That is the day photography software company Maphun releases Aurora HDR in its Pro and Apple App Store versions. That is the day that everything changes in HDR and it becomes faster, easier and, dare I say it, sexier.
I have dived in and out of shooting and processing HDR images over the years using demo versions of some of the most popular HDR tone mapping applications. Wikipedia has a list of in its ‘High-dynamic-range imaging’ article – click on the Tone mapping link near the top of the page.
Those current HDR tone mapping applications and bult-in functions have been pretty good and so has the HDR books and training that have been released over the years. But there have been some downsides. The standalone applications have needed to be used in combination with fully-fledge image editors. Or built-in HDR tone-mapping has really just scratched the surface of what HDR photography makes possible.
The same could be said about the HDR rendering functionality functionality built-in to an increasing number of digital cameras nowadays. When my partner proposed that HDR processing be included in the new cameras a past employer was designing, the intention was that it be a quick, unfussy way of handling common high dynamic range situations beyond the ability of just one single shot to handle. HDR multiple-frame bracketing would be needed for anything beyond that.
I have been pleased with the in-camera HDR abilities of two cameras made by another Japanese brand, Panasonic – the GH4 and the GX8. And even more so with both cameras’ HDR bracketing choices, from 3 brackets in 1/3 stop increments up and down through to 7 brackets in 1-stop increments up and down the exposure scale.
Since receiving a preview of Macphun’s Aurora HDR Pro standalone-plus-plug-in application, I have shot quite a few HDR images now, tripod-mounted and handheld. And it is handholding that has got me really excited, with the combination of both cameras’ super fast electronic shutters and Aurora.
I have been shooting handheld with three and five brackets in all sorts of scenes and lighting conditions, to better understand the new options Aurora HDR brings to the HDR image processing table and to develop my own way of using this new hardware and software combo.Macphun’s amazing Aurora HDR Pro is the very best HDR tonemapping & editing application yet. Click To Tweet
I was spurred on in this new direction by some otherwise great photographs shot in the city under some very challenging lighting, hard sun behind to deep shade in front in the same picture. The foreground people weren’t moving about too much, so a three or five shot bracket on the GX8 would not have been out of the question.
When walking up to the scene, I visualized a Renoiresque rendering of it, like a segment from Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s marvellous painting ‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’. I often see informal little gatherings in the streets and malls of this city, usually under shade trees, but single-shot raw photographs of them can be a processing challenge with even the best raw software if one is after richly-colored expressive detail throughout. Usually, something has to be sacrificed at the high end or the low of of the tonal scale.
Now, no more, I have been discovering. I processed a 3-bracket shot of a man using his computer in the deep shade of a lush-leaved European tree in a local park. The high UV sunlight was bright and hard, the grass a rich light green, and there were several red and blue cars parked in the street near the tree. I wanted detail everywhere and with Aurora HDR Pro’s help, I got it.
Soon, I will be setting off back to my old stamping ground in the Sydney CBD to get to grips with how to shoot HDR photographs of my favorite subjects there, regular people going about their everyday business.
My current way of shooting and processing raw files from my GH4 and other cameras yields great results, but sometimes I have been after something more than just a record of what I saw. I also want to record how I feel and that means going beyond a straight shot of a scene even with detail in every tone. My initial exploration of Aurora HDR Pro indicates that will now be more than possible.
A Cinematic HDR Advantage
HDR functionality has been finding its way into consumer video cameras lately after being the subject of some speculation several years ago. Panasonic included HDR in its 4K prosumer camcorders early this year, the HC-WX970 and the HC-WX870. HDR does not seem to be on the horizon for most professional movie cameras yet.
But there are another uses for HDR in moviemaking – stills to be panned across and zoomed into via the Ken Burns effect, background plate shots for green screen and time-lapse sequences where the subject tonal range is extreme.
I first imagined using HDR stills for the Ken Burns effect when editing a long sequence of stills into a movie with Final Cut Pro X. I had shot in locations with extremes of light and shade, unable to add my own lighting, and the edit was too often hampered by unfixable burnt-out white or blackest blacks.
Now I can shoot HDR, process in Aurora HDR Pro then do much more sophisticated moves in FCPX. I am no longer hampered by areas in the shots that are to white or too black. Every part of the image can have plenty of detail and great exposure.
The Aurora HDR and Aurora HDR Pro Pro Advantage
Aurora HDR is a collaborative effort between renowned HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff and the brilliant programmers at Macphun to produce the complete HDR editing environment. Aurora's toolset is extensive and no further work on your HDR images in Lightroom or Photoshop is necessary.
Mr Ratcliff has produced two movies introducing and deep diving into Aurora and there may be more over the coming days. I have not seen this combination of tools nor Aurora's degree of control over HDR image processing in any other HDR software. The ability to work in layers and brushes alone is priceless. Other features like Top & Bottom Lighting and Color Toning are welcome indeed. Feast your eyes on this full list of Aurora HDR features.
The Macphun Advantage
Macphun’s Aurora FAQ page describes the collaboration between Trey Ratcliff and themselves as a “meeting of the minds”. Mr Ratcliff’s reputation has been well-known amongst HDR photographers and aficionados for some time.
Macphun has steadily been building a sterling reputation as a maker of Mac image editing software par excellence, originally making their mark as developers of the Nik Software products subsequently bought by Google and rebadged as the Google Nik Collection.
Recently Macphun updated its photo editing software collection, comprising Intensify, Tonality, Snapheal, Fx Photo Studio, Focus and Noiseless, to work as extensions to Apple’s free Photo editing and database software as well as plug-ins for Adobe Elements, Lightroom, Photoshop and Apple’s soon-to-be eliminated Aperture. Each Macphun product in that list is available separately or as part of Creative Kit 2016. Each one is, in my estimation, now best in class.
Better again is that each Creative Kit 2016 application works in unison and in alliance with Aurora HDR. Once satisfied with your HDR processing in Aurora, save the image on your drive, share it via online services or open it directly in Creative Kit 2016 software or any of the host applications above.
I am enjoying that level of close integration with other software. Photos is becoming increasingly powerful now that El Capitan allows other image editing software to work as Photos extensions. I have just put it to the test by opening an HDR image in Photos then editing it in several other Macphun products as extensions.
On the other hand, all that is somewhat redundant. Macphun’s engineers have done a magnificent job of building so many image editing functions into Aurora HDR and Aurora HDR Pro of the type that is also to be found in Creative Kit 2016.
Aurora HDR Pro has opened up photographic and moviemaking possibilities that I shelved for too long as previous software could not deliver what I needed. Combine that with today’s amazing, fast-operating, electronic shutter, auto-bracketing cameras and you have a winner.
(cover photo credit: snap from Karin Gottschalk)