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What Do You Think Of AuroraHDR Pro?

Published: 01/01/2016
By: larry

AuroraHDRproJay, long time reader recently ask the following:

I was wondering if you could put out a question on your blog. I just downloaded Aurora HDR Pro yesterday (it was released in November and only works on Macs) and I'm curious if anyone has had any experience with it. Maybe you already posted something about it that I missed but I didn't find anything on your site when I did a search.

I usually don't write about HDR or Apps that are just Mac or just Windows so my first reaction was, "Why do you want to use HDR for interiors when LR/Enfuse, Photomatix Fusion and Lightroom HDR are so much easier to control?" But AuroraHDR was the Apple Store's App of the year for 2015 and many readers claim that their agent clients just love HDR images. So just for fun I decided to take a look at AuroraHDR Pro. I downloaded it, shot some ambient brackets of my living room and processed them with AuroraHDR Pro, LR/Enfuse, Lightroom HDR, and Photomatix Pro (Fusion option) to compare results. Also, Jay added that his intended use of AuroraHDR Pro was to give exterior shots some punch and drama because many of his clients wanted strong standout exterior shots because he shoots in the grey overcast Northwest.

Here are my thoughts on AuroraHDR and the results it gives:

  1. AuroraHDR Pro was co-designed and heavily promoted by Trey Ratcliff, maybe the most followed photographer on the planet (64K on twitter, 8M on G+, 52K on Flickr, 66K YouTube, 80K Instagram, 4.5 M on Pinterest, 259K likes on Facebook). This has a lot to do with AuroraHDR Pro's Apple App of the year for 2015. I follow Trey and enjoy his fanciful artistic work but I'm not convinced this style has a place in marketing real estate. Certainly not in interiors and probably not in exteriors but I'd have to see some examples to make up my mind.
  2. The strength of AuroraHDR is that it as bracket processing software goes it has many more features than other bracket processing software. Layers and more tone mapping controls than other HDR software so it is a self-contained HDR editor. You don't need Photoshop or Lightroom, you do everything in AuroraHDR. So if you are going to do tone mapping this is where you want to head.
  3. My experience with AuroraHDR is even with it's layers and extended control I find it difficult to impossible to control images so the look realistic enough for real estate marketing. I can't manage to bring the results down to earth. Mostly because the editing controls are not intuitive. This is the same issue I have with other HDR software like Photomatix HDR and others. I've only seen a handful of photographers that can get realistic looking HDR results. For the average user, it's time-consuming to control and eliminate all the wacky artifacts that tone mapping creates. Let's face it, tone mapping isn't intended to be realistic.
  4. To me, it is far easier and less time consuming to make a front exterior shot have punch by editing in Lightroom where there are intuitive controls to tune the image. My experience is that there's rarely a reason to shoot brackets for exteriors because you are almost never shooting a scene with as wide a dynamic range as you typically face with interiors. You can almost always shoot a single RAW image and get the result you want.

My conclusion: The question is how fanciful do you want your real estate marketing images to look? For the majority of people that want to shoot brackets and get realistic results, it's far easier and less time consuming to use to use Photomatix Fusion or LR/Enfuse or Lightroom HDR and then give the image the punch you want after bracket processing in Lightroom or Photoshop than to use any of the HDR processes. HDR clearly appeals to many agents but, if you are working to raise the quality of your images, I don't think HDR takes you in the right direction.

So what do you think? I'm sure there are some that disagree with me on this.

11 comments on “What Do You Think Of AuroraHDR Pro?”

  1. My only thought was that it seems by necessity if agents want "strong, standout exterior shots", they'll have to simply pay more and be more willing to allow more time for the images to be made. I just feel by definition things that stand out aren't the average and they aren't produced quickly.

    You can't push a button in an HDR program and produce a strong standout shot. Or, maybe you can, but if you could, everyone would do it and it would not be a standout anymore. Usain Bolt is a standout sprinter. It's easy to spot him in a race as he is ahead of the pack. He's just better than the sprinters around him so his performances stand out. You could never just quick fix another slower runner's performance in order to outpace him. Things work no different in the world of photography.

  2. Larry I appreciate your point of view but I am not in total agreement. First I certainly agree that programs like Photomatix that I use can easily run away with you and do create many artifacts especially around the glow from interior lights. So many times I just have to go back to layers if I want to capture the dark information and the high lights too. But for 85% of my work it works just fine IF you tone things back using sliders. However, unless I am dealing with a neutral interior and exterior architectural design, I find to gain additional visual impact, I need to add both depth and saturation to my real estate as well as travel photos. But it has to be controlled so it does not become surrealistic and thus totally misleading and artificial. And living in Southern California I have a huge range of exposure to capture outside with strong sun and deep, deep shadows. The softer lighting of Europe and your North West is more forgiving in that regard. And since I do not use flash under any circumstances, I rely on HDR to bring out my range of exposure values. Sure it takes more time, but I am not in the business of mass production but selective high end properties and charge accordingly. So HDR allows me to give my clients what they want and maintain my branding.

    I checked out the Aurora site and they are offering a $99 holiday special with a trial free version. I might just give it a spin on the property I shot yesterday. I am still getting up to speed with LightRoom but my tutorials keep getting stalled with new work coming in that needs processed with tried and true software so I cannot compare with LR. But LR may well be the fast processing platform I need to turn around shoots faster than my old tools and work flow. But Aurora may well have a niche too since I am not thrilled with Photomatix. But thank you for posting this as I am constantly enjoying both the learning curve with RE photography and finding the best tools to achieve the effects most quickly.

  3. I think the key issue here is supplying what the client wants: sounds like Jay's clients want punchy exterior shots, however created, rather than specifically requesting an HDR treatment or "look": if that can be reliably achieved with Aurora then great. I am afraid I haven't used Aurora but perhaps can offer some suggestions re Larry's point four as to how to give a really strong look to slightly cold images using Lightroom's controls alone: I would try the following. Start by setting white balance to a slightly warmer than usual setting to give a more inviting feel all over. This in turn will make what blue sky there is less blue, so access the HSL (Hue Saturation and Luminance) panel in Lightroom and push up the saturation of the blue channel (you can also manipulate the hue towards a richer blue and the luminance to make it a little darker as well). Back to global adjustments in the basic panel: consider increasing vibrance or, for a stronger, more radical effect, the saturation slider, plus some increase in both contrast and clarity (the latter will increase local contrast and texture, giving the impression that harder illumination was at work). Returning to the HSL panel, you could also pull up the saturation of the yellows and greens to improve the look of lawns and foliage depending on the season, and if the building is brick for example adjust the reds and oranges sliders for more selective colour "pushing". All these settings could be saved into a useful "dull exterior transform" preset which would really help with workflow. I shoot in the UK where there sun has more or less given up and I will certainly use some or all of these adjustments on exteriors and skies when required but while still aiming for believability. I am sure you could create more of an HDR look, as Larry suggests, by working with these controls on the odd image which requires it, rather than having to export images to an additional program. Happy New Year by the way.

  4. I recently tried AuroraHDR . They just released an update. I found that for interiors the results were too dark and oversaturated. Processing time was longer than LR. Had to spend more time making adjustments. I just purchased a late 2015 27" iMac with Fusion drive and 24GB of memory so I know it is not the computer. Aurora seemed to need more tweaking than LR or Photomatix to get the desired result. I recently began using "Topaz Clarity" at the end of my post processing under Architecture- Interior Strong and using it at 50% and that has helped add some snap to otherwise flat photos.
    One of Aurora's neat features is their "Top & Bottom Lighting". They do have an abundant array of adjustment sliders that you can spend an enormous of time just playing around. For RE photographers I think time is of the essence and faster is better.

  5. Larry, Thanks for posting my question. I appreciate and agree with Peter's response, but would encourage him to add speedlites to HDR when difficult lighting situations dictate. I've been to Scott Hargis's lighting workshop and highly recommend it, but I still find shooting a flash/HDR hybrid works well for me. Maybe I'll make the switch to totally flash someday, (I think it really is the best "look" when done right) but cameras and HDR will only continue to improve so I'll keep my options open. Since I'm also a realtor I know firsthand that they expect richly saturated colors (both interior and exterior) and beautiful, blue skies with white fluffy clouds regardless of the time of year. (Living in the NW make sky replacement mandatory)That's what my competitors deliver so that's what I will also. Clearly, HDR, can look fake and overdone, (see it all the time and just hope my lunch stays down) and even though Photomatix tone mapping has improved significantly I stick with Fusion and feel it produces a "look" my clients are really happy with. As to Aurora...I haven't had much opportunity to play with it yet. What I do know, so far, is that the images seem to produce a lot of noise and aren't natural" enough for my taste. When I have some time in the next week I'm going to contact their support staff and see what they say. Look forward to hearing if anyone else has had experience with it or any other random thoughts...all the best to everyone in 2016.

  6. I purchased the Aurora HDR Pro on November 11, 2015 and compared it against Photomatix, HDR Expose 3, and found that it had a problem inserting colors that weren't in any of the photos I had in my bracketed photos. Aurora is currently working on this issue, and they said it should be fixed in a couple of weeks. I like the capabilities that it has, but can't use it to process any HDR photos yet.

  7. I am following up with this topic since I tried the Aurora Demo and loved it! Except for a very slight juggling with the exposure slider, Aurora took my bracketed exposure and out putted exactly what I wanted on default. Not true of Photomatix where I had to fiddle with most of the main sliders to try to get close to the results I wanted but always had to refine them in PS. So I give it a thumbs up and know it will speed my work flow.

    I know I am out of the main stream of thinking about using flash for interiors. Having a 40 year career in commercial and advertising photography, I am well aware of just how to use flash since with film it was a requirement to achieve reproducable images for 4 color printing. But with real estate, I prefer to capture the light that is inherent within each room of a house since that light is part of the character of the house itself.

    Having said that, I have to say that almost all of the properties I shoot have had professionals choosing and installing the lighting so the lighting itself is an integral part of the house being marketed and sold. And with today's high quality cameras and superb software for digital darkroom work, I have all the tools I need to achieve this without having to resort to changing the character of the lighting with artificial photo lighting. This holds true for everything except for some twilight shots where I will add in some photo lighting, but it is tungsten not flash. That in itself is a topic for discussion. I.e. Just how much do we, the photographer, put our stamp on a property by photo manipulation of light? Our job, I think, is to accurately represent the property as it exists, not change it, which has a certain conflict from time to time with the objective of making the property look desirable for sales and marketing. A "wow" shot is often a highly manipulated one. I want buyers to say as most do "Wow! The property looks just like the photographs." If it doesen't, then there is a high risk of wasting a potential buyer's time as well as that of the realtor.

  8. Try SNS-HDR !
    I have tested numerous HDR software programs for interior (as well as exterior) shots and after tons of result-comparisons from bracketed shots to pseudo-HDR of singel raws, I personally chose SNS-HDR hands down over all else. In my experience, it produces some of the finest and most realistic results with solid controls over nearly every aspect of the image. Worth to give it a try.

  9. I've tried AuroraHDR Pro myself and have even gone so far as worked with the development team in trying to get better results for interiors bracketed shots. Typically just using many of the default settings, the results were very dark and noisy. No amount of tweaking with the sliders could fix it. Believe me, I tried.

    I'm no newbie at shooting bracketed photos as I've been doing it since 2008 when it first starting getting attention. I've been trying demos of just about every software released for this purpose and continually return to Photomatix for exteriors and LR/Enfuse for the interiors. The holy grail is producing realistic and not artistic photos as that is what Realtors want.

    If you review Trey's photo collection, many or most are exteriors not interiors, where the real challenge with lighting occurs. Also, Trey enjoys the more of an artistic and saturated color look (to each his own) and to have had heavy input in developing Aurora, it will lean towards the artistic look and not realistic approach.

    In my opinion, Aurora is not a good fit if you are looking to enhance detail and shadows without losing the realistic look for Real Estate photos. I plan on trying demo's of the software as they are made available after new releases, but for now, Photomatix and LR/Enfuse remain my tools of choice.

    If you want to check out my results, just clicking on my name. On another topic, but it was brought up in this thread, I've begun adding 1 flash shot (bounced off the ceiling or wall) to my bracketed set and like the extra pop it adds to the colors.

  10. I'm curious to see how the 2018 of Aurora works. It's a little baffling that no one has come up with a good preset for shooting interiors that is bright but holds windows.

  11. This original post is a few years out of date and many things have changed with AuroraPro as is true of so much that we use on our computers. Stephen I am also very interested in the 2018 version that I understand is making up for so much that was lacking, even adding in the lens corrections similar to Photoshop.

    I agree with Larry that if you have not worked with it, or with Photomatix for that matter, there is a definite learning curve. But much less of one that I find with LR which I have never been able to spend enough time with to gain any mastery over. But Larry has sort of developed a mind set that the only thing you can do with Aurora is achieve those candy colored extreme images. I use it, even the current version, and with practice, I can control the program and come out with images that are not extreme yet will retain the extremes of exposure both indoors and out of doors here in sunny California where bright highlights and deep shadows, especially on those most interesting lighting situations near sunset create.

    But I have yet to find any one bit of software that does everything I want and that is certainly true of Aurora Pro. It does two things that drive me crazy. 1. It will create a dark blue fringe around tree branches against a blue sky and 2. it will creates dark areas on a perfectly smoothly lit wall making it look uneven. That's when I blow the dust off Photomatix. Well not quite true since I do tent do use Photomatix for indoors and Aurora for exteriors. But on my shoot on Monday, I was able to use Aurora both for indoor and outdoor shots. But I much prefer the ability to use the sliders on Aurora and find it much more intuitive and useful that Photomatix. On the other hand, it will not remember the last used setting, something I like on both Photomatix and Bridge (yes Bertha, I still use Bridge and love it). You have to clutter your Presets with endless presets.

    But I have found a method of shooting that I have found reduces the amount of time fiddling with the HDR software, both Photomatix and Aurora and is the same camera setting I use for video, so I don't have to keep swapping my settings on my Canon 80D between the two. It speeds up my post by about 50% and then leaves just a few final tweeks in Photoshop.

    All that being said, my clients like a more highly saturated image than true color that catches the attention of people scrolling through endless property sites. Takes a delicate touch to keep them from becoming outrageous yet retain their impact. I find there is a huge temptation in Aurora to get them too saturated, but with practice, and locking in the amount of saturation in a pre-set to get you started, it can be done. If you get too carried away, it is easy to dial it back in Photoshop as I correct my verticals and horizontals and dodge and burn areas of the image. But if you don't want to spend the time to gain some mastery, you will probably leave the program quickly and go with what you already know and like. Nothing wrong with that. Using HDR and these two bits of software is a very individual comfort level based on past experience and current preferences not to mention your clients and your market and the photo challenges you have.

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