HDR - the Software

Full Moon over Dallas & Deerfield Holiday Lights

Guy Huntley Photography
November 1, 2017

Also check :
HDR - the Nuts and Bolts

Go to Techniques

Now that we've discussed how to capture those extremely high dynamic range images. Compared to what I saw several years ago . . . HDR is hot! Some of the old standbys like HDR Expose 3 have slipped. But there are many new entries to look at.

Also changed is now there is developing competion for the Adobe Photography Plan including Lightroom and Photoshop. Competitors such as On1, Macphun now Skylum, DXO, Topaz Labs and Corel Aftershop Pro among others are rapidly entering the space. While many do not presently include HDR processing most are planning on future development.

The HDR process has two steps: the compiling of the 16 bit files with various exposures feed into the 32 bit HDR engine followed by tone mapping of the 32 bit files. Neither 32 bit HDR engines nor the HDR tone mappers are equal. All the images below were created from 16 bit tiff files created by DXO PhotoLab. That eliminates challenges some vendors \have translating RAW files into 16 bit files.


If yhour only program is lightroon then this is an option. The Merge to HDR option drops the finished file into a 16 bit DNG file. Aside from Lightroom's basic develop model, there's little opportunity for tone mapping. It doesn't do well with Very High Dynamic Range images we are considering. It's OK for ordinary, everyday HDR images.



Photoshop will Merge to HDR using either Bridge or Lightroom. It will create a true 32 bit file which can be saved in a variety of HDR formats. The Industrial Light and Magic EXR format is the one I'm most familiar with. Photoshop tone mapping capabilities are limited. It is difficult to impossible to create natural images. But you can open the 32 bit files in NIK's HDR Efex Pro or other tone editors for further mapping with pleasing results.

Nik HDR EfexPro:

The storied Google NIK Photo suite has found a new home with DXO. The NIK collection is still free and will be free for another six months or so. The NIK U-Point technology is beyond compare. Nik HDR Efex Pro can be exported from Adobe Brodge and Lightroom as well as tone mapping 32 bit files created in Photoshop. The NIK Suite runs as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Bridge. It isn't a stand alone product. But it is FREE!

Free at DXO

Corel Paintshop Pro 2018 Ultimate:

I've been using Corel products for decades ever since they acquired the WordPerfect Suite. I also own Painter & Paintshop Pro recently updated.

Paintshop Pro Ultimate is a COMPLETE photo editing package which is a bit like having a combination of Photoshop, Lightroom and other stylisation plugin apps all in the one software suite. For those not interested in the Adobe monthly license this is a worth while alternative. Beginners can pick up the software and start editing photos straight away because all the tools are clearly labelled and there are tonnes of Video Tutorials online! Paintshop PRO Ultimate also has enough depth and pro features that you could be using this for years. The HDR capabilities shown below are colorful and natural. If you are considering only one application then Paintshop Pro is one to consider.

$69.99 @ Paintshop Pro


EasyHDR has been around for more than a decade. It has been through many revisions as the HDR technology has developed. The current version is pretty slick and easy to use. Some are using EasyHDR the main software for creating HDR photos because of the quality image it produces. The software is easy install. The user interface is straight forward and easy to operate. Handling of some raw files can be an issue. Some RAW files need to be exported as 16 bit Tiffs to avoid raw conversion issues. Lightroom does this automatically when the plugin is used to export to EasyHDR.

EasyHDR3 for Home: $39.00


Photomatix Pro is developed by HDRSoft. It is one of the oldest dedicated HDR softwares. It is the first one I used in 2008. Photomatix is the gorilla in the HDR space all others are compared to.

While some use EasyHDR and Aurora for the majority of work, they use Photomatix for really tough images and commercial real estate work. It has four different tone mapping methods used to produce different looks. The detail Enhancer method is the one that most people associate with HDR. Contast Optimizer produces very natural looking HDR images. Tone Compressor produces deep rich colors and a more natural looking images. The fourth method is Exposure Fusion used predominantly for commercial real estate work.

It has a user assisted ghost removal tool than is handy and used frequently. It also has a batch capability which is used a lot for large numbers of HDR sequences taken out in the noon day sun! The 32 bit exr files are saved for post processing the really interesting images.

Photomatix is the only package that captured the details on the daylight lit moon down to the nightime shadows under the bridge.

Photomatix Pro: $99

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Aurora HDR:

Aurora is the newest HDR software on the market. It is one of the easiest HDR software available. The program is full of options with many different features that make it easy to produce unique looks. It can also produce very natural looking HDR images simply by clicking the reset button to bring the settings to zero. It’s suppose to be an all-in-one software and it’s pretty close. This is a very new program! The evolution of this program will only make it better.

I've had little experience with Aurora because in October, 2017 it just came out on windows. The little I've seen is promising. It didn't capture the full range of detail from the moon down to the shadows.

Aurora HDR 2018: $99

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HDR Expose 3:

I purchased Photomatix in the spring of 2008. In 2010 I purchased one of the early versions of Expose 3. Expose 3 is a good product. I would go back and forth between Photodex and Expose 3 to get the best image. Some images worked better in Expose 3, some in Photodex. That was then. Since then Photodex and others have continued to improve. Unified Color was acquired by Pinnacle Imaging in 2014 where further development stopped. It is good HDR software creating very natural images. But the competion has caught up whth natural images.

The image below is not indicative of HDR Expose 3's capabilities. It wasn't designed to handle these Extremely High Dynamic Range images.

HDR Expose 3: $119