How to Make Realistic HDR Images in Aurora 2017

If you have followed me for any length of time you will know that much of my work is or has been done by merging images to create an HDR image. Whether you like them or not you have to admit that HDR has somehow grabbed a study foothold in the world of photography. However, like most people I went a little crazy in my younger years but have toned it down a bit (pardon the photography pun) in recent years.

Say want you want about HDR photography, it is here to stay and strangely some of crazier images keep getting picked up and shared by news outlets and different sites. I made it into viral list with a shot of a local McDonald’s. That list has been shared and reshared and transformed ever since it was first published in 2012. Similarly, another horrible shot was shared by USA Today.

At any rate, what I am talking about today is talking about how to turn a basic image into a relatively realistic-looking HDR. I am using the term “relatively” as some may say that anything that is as rich and as vibrant as an HDR photo is not real. In reality they are right but I am not about to debate that here.

Key Concepts

The first thing that I want to point out is that we are enhancing the image and are trying not to push it too far. The reason many HDR images look like crap is that many are pushed well beyond their “breaking point” and the images starts to break down. By this I mean, there will be halos around the edges of buildings, noise, and really odd contrast. We are going to try not to do that here.

Merge Images

The best HDR images start with good images. That means they should have been shot on a tripod and typically separated by a stop or 2. For this example, I used my Canon 5D mk iii and used 5 images separated a stop apart. So that would be -2,-1,0,+1,+2 and I find this gives the best results when merged together. The reason is that the jumps between exposures are not as severe, so you are more information in the merge. When merging keep in mind that if you turn on the ghost reduction or chromatic aberration, it will take longer to process.

Making Adjustments

The key here is to adjust within the images limits. You can boost the saturation but again keep in mind that we are going for natural look so try boosting the vibrancy first. From there, make your usual adjustments but keep an eye on the halos as global adjustments like exposure, contrast and highlights/shadows. One of the interesting tools that Aurora 2017 has to offer is the polarizing filter. You can easily add deeper blues to your skies without cooling the entire image. This is really helpful as many HDR images do have a blue color cast if they are shot in the evening.

Final Touches

The one last thing that you should go over is the dust and noise. While you can’t do this in Aurora (though I wish that they would) you can export to Lightroom, photoshop or Macphun’s own snapheal. As I said earlier, processing through any HDR platform will bring out any sensor dust or blemishes that you have on your lens. Thus, you need to remove them asap. The best thing to do is keep a clean camera. The second thing is to jump over into one of the previously mentioned programs and remove the spots. Aurora 2017 allows you to export quite easily and that is one of the great features about this program.

If you like the video, please consider subscribing to my Youtube channel Also if you’d like to purchase a copy of Aurora 2017 click the affiliate link box below.

[button link=”″ type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] MacPhun Aurora 2017[/button]



  1. steve robinson Reply

    Thanks for another decent article Jason. I have Aurora and I do find it’s the best HDR software around and definitely fun to play around with. However during the last 6 months I’ve moved away from HDR software altogether and now do it all myself with luminosity blending and masking, using 2 or 3 images. Learning how to create custom masks in the channels ,in Photoshop has been a revelation, as well as being able to create things like mid tones masks (not as difficult as you might think) . Been a steep learning curve, but my images are getting much cleaner now. Nearly all my workflow is now in Photoshop. I prepare the images in Capture 1, which I prefer to Lightroom. All I do in Capture 1 is correct the distortion, chromatic aberration, adjust highlights and shadows and occasionally the temperature. The rest of my workflow is done in Photoshop. Any filters I use are from Nikon Colour effects 4. Pro Contrast is brilliant and I also use Tonal Contrast, , Contrast Colour Range and occasionally the Sunshine and Skylight filters.

    • Jason Teale Reply

      I have been really loving your images and I must say that they are getting more and more impressive. I really should take another stab at luminosity masks. I have a copy of Raya Pro from Jimmy McIntyre that I really should put through its paces.

      • steven robinson Reply

        Thanks Jason. Nice of you to say so. I do have Raya Pro but I don’t now use it for luminosity masks. I find it useful for other things such as enhancements and finishing touches. I found two easy ways of making my own masks in the Photoshop channels. One’s called the clamping method and the other is the inverse method. Doing it this way tends to use less memory so Photoshop doesn’t slow up so much. Also you have complete control of how many highlights or shadows you want in the mask.

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