Fstoppers Reviews Skylum's Aurora HDR 2019

Fstoppers Reviews Skylum's Aurora HDR 2019

Winning awards such as Apple’s Best Mac App and Digital Photo Editors’ Choice, Skylum software is set to unveil the next iteration of their AI-powered photo editing software in October. High dynamic range (HDR) image editing can often get the best of both newcomers and veterans alike, but Skylum aims to change that with their latest release.

Enter Aurora HDR 2019, an AI-powered all-in-one HDR image processing solution that Skylum is set to release on October 4. I’ve been a longtime supporter of Skylum, who takes a different approach to photo-editing software with both Luminar and Aurora HDR. The 2019 release of Aurora does not disappoint. 

With brand ambassadors such as Jerry Ghionis, Joel Grimes, and HDR hall-of-famer Trey Ratcliff supporting and utilizing Aurora in their workflow, Skylum has gained a reputation for producing easy-to-use, powerful software since 2008. Take a few minutes to see Ratcliff work on images from Burning Man with Aurora 2019 here.

An easy adaptation of my workflow makes quick work of loading both bracketed sets or single images into Aurora for tone-mapping. Personally, I’ve installed the plugins packaged with Aurora to allow opening from both Lightroom and Photoshop, but Aurora also allows for plugin installation with Photoshop Elements and Apple Aperture as well. For users of tools such as Exposure X4, Aurora can easily be used as a standalone tool as well. Once you save your tone-mapped image back to the corresponding folder, X4 should detect the new image for you to continue editing. Skylum has also brought Windows users into the fold with their tools, and the Windows version worked just as seamlessly as the Mac version throughout my testing. 

Aurora 2019 HDR has a multitude of different Looks, with categories from Trey Ratcliff, Serge Ramelli, and Randy Van Duinen. Needless to say, there are quite a variety of Looks for editing your images. For the image below, I utilized the Bright Sun Look, making the image pop with just a single click. That's impressive! 

A new addition to Aurora 2019 is LUT (lookup table) Mapping, which gives the user further color grading options. The image above included the use of Faded Afternoon from the LUT Mapping tab. Skylum has designed Aurora to allow users to import their own LUT’s or navigate out to Skylum’s Marketplace for additional LUT packages. I’m also impressed with the improvements made to one of the biggest telltale signs of HDR images, haloing, which is typically found around contrasting areas. I’ve reprocessed images that I initially used Aurora 2016 or 2018, and found immediate improvements to the trouble areas in the images. If for no other reason, this improvement justifies the argument for me on whether to upgrade or not.

What I Liked

  • Great results, Fast
  • Powerful LUTs
  • Adjustment layers for global or targeted adjustments
  • Opacity sliders on the HDR presets

What I Didn't Like

  • HSL Sliders don’t have a color picker
  • Can't reorder the filters 

Final Thoughts

Overall, this is another home run from Skylum, giving their customers as much flexibility and power as they could hope for when working on HDR images. Personally, I hope people don’t go too extreme when playing with the different Looks and filters that Aurora offers, but hey, to each their own! Regardless, Aurora has definitely earned a place in my bag of photo editors. If you haven’t purchased Aurora, you can preorder for $89, but for individuals looking to upgrade, your preorder cost will be $49.

Trey Amick's picture

Trey Amick is a full-time photographer based in Northern VA. Trey found photography as an outlet to the work-life he wanted out of, and after several years made the jump. Trey focuses on landscapes for personal projects but can be found working on commercial projects and weddings as well. Trey also enjoys bladesmithing.

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I tried Luminar a year or so ago and it froze up and lagged on my computer a lot, so I went back to Lightroom. Maybe I'll give it another go.

I tried both, Luminar and Aurora and both were laggy as hell. Aurora produced horrible pictures out of the box, looked extremely artificial. Switched to Photoshop and couldn't be happier I did.

If this entire article doesn't smack of a paid product endorsement, i don't know what does. (7 links back to Skylum's site alone, not to mention all the wording used to praise the product) I'm sure it's a nice program, but is this really an honest review? :/

I don't think this qualifies as a review... I'm not convinced you even have the software lol... " I’ve reprocessed images that I initially used Aurora 2016 or 2018, and found immediate improvements" that line screams ghost writer... what I hear is "make sure that you show value to customers who already have our software". This is really too bad cause I got excited when I saw this article. I emailed Aurora looking for a video about their batch editing workflow. They did not have one and told me I can always return the software... SOLD! lol

I've purchased the Aurora HDR 2018 and the images that were generated from the files I've uploaded were just horrible! So much noise and the image quality has noticeably dropped as well. I did try the presets, experimenting with the sliders, but nothing went well. I ended up returning to Lightroom and Photoshop.

Also, I like Trey Ratcliff, but if you watch most of his videos on how to use the app, he can't even explain clearly what's the purpose of some of those sliders. He'll just go and say "drag it all the way to the right and/or left to see what happens". While that is a good tip, your ambassador not being able to explain what a particular slider actually does is not a good sign for me.

If you rely on batch processing, look elsewhere, at least for now. I Just downloaded and tried 2019 in hopes that the batch processing may have improved from 2018, but it almost seems worse... of course, this would be a non-issue if we could bypass the auto-grouping and specify batches by multiples instead (like in Oloneo and Photomatix), or at least have the option to adjust/modify the auto "grouping"...

I'm shooting with a D750 and a D600, both in aperture priority, auto bracketing 3 frames at 2 stops apart.
For example, I tried to test batch a job with 282 images; in Oloneo and Photomatix, this yielded the expected 94 hdr images (282/3=94). However, in Aurora 2019, it yielded 50. Not only did some images not get "grouped", some groups contained 2, 3, 6, 8 and 9 images!

Obviously, this is unacceptable, so I'm not really seeing the point of the batch feature in its current state. I tried manually dragging the images to their correct groups, which it allowed me to do, but it didn't change anything, as but the results remained the same.

While the automatic grouping feature is an neat idea, it really doesn't offer any advantages over the tried and true multiples method, but instead has critical disadvantages.

I don't understand the names Skylum, which takes a different approach to photo-editing software with both Luminar and Aurora HDR.
Why are there two HDR's?
What is the main product?
Does the main product have all the DAM features that Lightroom has?

Unfortunately this application while wonderful doesn't full support smart filters when integrated with Photoshop on the Windows platform. If you use smart filters and rely on being able to go back and make edits, this is currently not possible on the Windows platform, only MAC. Why would a software company do this?

Only reason I can think of is that more photographers use Mac's? I own 5 at the moment and no PC's.

AuroraHDR 2019 just had its first [minor] upgrade since it came out over 2 years ago, I think only Mac version. I have no clue what the upgrade gave. Anyone know?

Also what happened to Trey's relationship with Aurora? It sadly seems to have dissipated.