of tones in the RAW file, though, even in the sky, so there should be enough to work with.
01 Merging a single image
Working with single images is no different to working with bracketed exposures – you simply drag the file you want to work with on to the Aurora HDR window. The Tone Mapping box should be checked by default, but make sure you click on the ‘gear’ icon. You won’t see any deghosting options, obviously, since this is a single image, but it’s still worth checking the Color Denoise and Chromatic Aberration Removal boxes. Now click the Create HDR button and wait – Aurora HDR 2018 1.2 does seem a little faster, but this still takes a little time.
02 Choose a preset
Once the image is opened in the main editing window, you might want to skim through the presets to find a good starting point for your HDR ‘look’. It’s not essential – you can create your HDR effect manually from scratch – but it can give you a few ideas. This is the Gloomy Day preset in the Dramatic category.
03 HDR Basic tab
This is where you carry out basic HDR adjustments, as the name suggests. The sliders will already be pre-configured by any preset you’ve chosen but you can, of course, override them manually. Here, reducing the Smart Tone value has darkened the whole image down.
04 Transform tools
Right at the top of the panel is a Transform button which reveals some useful perspective control tools. These are useful in cases like this where there are strong converging verticals, and these can be corrected by dragging the Vertical slider to the left. This will leave blank ‘wedges’ around the picture where the image has been corrected, so you’ll need to use the Crop tool on the top toolbar to crop these out.
05 Lens correction tools
This is the second handy icon at the top of the tools panel. There’s still a good deal of colour fringing in this shot that the Chromatic Aberration Removal option has left behind, and the Remove CA slider in this panel doesn’t seem to help much – but adjusting the Defringe slider gets rid of it straight away.
06 HDR Denoise filter
Zooming in to fix the colour fringing revealed that this image has some other issues, notably strong noise in the areas of the sky that have been darkened and intensified. This is one of the issues with working on single images especially. It looks like the A7R III also has problems with faint horizontal ‘striping’ in RAW files, in areas of high localised contrast. This has shown up in other editors, not just Aurora HDR, so it seems to be a characteristic of this sensor. In any even, the HDR Denoise filter does a good job of suppressing this striping effect and the regular noise, without sacrificing too much fine detail.
07 Top & Bottom Tuning
This filter effectively adds a graduated filter effect, where you can control the Exposure, Contrast, Vibrance and Warmth of the top and bottom of the picture separately. And if you click the Set Orientation button, you see an interactive gadget which you can drag up and down the image to position the gradient effect.
08 Tone Curve filter
All these adjustments have left the image looking rather dark and oppressive, so the Tone Curve filter is a useful final stage for checking and adjusting the brightness and contrast of the picture. Pushing the centre of the curve upwards adds a useful overall lightening effect. From here, you can save your HDR image if you want to keep it for working on again later and export it as a regular JPEG or TIFF for sharing with others.