I seem to be on an HDR quest so this week I took the time to try out Aurora HDR 2018 (for website link, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog). This is another release by Skylum (previously Macphun) for Windows, the same group who brought us Luminar 2018 (also at above link). Well it is definitely an excellent HDR editor! Skylum sure has a special way of creating software! And I am really loving this plug-in! It is lacking many details in the interface for us Windows users right now but I am once again under the impression this program will eventually get caught up to match the Mac version. It does not seem to affect the overall results of your images.
The image above is a 5-bracketed image, hand-held, from Spanish Cay in the Outer Banks of the Bahamas – one of the most beautiful, yet desolate places I have ever seen. I could not get over how the water looks exactly as I remember it – major clear with this yellowy sand base and it was major sunny. In this case the image was mainly processed in the stand-alone program, and with a little finishing up in Photoshop (like my signature and stroke border). To use this program, just started at the top of the right-hand column of filters and went down the list. Many of the lower listed filters are the same as those in Luminar. The top filters have more to do with the actual HDR effects. First is the HDR Basic section which is very similar to Lightroom’s (ACR) Basic Panel, except for a couple sliders. The HDR Enhancer slider made almost every image opened pop a little. Aurora says this slider increases detail and texture without adding it to water or sky. There is also a slider called Smart Tones – it does not work on all images, but on some it does a great job of lightening the shadow areas and leaving the highlights alone. It can be seen above how the shadows under the pier are opened up just a bit. The HDR Structure section contains the other important sliders which could give you that overdone HDR look. It works in concert with the HDR Enhance slider. There are lots of other filters, like the Image Radiance, Polarizing filter to help with over-blue skies, Glow, and Top & Bottom Tuning which is really a Graduated Neutral Density Filter. It also has Dodge and Burn capability and Vignettes can be created where a slider lets you lighten the middle.
One of the reasons I really like this software is its ability to process just one RAW image and give fantastic results. Below is a video done show how I created a simple RAW image in Aurora HDR 2018 – the final image below shows what was done once it was taken into Photoshop and a Red Channel Luminosity Curves Adjustment Layer, a Black and White Adjustment Layer set to Luminosity blend mode at 47% layer opacity – both improved contrast in the image – and a layer that ran Luminar 2018 using the Orton Effect and another Image Radiance filter. Loved the final result.
The image below was also a single RAW image taken at the Argyll Lodging in Sterling, Scotland. The detail this program pulled out of just one image was incredible. This is an image I felt could not be used but this program brought it back to life. The program has the capability of being used as a plugin in Photoshop which is how this image was created. The program also has the layer capability so different parts of the image can worked on with different sections. A good way to use this is to do all changes to the whole image on the bottom layer, then use the masking ability to do other changes on layers above. The kitchen image used these sections for the whole image: HDR Basic, Color, Image Radiance, Glow, Top & Bottom Tuning, HSL, and Vignette. The layer above used the Dodge & Burn section where the outdoor window panes were darkened some. As you can tell, the program does have different items to add to your image than the traditional HDR program. I found it very easy to use. I go back and forth on using the Denoise section since several other plugins do this as well if not better. If there is just a little, Aurora’s is fine and it can be used on a separate layer and be painted in where needed. In this image, once Aurora HDR was applied, back in PS just Imagenomics Noiseware was used as it was pretty noisy and a Red Channel Luminosity Curve to finish up.This sunset image from New Guana Cay in the Bahamas literally took me 10 minutes to process. It was just two HDR images put together (I have no idea why I took just two images), but it did not seem to matter much. It was opened in Aurora HDR and the High Contrast preset was selected. Then just a couple changes were done – the HDR Enhancement, Smart Tone, Shadows, and Highlights in the HDR Section and the Blue Luminance slider in the HSL Section. In Photoshop just a Red Channel Luminosity Curve was created to add a good contrast to the image and it was done.
As you can see, this is a pretty good HDR program and not bad as just an image editor. This program was designed with the help of Trey Ratcliff, who may be the best HDR photographer around. I think you can see his influence in the way the program is set up – very easy to understand. I would totally recommend you try out this software if you like to do HDR photography and even if you do not, it is worth a look with your camera RAW files. This program was a real surprise to me and I am totally impressed with it. Until next week……Digital Lady Syd
I am a big HDR fan. There is always a big discussion about which is the best application – the NAPP Photoshop Guys RC Concepcion loves Nik HDR EFex Pro, Matt Kloskowski swears by Photomatix Pro, and Scott Kelby love Photoshop’s HDR. As you can see everyone is all over the place on this issue. Several people have felt that Nik has a very steep learning curve and it is hard to get good results easily. Even with the first version of HDR Efex Pro, I have not had many problems getting good results. Therefore, I was pretty excited to hear a new version had come out. All the images in this blog have been processed using this new version.
The above image was taken at the Halifax River (Intracoastal Waterway) at Fortunato Park in Ormond Beach, Florida. The skies had been building all morning and we did have a big drenching in the afternoon. I had been wanting to try some HDR imaging with my wide angle AF-S Nikkor 10-24 mm 1:3.5-4.5 G Ed lens – for some reason I have not tried this. I love the results I got above using 5 images between -2 and +2 bracketed. For all the steps and settings used to create all the images, see information listed under “Steps and Settings for Each Image.”
What I Like!!!!
1. Sliders corresponding to the new Adobe Camera Raw sliders have been added in the Tonality section which makes it very user friendly. Temperature and Tint sliders have also been added.
2. The new Graduated Neutral Density section is proving to be very handy to even out the tone in landscape images. I have used it several times now – it can have a very nice subtle effect.
3. HDR Method section gives you more flexibility than you had in version 1.0. You can now adjust individually the Depth, Detail and Drama of an image.
4. The Detail in the images is really good – seems better than other programs I have used.
What I Don’t Like!!!!
1. (UPDATED) The Smart Object issue that included the problem of ending up with an 8-bit image and no changes appearing after applying the plug-in is no longer an issue! Nik has released a new update – Version 2.002. (If you had bought an earlier version, be sure you have this new one applied now.) This will create a 32-bit image with the Standard CS6 version (they suggest using Photoshop CS6 64-bit compatible version due to the high memory usage) and I am no longer having Smart Object issues. Thank you Nik! I feel much better about recommending this plug-in now.
2. They have deleted several of the presets I liked – Clean City 1 and Clean City 2, for example. I cannot seem to figure out if there are equivalent ones in the new version, but so far I am struggling with this. When I compared Granny’s Attic preset from version 1 with version 2, I had trouble seeing how the settings have anything to do with each other. I wish they would put a list of equivalent presets together for those of us who were familiar with the old version.
3. Personally I miss all the method drop down choices we had in version 1.0. Again not sure how to recapture some of those settings to apply to the upgraded version.
4. If you opened HDR Efex Pro 2 up from inside Lightroom, then when saving your tone-mapped image there is no choice where to save it – it goes back to the one with the original HDR images. Small nag here.
5. I am slightly concerned about all noise I am encountering when using the program, especially in the sky area. Using the Noise Reduction Luminance slider in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw should help reduce noise issue.
Here is great link to Nik’s Support Page that discusses various questions about HDR Efex Pro 2 – scroll down for the page for more information on this plug-in.
This image was taken under the Granada Bridge in Ormond Beach, Florida. This time the HDR settings were created using just the Default setting and going through all the sections. A preset was created at the end to retain the information. See Picture 2 for detailed steps and settings. This took a good amount of adjusting to get the look I really wanted but it did come around. I might mention that it is a good idea to go through the On Demand Video Lessons Nik has presented on how to use the program – they give you a good overall feel for the program.
This is all that is remaining of the beautiful old Hotel Ormond that was torn down after a fire in 1992. Once again in this image Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 was accessed from Lightroom. Since you can’t save the settings down as a Smart Object, there is no reason not to do this from Lightroom where you can continue processing the TIFF image with Lightroom sliders before going into Photoshop. See Picture 3 below for further processing information.
This shot of the pennant on top of the cupola in image above gave me real problems. Five images were taken into Nik HDR Efex Pro from Lightroom and some really horrible white filled in edges around the pennant wrought iron pieces appeared. It looked awful and totally unsuitable to process. Therefore I decided to take the image into PhotoMatix Pro 4.1.1 (the major competitor) to see if those marks were also visible in that program – oddly enough, no problem! Also, in Nik HDR Pro Efex 1.0, there was no problem. This really disturbed me since I really like Nik products and this should not be happening. I took the image back into HDR Efex Pro and this time choose a different image to use for deghosting. This seemed to be the magic bullet – once this was done the image turned out much better. You can still see there is some white around the point in the HDR Efex Pro image. See the comparison of the tonemapped TIFF files below with Nik HDR Pro 2 on the right and PhotoMatix Pro 4 on the left.
This may look pretty bad, but it actually was fairly easy to clean up. Since the detail and color is so much better in Nik’s HDR, I decided to stick with it even though the other program did create a little better tonemapped image in this case. Also, there is more noise in the Nik image and I am not sure why that happened. Imagenomics Noiseware was used to clean this up some. The PhotoMatix image also had quite a bit of noise in it. For more info on processing, see Picture 4 below.
Since it is a Nik product you know it is good. Not sure I see that much difference with the first version, but I imagine as I work with it more, I will find more things I like about it. Nik has great webinars on their site and they will be doing several on this new software, so I should be able to get more information on how to use it effectively and will pass it on. I use Nik a lot for my HDR processing, but sometimes I will use one of the other HDR software programs to get the look I want. At this point that is all I can say. It is reasonably priced with its major competitors, it was and still is a fine program! I can’t say enough good things about how quickly Nik responded to the major issues this plug-in had – that in itself makes using their plug-ins great!……Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
HDR Using Photoshop Merge to HDR and Nik”s HDR EFex Pro and Silver Efex Pro? Wow!
This and That – Just Having Some Fun!
Nik HDR Efex Pro Example
Keeping Focus Where You Want It Using Focal Point 2 and Color Fill Adjustment Layer
Steps and Settings for Each Image
Picture 1: I accessed the program from inside Photoshop for this image. The settings for Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 are listed here: Settings for Nik HDR Efex Pro 2: Started by applying Granny’s Attic preset. Tone Compression: Tone Compression slider 65%, Method Strength 35%: HDR Method: Depth 3rd dot, Detail 2nd dot, and Drama 4th dot; Tonality: Exposure 6%, Shadow 100%, Highlights 73%, Contrast 65%, Blacks 95%, White 0, and Structure 28%; Color: Saturation -54, Temperature 0, and Tint 0; Selective Adjustments: 3 control points spread across lower water with same settings, Exposure 34%, Contrast -1, Saturation 0, Structure -100, Black 0, and Whites 57; Vignette: Lens 2, Place center in lower middle, Amount -2, Circle – under little c, and Size 67%; Graduated Neutral Density: Upper Tonality -0.51 stops, Lower Tonality 0.44 stops, Blend 61%, Vertical Shift -30,and Rotation 0, and Levels and Curves: Film (EV+0). Created preset SJ ICW Ormond Beach. As you can see, there are a lot of things that need to be adjusted. In this case I wanted to take the plug-in through its paces so everything was tried out. To get this image to look like it does there were several other steps that had to be taken: Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 was used to add stacking the Cross Processing filter set to Method 802 at Strength 29% and overall opacity slider set to 80%, and Polarization with Rotate set to 106 degrees, Strength of 200%, Highlights 50% and overall opacity slider set to 68%. A layer mask was created to paint out some of the sky that got over-processed. A Curves Adjustment layer was created to add some additional contrast to the image. Imagenomics Noiseware was added set to the Landscape preset, and Nik Viveza 2 was used to add some sharpening to the far shoreline and smoothing out of the foreground water. A new layer was created to sharpen the shoreline more using the Sharpen Tool. Finally a layer style from Wow-Frame 09 was used to finish up the image. This was not a really quick image to process but the final results look like the extra time was taken to get a beautiful result and the Nik HDR Efex Pro2 worked like a charm.
Picture 2: First the five images were opened in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 from Adobe Lightroom and these settings were used. Tone Compression: Tone Compression 68%, and Method Strength 63%; HDR Method: Depth 3rd dot, Detail 2nd dot, and Drama 3rd dot; Tonality: Exposure -11, Shadows 41%, Highlights -100%, Contrast -19%, Blacks 100%, Whites 53%, and Structure 51%; Color Saturation 11%, Temperature 0%, and Tint 0%; Selective Adjustments – no control points placed; and Finishing: None used. After saying OK, the tone-compressed image is brought back into Lightroom as a 16-bit TIFF file. This is really great since you can now adjust your images more with Lightroom’s sliders – in this case Contrast (-20), Highlights (+29), Shadows (-20), Blacks (+43), Clarity (_45) and Vibrance (+35). This is also when the colors were adjusted individually to bring in the correct color: Luminance: Red (-9), Orange (+46), Green (+20), Aqua (+100), and Blue (+19) and Saturation: (Red (+11), Orange +35), Yellow (+33), and Blue (-13). The Lens Correction section was used to select the lens and check Remove Chromatic Aberration. Finally the image was taken into Photoshop CS6. The image just looked bland to me so this time Topaz’s new photoFXlab was used to bring out the contrast – layer duplicated in plug-in and with the InstaTone tab and 500 px selected, Memory Drift by Richard Baxter was applied to the image inverted in the Masks tab and just clouds painted in. Then another duplicated layer was created this time InstaTone 500pxx Swinging by Miles Story was applied – the clouds were painted out in the Masks tab. Now the layers were stamped (+From Stack) and in Adjustments tab these settings were applied: Exposure .27, Contrast 1, Dynamics 17, Sharp 0, Highlights -50, Shadows 16, Whites 0, and Blacks -8. Stamp again and paint in detail in distant shoreline and houses with Detail Brush Strength set to 0.29, stamp again and smooth clouds using Brush Strength of -.59 on clouds, stamp again and desaturate using Brush Strength of -0.51 on clouds and set layer opacity to 88%, and stamp again and pain in a little saturation into the sky and burn the center and horizontal lines of bridge. Noiseware was applied and it was done.
Picture 3: In Lightroom image was opened up in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 using these settings: Started with the Structured 1 preset; Tone Compression: Tone Compression 64%, and Method Strength 81%; HDR Method: Depth 4th dot, Detail 4th dot, and Drama 5th dot; Tonality: Exposure 41, Shadow -31, Highlights 20, Contrast 27, Blacks 100, Whites 97 , and Structure 80; Color: Saturation 34, Temperature -6, and Tint 2; Selective Adjustments: Two Control Points in clouds set the same, Method to -59, White 59, and Structure -100; Finishing: Vignette – Black Frame 2, Amount -41, Circle under a, and Size 72; Graduated Neutral Density – Upper Tonality 0.02 Stops, Lower Tonality 0.54 Stops, Blend 91, Vertical Shift -100, and Rotation 0; and Levels and Curves – N/A. After processing in HDR Efex Pro 2, these Lightroom sliders were used: HSL: Luminance – Red -13, Orange -59, Yellow -96, Green -33, Aqua -24, and Blue -11; and Saturation – Red -2, Orange 43, Yellow 19, Green 6, and Blue -26. The Profile was set and Remove Chromatic Aberration was checked in Lens Correction section. Nik Viveza 2 was used to sharpen the flag and body of the cupola. Imagenomics Noiseware using Full (weaker noise) preset. My layer style for the frame was used and colors sampled from the image (see DLS Free Layer Style Frames blog).
Picture 4: The pennant image was taken into HDR Efex Pro 2 from Lightroom. These settings were applied: Started by applying Bright 1 preset. Tone Compression: Tone Compression slider 56%, and Method Strength 27%: HDR Method: Depth 3rd dot, Detail 2nd dot, and Drama 2nd dot; Tonality: Exposure 11%, Shadow -17%, Highlights 49%, Contrast 44%, Blacks 71%, White 53, and Structure 16%; Color: Saturation 0, Temperature -2, and Tint 0; Selective Adjustments: 5 control points with 3 spread across sky and all set to Saturation +37, 1 placed on the cupola set to Saturation -27, and one placed on the pennant with settings of Exposure 6%, Contrast 0, Saturation 59, Structure 49, Black 0, and Whites -42; Vignette: set to Off; Graduated Neutral Density: Upper Tonality 0.33 stops, Lower Tonality -0.23 stops, Blend 40%, Vertical Shift -20,and Rotation -24; and Levels and Curves:Neutral with points set at 15 over and 15 up, 9 over and 14 up, and 13 over and 0 up. In Lightroom the image was cropped, the Lens Profile set, Removed Chromatic Aberration was checked, Exposure set to +0.39 and Contrast to +63. In Photoshop the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in was opened using these filters stacked: BW Conversion using BW Conversion set to Filter Color 53 degrees, Strength 73%, Brightness -16%, Contrast 49%, Shadows 31%, Highlights 32%, and overall Opacity 58% – two control points placed on pennant and red cupola area so color really showed through; Pro Contrast: Correct Color Cast 15%, Correct Contrast 47%, and Dynamic Contrast 96%; Vignette: Color black, Shape 2, Adapt Edges 52%, Transition 77%, Size 20%, and Opacity 26% with center placed on pennant; and Image Borders: Type 1 at Size -54%. A Curves Adjustment layer was applied to increase contrast in image. Imagenomics Noiseware was set to Stronger luma noise preset. Unsharp Mask applied to just the lettering and pennant with Amount 64, Radius 11.7 and Threshold 3.
This topic has always interested me. There has been so much written on this so I am not going to go over all of it. I have found that for me a little trial-and-error works as good as anything when it comes to this type of processing. Luckily in Lightroom there are presets that will give you a quick look to see how an image will stack up as a monochrome type image, and there are many black and white presets for Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) that can be downloaded. The St. Augustine, Florida lamp lights RAW file had a really bright blue background and very black wrought iron with little detail. By converting to more of a sepia tone, the detail came out very clear. The really interesting thing is that to get the detail to pop out of the ironwork, an Invert Adjustment Layer set to Soft Light Blend Mode at 92% opacity was used.
When an image just seems overwhelmed by color and I am having trouble controlling the feel, applying a black and white conversion or introducing a slight color effect can calm down the whole image. That is what happened in the above image that was taken near the summit of the large volcano, Mauna Kea on the Big Island in Hawaii, of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (apparently to be dismantled in 2016) where the Keck Telescope is also located. The little observatory was lost from view in both the strong browns of the surrounding dirt and foreground gravel and the soft blues of the Mauna Loa volcano in the background and the sky. It was processed totally in Lightroom using the Basics section sliders and a preset I had created from reading David duChemin’s book Vision & Voice – Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I call it the duChemin Massai Chocolate split-tone & vignette preset. Only those two sections of Lightroom 3 were used to create the preset so it still works with Lightroom 4. In Split Toning the Highlights Hue was set to 34 and Saturation t0 30, Shadows Hue was 0 and Saturation 6, and the Balance slider was set to -25. In the Lens Correction section’s Manual tab, the Lens Vignetting Amount slider was set to -63 and the Midpoint to 18. I have used this preset several times as it has a very nice subtle tonal appeal. That was basically all that was done to make this a much more interesting image.
Another one of my favorite images from Hawaii but once again, the detail would have been lost if it had been processed as taken. The original RAW file had very little detail in the rising hillside and water and the color was totally dull – almost a flat-looking black and white. By converting it to a nice cool water tone, the image takes on new life. The image has several filters stacked in Nik Color Efex Pro 4: BW Conversation using Dynamic Contrast method, Photo Stylizer which give it the beautiful blue glow using Method 1 at 28% Strength, Low Key, Lighten/Darken Center, and Detail Extractor using 7 control points to selectively bring out the details in the image. Nik Viveza 2, Imagenomics Noiseware filter, and OnOne PhotoFrame were also used to complete the image.
Here is another example of a very busy and overly bright image that really loses its appeal in color. Since it is the oldest drugstore (built in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1739) in the United States, it already has a that vintage feel to it. Therefore a sepia tone really adds to the effect the image should be portraying. This image was an HDR image taken in bright sunlight during the hottest part of the day. It was processed into a black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, the the background original was layered on top and a black layer mask was added to bring back a hint of color in the windows. Topaz Lens Effects was used to add a slight vignette effect, and finally OnOne PhotoFrame acid burn controlled 05 was added. For both Topaz and OnOne website links, see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog.
It appears that if you have a really nice image but the colors just do not create the correct effect, or if the image gets lost in all the powerful colors or brightness of the day, give the black and white or sepia tones a shot. You do not have to have one of the mentioned filters – Photoshop has a wonderful Black and White Adjustment layer that also adds any monochrome color. Great way to get a quick impression of whether this effect will work on your image. Definitely do not write off an image just because of color issues – it may turn out to be a great shot!…..Digital Lady Syd