HDR Tutorial - Lesson 2 - Merge your brackets
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Lesson 2: Merge the brackets

In this lesson you'll learn how to properly merge exposure brackets to get the best results.

Welcome back

The last lesson was all about defining HDR and helping you get your camera ready to go out and take some brackets. Now that you’ve done that, we are ready to get into some of the more fun stuff - merging them in Aurora HDR Pro and creating your base HDR photo (in a future lesson we will demonstrate many of the Presets and how to apply them). If you have not yet purchased Aurora HDR Pro (or downloaded your free trial copy), then get it now and follow along.

One of the beauties of Aurora is that you can use the software as a standalone package, without the need for Photoshop or Lightroom. But if you want to use it as a plug-in, you can do that, too. We will start with merging them in Aurora as standalone software and then also show you how to do it when using Aurora HDR 2017 as a plug-in to some popular host programs. They are all very similar and of course very easy to do.

How to merge brackets in Aurora HDR 2017 as standalone software

First, launch Aurora HDR 2017. You will get a window that says “Load Images” in the center. Click on that and select the files that you plan to merge into an HDR. Note that you can also just load a single image and edit it in Aurora HDR 2017. Many photographers do that with their single exposures because Aurora is such a powerful editor. Just because the name says HDR doesn’t mean you can’t process single exposures in it, too. You certainly can do that, and it works wonderfully.

Aurora HDR 2017 Launch window

Once you select the files, you will get a preview window displaying the photos you intend to merge.You are also given a few choices at this time that you can apply to the image. They are Alignment, Ghost Reduction, and Chromatic Aberration Reduction. 

Aurora HDR 2017 - HDR image will be made from these

Here is what those each do for you:

  • Alignment will align your images before merging them into a single HDR. This is particularly helpful if you shot these brackets handheld, and thus possibly have some slight movement between the photos.
  • Ghost Reduction will identify and help clean up any moving objects that might be in your brackets. This could be tree branches moving in the wind or anything like that.
  • Chromatic Aberration Reduction will minimize red glows or fringing that appear in high-contrast areas.

Choose the options you need and let the software build the base HDR photo for you, which begins as soon as you click “Create HDR”. Aurora HDR 2017 defaults to provide a result that is a natural and realistic starting point (see photo below). From there, you can maintain that realism or stylize the image to your tastes. It’s really up to you. We will cover using Presets and adding effects to the photos in a later lesson.

Aurora HDR screenshot - Main window

For now, take a moment and look at the opening screen of Aurora. Familiarize yourself with the placement of the various icons. Note the Tools Menu on the right-hand side. Each Tool has a name, and once you click on it, it will open up to reveal various sliders. Also, note the teal-colored Presets button at the bottom right. We will get into using Presets in a future lesson as well.

As mentioned above, Aurora HDR 2017 works great as a plug-in with popular host programs. So next we will cover how to get your photos from your host program to Aurora HDR 2017. The four host programs we will show are Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, and Photos. All of them work in a similar manner when transferring images to Aurora HDR 2017.

Of the 4, Lightroom is the most popular. It offers a great combination of image management and powerful tools for editing, but of course, you can choose whichever of these tools that you prefer. They all work fine and are fully compatible with Aurora HDR 2017. Just find what works best for your workflow and your preferences with image management.

Aurora HDR 2017 + Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom is a very popular host program, and its ability to help you organize and manage your workflow is excellent. Many professional photographers use Lightroom application to manage their image library and make minor edits (and many save the more artistic and expressive edits for Aurora HDR 2017, which is incredibly capable and versatile).

Lightroom also has a built-in merge to HDR utility. You just select your images by clicking on them, and then click on Photo > Photo Merge > HDR. Despite having that functionality in Lightroom, most photographers that are processing their images in HDR prefer to export their photos to Aurora HDR 2017 which gives them much better control over the result and more options for creative expression. But if you want to give it a try in Lightroom, here’s how to get started:But, we are all about teaching you to use Aurora HDR here, so let’s do that next. Aurora HDR is built from the ground-up with the idea of creating great-looking HDR photos, so it is designed to really excel at the HDR creation process. So, let’s get some photos out of Lightroom and into Aurora.

To merge your brackets using Aurora HDR as a plug-in to Lightroom, choose the image(s) in Lightroom that you want to merge to HDR by clicking on them, and then you have a few choices how to send them to Aurora:

File > Export with Preset > Open original images

File > Export with Preset > Use .TIFF with Lightroom adjusters

File > Plug-in Extras > Transfer to Aurora HDR 2017

The middle option above is most prevalent and useful, especially if you have made any minor changes to the photos in Lightroom (perhaps you straightened them all first, or removed a dust spot across all images and synched them). Selecting that option will ensure those changes travel with the images over to Aurora HDR 2017. After you choose your transfer method, the photos will travel over to Aurora HDR 2017, and it will merge them to a base HDR photo and display it. You are then ready for editing.

Lightroom 5 - Edit photos with Aurora HDR 2017

Lightroom 5 - Aurora HDR 2017 plugin

Aurora HDR 2017 + Photoshop

Photoshop will have a very similar process when using Aurora HDR. You’ll need to have a file opened already, then locate the Filter menu and choose:

Filter -> Macphun Software -> Aurora HDR 2017

As with Lightroom, this launches Aurora HDR as a plugin and opens the Load/HDR Merge screen. However, the only option available will be Remove Chromatic Aberration. This is because Photoshop is generally designed to only work on one image, and therefore you cannot merge multiple exposure brackets from Photoshop into Aurora HDR 2017. One work-around to this limitation is to use Photoshop's built-in HDR Merge feature and then take the flattened file into Aurora HDR:

File -> Automate -> Merge to HDR 2017

Photoshop CS6 - Edit photos with Aurora HDR 2017

Aurora HDR 2017 + Aperture

Working with Aurora HDR through Aperture is very similar to the way it behaves with Lightroom. Navigate to the files you wish to merge in Aurora HDR, select them, and export to Aurora by right-clicking the images in the film strip and selecting:

Edit with Plug-in -> Aurora HDR 2017

Or - alternatively through the menus by selecting:

Photos -> Edit with Plug-in -> Aurora HDR 2017

Aurora HDR 2017 + Photos for Mac

If you are running Mac OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) and newer, you can use Aurora HDR as an extension for Photos for Mac. To properly install and have Photos recognize Aurora, you have to open Aurora HDR first. This has the effect of "registering" Aurora HDR as an editing extension to Photos.

To use Aurora, launch Photos and open an image you want to edit. In the top-right corner click on the EDIT button and click on the Extensions pop-up menu. Select Aurora HDR as an extension for editing photos. If you don't see Aurora HDR in the menu, simply select "More..." and add Aurora to the menu using System Preferences.

System preferences - Extensions for Photos

Then you will have Aurora set up as a Photos extension, and you can click on it and your photos will travel over to Aurora HDR 2017 where you can enhance them to HDR.

Photos Extensions - Aurora HDR 2017

When you arrive in Aurora from Photos, you will see a screen like the one below. The only real difference is that you will see Photos - Aurora HDR 2017 at the top of the screen.

Aurora HDR 2017 used as Photos Extension

In the lessons to come, we'll learn advanced HDR editing, so for now do whatever your heart desires. Share your photos in Aurora HDR Facebook Group.

Missed the previous lesson?
Check out the link below:

Lesson 1: The basics of HDR Photography

If you have questions, don't hesitate to email us at support@aurorahdr.com

Use Aurora HDR for free for 14 days.

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