More than anything else it was the need to run Standlone HDR applications, hat forced me not to let one piece of software (AKA lightroom) control what I was doing and how I was doing it. I have been interested in extending the dynamic range that Digital Cameras capture for a long time and had used many early HDR tools that used jpeg files (and got reasonable results). A lot of these tools let users go over the top, with luminous lurid colour and crunchy tones in the sky, as examples. HDR became synonymous with unconstrained over processing and even despised by many self-appointed photo purists. In some case I would agree but I wasn’t scared away and with the widespread development of RAW editing tools many of the tone mapping techniques where incorporated in the tonal adjustments of the RAW photos (which has in general more information on which to establish the best tonal range). The role of HDR and tonemapping has become more subdued and now offers the possibility to easy lift a digital photo to something like you rembered the light when you took the photo. Rather than the hazy, greyish image you loaded from the card. The extreme HDR effects are dying out, well except for Instagram where “funky” colours might still get you extra followers and real estate where evening photos will all the lights on and a wet path and strong colours still helps sell properties
One of the best known champions of tone mapping is Trey Ratcliff, of Stuck in Customs blog and a couple of years ago he got together with the Mac Phub team (now skylum) and bought together the essential and the best tools to build HDR images and bought out the program Aurora HDR. I was a bit late adopting it but I now have the latest edition Aurora HDR 2019 and I love it. You guessed it its another Standalone Program. Well it can also be setup as an addin. In my view it iss easier to use standalone, similar to the NIK software utilities I have the program icon on my desktop and then just drop the images in my HDR EV Bracketed set onto that icon. You then get the Merge setup dialogue screen, where it is possible to control the amount of antighosting, chromatic aberration and aligning the photos with the set.
The latest version of aurora incorporated AI feature in its new Quantaum HDR engine, that pre-processes a number of refinements steps including object recognition. This takes a little while and again not so long you need to go and make a coffee. You will them arrive at the fairly convenrtial main edit screen with some key viewing controls along the top, with a set of edit tool on the left hand side (which can be easily hidden and/or expanded) and a set of “looks” tiled as thumbnails along the bottom. Looks in aurora are like presets in other software that nicely combine several of the tools. In this case I am quite happy to just accept the default adjustments and tone mapping. I am only left to export the HDR file.
If I am intending to do any further edits of make a large print I save the HDR in Tiff format full size, if I’m posting of flickr or social media it will be a Jpeg of reduced size (eg 2400 on the longest side).
Aurora is currently my go-to HDR favourite.