Is HDR Making a Comeback? Macphun and Trey Ratcliff Are Rejuvenating the Old Practice [Tech Tuesday]

November 10, 2015

By RF Staff

The HDR world has been relatively quiet for the past few years, and I’m surprised to find myself writing about HDR software twice in the span of a few months (see my write-up of Pinnacle Imaging Systems HDR software from September). Although I rarely use HDR software, Aurora HDR—a new app from Macphun and HDR expert/photographer Trey Ratcliff—caught my eye.

Screen1Macphun has produced some great software, including the black-and-white conversion app Tonality, so when they launch a new application, I pay attention. Equally as important is Trey Ratcliff’s work in HDR. Ratcliff has probably done more to promote and popularize HDR than any software manufacturer or photographer. He’s incredibly prolific, generous with his advice and has a huge fan base of more than 9 million people. His images have been viewed billions of times online (those are Macphun’s numbers, and I believe them)—I interviewed Ratcliff several years ago and his numbers were impressive then and even more astounding today.

I did a quick hands-on run-through with Aurora HDR, which is slated to launch on November 19. Photographers new to some of the typical HDR lingo like tone mapping may want to view a tutorial or two to get started, but the image-editing controls/adjustment sliders will be familiar to anyone who uses imaging software. The interface is clean and intuitive and I was able to get to work right away.

Screen5Available in Standard and Pro versions, Aurora HDR operates as a standalone app, but when you launch the program, you have the option of also installing plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements as well as Apple Aperture. It’s designed to work with other Macphun software as well, so you can work on a photo in Aurora HDR and then export it to, say, Tonality, if you’d like.

The software works with bracketed as well as single images and comes with several preset categories such as Basic, Architecture, Landscape, Indoor and Dramatic with Favorites, User presets and an option to access all of them at one time. Variations within each category are visible in a filmstrip. If you’re a fan of Ratcliff’s “glow” effects on his images, you’ll be happy to know that you can apply the same look. And, if you buy the Pro version, you’ll get some of Ratcliff’s own presets, too.

PRESETS TN screenshot

In addition to HDR and standard image-editing features, I was happy to see that Aurora HDR supports layers, too. You can also easily apply effects to either the top or bottom of an image, which is a useful addition.

Aurora HDR is available either as a standard version through the Mac App Store, launching worldwide at an introductory price of $39.99 (normally $49.99). A pro version will be available direct from or at a discounted price of $89.99 (normal SRP $99.99). Both versions of Aurora HDR will be available beginning November 19.

An unlimited trial version will also be available, although exporting and sharing are disabled, but you can take it for a spin to see how your images look with subtly extended dynamic range or highly stylized. It’s worth a few minutes of your time and hard drive space to check it out.