Aurora HDR Review: Everything You Need to Know

In a hurry? Here’s the quick summary

The software was launched back in 2015 and if you are familiar with Skylum Luminar you are probably also aware of Aurora HDR because this piece of software was added as an extra to the Skylum Luminar software.

The tools are intuitive and that makes it possible to understand what they do without having to go through a long drawn process of understanding.

Uses Quantum HDR Engine with AI Aurora HDR uses what Luminar states AI in their Quantum HDR Engine to combine and produce HDR images.

Speaking of Photoshop and Lightroom, if you are habituated to using a certain list of tools in Photoshop or Lightroom, know that you can continue to use them in Aurora HDR as well considering that you are using Aurora HDR as a plugin.

I love the Gradient tool in Lightroom, and Aurora HDR has a Gradient tool of its own. And then you have to consider the fact that Aurora HDR has been designed in collaboration with some of the best exponents of this genre.

For someone looking for a powerful HDR photo tool and who doesn’t want to go through the long learning curve of Photoshop and Lightroom, this is a tool that’s worth taking a look at.

Rating: 4.50

Intro

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos are some of the most difficult to get right. Sometimes they are too obvious over-top-top and that means downright overcooked.

Sometimes, though photographers are sceptical, and they prefer to keep things undercooked.

Aurora HDR is a piece of software that comes in and fits right between those two types of post-processing techniques.

Amazingly it tends to get it right most of the time. But of course, you can if you want to dial down the effects.

But we will come to that later on.


Aurora HDR Features

These are the best features of Aurora HDR.

1. Shorter learning curve

The best thing about Aurora HDR is the short learning curve of the software.

Unlike what we normally have to go through in Photoshop or even in Lightroom, Aurora HDR is a much simpler tool, to begin with.

The tools are intuitive and that makes it possible to understand what they do without having to go through a long drawn process of understanding.

Shorter learning curve
(A look from the Serge Ramelli Collection)

2. Uses Quantum HDR Engine with AI

Aurora HDR uses what Luminar states AI in their Quantum HDR Engine to combine and produce HDR images.

The results are pretty impressive.

If they feel over the top you can always tweak the results to your preference.

Uses Quantum HDR Engine with AI
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

3. Works in multiple ways

Works as a standalone tool or as a plugin for Photoshop or any other major software (Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, and Apple Photos).

I have used Aurora HDR as stand-alone software but I feel the best-case scenario is if you use it as a plugin.

4. Reduced Noise

One of the best things about Aurora HDR is that it manages to suppress noise in the final image very well.

This is miles ahead of anything that I have used before including Nik’s HDR Pro and Photomatix Pro.

Additionally, as the images are processed through an AI-assisted Quantum Engine which analyses thousands of images and then processes the image in question, the dynamic range is visibly higher than what I have been able to manually extract using other software.

Reduced Noise

5. Interface

One of the most striking things about using Aurora HDR is the interface.

The original version was designed in collaboration with Trey Ratcliff one of the pioneers of HDR photography; and it kind of shows up in the way the interface has been designed.

It is software for photographers designed by photographers.

Interface
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

6. Similarities with Lightroom and Photoshop

Much of the interface of the software has similarities with the sleek design interface of Lightroom.

Take a look at the right panel of the software and it will immediately remind you of Lightroom (including the histogram that appears at the very top).

But the similarities with Lightroom ends there.

There is a lot in Aurora HDR that is missing in Lightroom (I can say the same about Lightroom too).

Thanks to the presence of Layers and Masks you get some vibe of working on Photoshop.

Just like in Lightroom and Photoshop, any changes that you do in Aurora HDR are non-destructive.

The software uses a proprietary file format that allows you to save all the changes you have made into it ready for further tweaking.

Speaking of Photoshop and Lightroom, if you are habituated to using a certain list of tools in Photoshop or Lightroom, know that you can continue to use them in Aurora HDR as well considering that you are using Aurora HDR as a plugin.

Many users would prefer to use Aurora HDR as standalone software or as a part of a Luminar package (with Luminar AI or Luminar 4). That works too.

I love the Gradient tool in Lightroom, and Aurora HDR has a Gradient tool of its own.

Although there are some differences like you cannot align the tool horizontally as you can in Lightroom, it tends to add some much-needed flexibility to tweak your images further.

This tool is particularly useful when editing sunset and sunrise photos.

Similarities with Lightroom and Photoshop

Pros of Aurora HDR

  • Great value for money.
  • Works both as standalone software and as a plugin with other software
  • Final images produced to reflect a lot less noise than what HDR images produced by other software tend to show up.
  • Tonal blending is much better compared to other software.
  • Built-in Noise reduction tool HDR Denoise is a very powerful utility.
  • A bunch of AI tools like Smart Tone, HDR Clarity, and HDR Smart Structure are really powerful
  • Over 80 unique Collections of looks including a collection of Trey Ratcliff and another by Serge Ramelli
Pros of Aurora HDR
Photo by Csaba Balazs on Unsplash

Cons of Aurora HDR

  • Very easy to overcook the effects and make an image appear unreal
  • Banding appears when using certain collections, especially when using captures from low dynamic range cameras.
  • May appear a bit sluggish at times.
Cons of Aurora HDR
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Is Aurora HDR Worth It?

Make no mistake Aurora HDR is not for people who shoot portraits inside a studio or product photography or sports or anything that does not usually require an HDR treatment.

This software is only for photographers who loves playing with dynamic range in their compositions.

This software is for photographers who normally spend a lifetime editing their photos in Photoshop (or any other software) and want to get out of the whole editing chore.

They want a one-click solution for their editing needs. Aurora HDR gives them that freedom.

The greatest utility of Adobe HDR is that it has a very small learning curve.

I mentioned during my Luminar AI review that photographers like myself who are not very confident when using photo editing software love to have a simple solution for their problems.

We know the things that are important for making great images – making good exposures and good compositions.

But sometimes our inability (and unwillingness) to handle Photoshop leaves us huffing and puffing (and fuming).

Thanks to tools like Luminar AI and Aurora HDR editing, and enhancement part comes within our grasp.

Not to mention the incredible advantage of having all our photos edited, retouched, and enhanced in just a few mouse clicks.

It saves an incredible amount of time and energy and frustration and leaves us truly gratified.

Is Aurora HDR worth it? Well, I say absolutely yes.

Aurora HDR Worth It?

What is the Difference Between Luminar and Aurora HDR?

Luminar AI (the latest iteration) and Aurora HDR are both products of Skylum and therefore there might be some suggestions that they are similar. Actually, they are not.

They are designed for two different purposes.

Aurora HDR as you have read here is designed to be your go-to tool for everything related to HDR. Luminar AI, on the other hand, is designed to be your photo editing and enhancement tool.

Not that you cannot push the dynamic range of your photos in Luminar AI, some tools allow you to do that, but the results are not too convincing and frankly speaking once you have used Aurora HDR you wouldn’t use anything else for HDR.

Luminar AI review
Photo by Eftakher Alam on Unsplash

How Much Does Aurora HDR Cost?

Aurora HDR is a standalone offer from Skylum, but you can also buy it as a bundle along with Luminar 4.

The standalone version of the software is priced at $99 for a lifetime license. With the bundle, i.e., with Luminar 4 you get Aurora HDR for $149.

Oh, and you get a 30-day no questions asked money-back guarantee.

If you don’t like what you see you can ask for a full refund.

Luminar AI review
Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

Final Remarks

If you are looking for a stand-alone software or even a plugin for Photoshop/Lightroom/Apple Photos that can deliver beautiful, rich, and high contrast HDR photos I don’t think you need to look beyond Aurora HDR.

It is a complete tool that does everything that any other HDR tool in the market does and outperforms.

For many, the sleek interface of Aurora HDR is better than what Photomatix Pro or Nik HDR Pro has to offer.

And then you have to consider the fact that Aurora HDR has been designed in collaboration with some of the best exponents of this genre.

Plus, add to it the fact that this tool is available for a lifetime license which you can buy just once and use for perpetuity.

Leave a Comment

close

Copy and paste this code to display the image on your site