Photography allows you to capture images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation. You can do that electronically – with an image sensor – or chemically. Either way, both ways are perfect to freeze special moments into eternity.
The industry of photography has evolved enormously across the ages from the first photo that was taken in 1826 with a big machine that required from 8 hours to several days of exposure in order for the image to be imprinted.
Today we have light and compact cameras that can capture any moment in high definition quality and fit inside a side pocket. There are a few different levels of quality available depending on their usage.
One of the most popular way of taking photography is called HDR (High Dynamic Range) which involves capturing a larger range of light – from the darkest black to the brigthest white – and combining two ore more images of the same composition each with a different exposure setting to capture both the light and dark parts of the images in almost the same way our eyes do so.
The idea for using several exposures to produce one image was pioneered in the 1850’s by Gustave LeGray who was trying to render both the sky and the sea in his seascapes.
Similar to the same process that Gustave LeGray used, a HDR image represents a higher dynamic range than you would get with a single exposure that means you get more details out of both highlights and shadow areas of your image.
Most modern cameras and smartphones come with a software solution that allows HDR but the issue is that you hardly ever have any control over what the final output image looks like.
The best solution for this is using a camera with DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera). This type of camera allow you to shoot in RAW and use a feature known as Auto Exposure Bracketing that offers you the possibility to use software to combine both the highlights and the shadows to produce a perfect looking image.
In this article, we will explore the best options of HDR software solutions on the market that you can use on Windows 10.
Aurora HDR 19 (Recommended)
Aurora HDR is a HDR software that was co-developed with Trey Ratcliff (the world’s most famous HDR photographer) and MacPhun (now called Skylum), a company that produces a lot of utility image editing software.
One of the best features Aurora HDR has to offer is it’s HDR Tone Mapping tool and is presented as a slider that increases or decreases the HDR effect.
Aurora HDR has a number of other options available like adding custom textures, bracketing the HDR mode and offers you the posibility to selectively include or exclude areas that will have the effects of these adjustments.
The feature of selective adjustment using creative adjustment layers is what makes Aurora HDR one of the best HDR software on the market in 2019.
Aurora HDR can also open RAW files – you can easily import the RAW files directly into the software or export them through Lightroom with or without the changes being applied. This software allows you to change information in separate sidecar files without affecting the initial photo.
Another very important aspect of Aurora HDR is it’s interface which is a lot more responsive and intuitive than the interface of other similar software and it’s patent-pending Quantum HDR Engine which automatically analyzes millions of pixels and intelligently build stunning photos.
Some of the most important features of Aurora HDR include:
- It supports Imagenomic Portraiture, Nik Collection and other popular plugins for Photoshop
- Photolemur 3.0 plugin support
- Flawlesss HDR – allows you to instantly get professional results without halos, ghosting,
- Advanced image processing engine
- Intuitive user interface
- HDR enhancer
- Fast Brackets merging
- Native RAW support
- Pro presets packs
- History panel
- Before and after comparison
- Lens correction tool
- Dodge & burn filter
- Detail, clarity and structure controls
- Feather & density for layer masks
- High quality presets for all HDR stykles
- Batch processing capabilites
- Social sharing (Facebook, 500px, Twitter, etc.)
- Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom plug-in’s
- Multiple license (5 computers)
- Open GL 3.3 or later compatible Graphics Cards
Download Aurora HDR 19 from the official website
Photomatix HDR Pro 6
Photomatix Pro is another great HDR processing tool developed by UK based software company HDRSoft and is one of the oldest dedicated HDR software on the market.
Even though Photomatix Pro is not as good as Aurora HDR when it comes to the editing power, it is suitable for casual photographers, allowing you to easily make HDR images.
The user interface of Photomatix Pro is designed specifically for casual users but is has some exciting features like details enhancer and tone balancer -that allow you to produce a natural looking HDR effects for photos- brush tool and others.
One of Photomatix Pro 6 best features is the fact that you do not need a fixed platform (tripod) to shoot your photos from.
Some other features you might find interesting :
- User assisted ghost removal – for fixing moving options caught while shooting
- Straighten tool – allows you to straighten things like the horizon line or buildings which may appear curved due to imperfections in the lens
- Tone mapping algorithms
- Detail enhancer – makes the image pop
- Contrast optimizer – provides a natural looking end result
- Tone compressor – produces deep and vibrant colors
- Exposure fusion
- Brush tool – allows you to adjust specific areas of a photo
For over ten years, EasyHDR has been a choice among the best HDR software applications.
This software is easy to install and offers a straightforward interface that enables you to easily create multiple photos, blend them together for a photo sequence and can also be used for tone mapping.
It has the capabilities to import several image formats: JPEG, 8/16-bit TIFF, PNG, FITS or RAW photos. It also allows you to import OpenEXR , Radiance RGBE and 96-bit floating point TIFF HDR images that were created with other HDR software.
Even though the best results can be obtained by using RAW images, EasyHDR can load just a single photo for LDR enhancements as well.
From the perspective of speed and performance, EasyHDR takes a bit longer to load compared to the other software options presented in this article. But there are still areas that EasyHDR excels at like better integration and more than a standard set of editing options.
Key features include:
- Tone mapping options
- Allows you to controll alignment
- Fast and responsive editing tools
- Affordable price
- Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in other photo editing tools, check out our wide collection of guides.
One of the best options for the needs of any photographer, HDR Projects 4 processes photo files from every possible photo source and allows you to easily transform the results into a masterpiece using both individual images, a bracketing series, simple JPEG’s or high-res RAW files, without the need to use a tripod.
As a leader in HDR technology, Franzis has guaranteed very good applications of this fascinating technique, offering one of the newest highlights of HDR photography – Ultra HDR – that offers you brilliant colours and an amazing detail of your photos.
HDR Projects 4 is very easy to understand and use and as soon as you upload your original image, it presents you with 82 versions of your photos giving you inspiration to try and experiment new ideas.
Every image uploaded to the program is analysed individually and with the wide array of possible effects, creating original looking photos come easy.
HDR Projects 4 comes in two versions – HDR projects standard, and HDR projects PRO.
The standard version of this software offers a good range of features:
- Ultra HDR technology
- Advanced RAW features
- Interactive ghosting removal
- 19 max nr of imagines in an exposure series
- Restore image series
- 9 HDR algorithms
- 64 post-processing effects
HDR Projects 4 PRO offers all the features of the standard version with a few key additions and pluses :
- 33 max number of images in an exposure series
- Add-on system
- 360 degrees panorama mode
- 13 HDR algorithms
- 81 post-processing effects
Free HDR software
If you are on a tight budget and you don’t mind software that doesn’t provide the same pro quality, you might want to consider this free HDR software alternative, such as the one listed below.
Picturenaut was born in the German photo community and it has been in the works for 4 years -getting consistent improvements according to user feedback. It is a more basic HDR software for Windows 10 that still allows you to edit images, and offers a wide enough variety of tools.
It includes basic automatic alignment and deghosting options and all of the tone mapping and editing settings are defined before you actually create your HDR composite, but also has a multi-threaded and consistent architecture making it a fast tone mapper.
Key features include:
- Allows creation of HDRI’s from multiple exposures – automatic image alignment, exposure correction, RAW support, noise level compensation
- Highslide JS – reads EXIF metadata and ICC profiles from source image, aperture, shutter speed and EV offset
- Fast tonemapping with multicore-CPU support – Adaptive Logarithmic, Photoreceptor Physiology, etc.
- Ability to integrate plugins written for HDRShop
- A wide array of plugins like – Gaussian Motion Blur, Diffuse SH (spherical harmonics)
- Median Cut (light show extraction), Absolute HDR Calibration, FakeHDRI (streches out
- LDR pixel values),etc.
- User defined Gamma Encoding
- High quality 32-bit resizing
- LDR formats: TIFF, JPEG, TGA, RAW
- HDR formats: TIFF float, OpenEXR, PFM, Radiance RGBE
- Unicode support
- SSE/SSE2 support
The plugins offered by Picturenaut come in a wide spectrum of ‘flavours’ :
- Format plugins – HDR and LDR
- Create plugins – creates new 32-bit floating point image buffers
- Filter Plugins – creates new image buffers, metadata, layers
- Tonemapping plugins – realtime preview, interactive histogram, post-gamma correction
The manual for Picturenaut 3.2 is written by Professor Kirt Witte who teaches courses on Visual Effects and HDR Imaging at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and can be found here .
In this article, we presented you a wide array of HDR software options for your image post-processing on Windows 10.
The most professional option is clearly Aurora HDR from Skylum offering an amazing set of features for professional-level HDR image creation/post-processing. Its user interface looks incredible while offering incredible power. It does require at least 8GB RAM to run properly so this is a good option for those of you with powerful personal computers.
Depending on your specific needs, you can also choose HDR software solutions with a lower impact on your system resources that have a lower number of features compared to Aurora HDR but still offer a powerful image creation and post-processing program.
Tell us what you think about the options presented in this article and let us know if we missed anything in the comment section below.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and has been since updated for freshness, and accuracy.