best HDR photo editor featured image

Best HDR Photo Editor: Unbiased Review of Top 5 Picks

Editor's Pick roundup review

This essay is about “What is HDR” and reviewed the top 5 picks of the best HDR photo editor software, read on and select the most suitable for your HDR photography processing.

Ever wondered why your clicks of a sunset scene, a beautiful river or mountain scene aren’t as breathtaking as your eyes see it? Or why most online images of landscape photography are so spectacular and mesmerizing while yours is dull and disappointing?
Don’t fret. It’s not the fault of your camera nor your photography skills. Simply put, what you see is what your camera lens tries to replicate, but it mostly fails to capture the magnificence of the view and so you require an image-processing software to recapture that jaw-dropping view. It’s notoriously difficult to capture a raw landscape image while retaining its magnificence. This is why most photographers use the HDR method to overcome light balance issues and recreate images that have the same stunning accuracy as seen by the eyes.

What is HDR Photography Processing?

When it comes to landscape photography, light balance is one of the most challenging difficulties to overcome. Professional photographers take multiple shots of the same scene with varying shutter speed combinations to produce images with varying luminosity. Once done, they merge those images together to create one perfect image that has the right light and dark balance. This is called the HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing method where multiple images are stitched together in an HDR image editor to reproduce jaw-dropping, eye-popping images that you see online.

HDR is the range or the distance between the lightest light and the darkest dark. In photography, HDR would mean the amount of light and dark that a camera can capture. Most modern cameras and smartphones have in-built HDR capabilities that automatically adjusts lighting when capturing images. True HDR photography, however, is a systematic process where you take multiple photos in “Auto-bracketing mode” or “Auto-exposure mode,” following which you run the photos in an HDR photo-editing software to merge different files into one final HDR file that balances out the different exposure levels.

The software you’ll be using to modify, edit, merge and process these images is called an HDR photo processing editor which is offered either as a standalone app or as a plugin to other premium photo-editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom.

P.S – For a detailed tutorial on how to capture HDR photos, visit this post by Trey Ratcliff (co-creator of Aurora HDR) . 

Best HDR Photo Editor: Our Unbiased Review of Top 5 Choice

When it comes to image-processing there are dozens of softwares out there, but we highly recommend the following top five HDR photo editors for both amateur and professional photographers. If you’ve got raw landscape images that you want to turn into stunning captures, we recommend running them through any of these HDR photo editors to recreate the magic and share them with the world.

1. Skylum Aurora HDR 2019

If you’ve used Luminar, Skylum’s premium photo-editing app, you’ll easily get the hang of the Aurora HDR 2019. Similar to Luminar, the Aurora HDR uses artificial intelligence to analyze images based on factors such as tone, lighting, color enhancement and many more. Once the analysis is done, the tool automatically makes adjustments on your images and reduces noise levels, improves light balance and turns dull images into flawless, spectacular captures within just a matter of seconds.

Aurora HDR software

As soon as you upload a new image, the program begins by detecting scene type and automatically adjusts the images by improving color, tone, and other final touches to enhance image quality. If you’re not satisfied with the initial adjustment made by the app, you can choose from the Looks Collection given in the app. Aurora HDR 2019 comes with 8 looks out of which 5 are the usual looks that you get with Luminar too: Essentials, Landscape, Architecture, Dramatic and Artistic. The remaining 3 looks are given by HDR photographers Trey Ratcliff, Serge Ramelli, and Randy Van Duinen. You can also manually adjust each option using the controls given in the dashboard.

Aurora HDR Looks Collection

One of the best features we absolutely love in the new Aurora HDR 2019 is the ability to create your own Aurora HDR looks. Using the controls given in the dashboard, you can create your own HDR look, that will be saved in the collection so the next time you simply have to reapply that look on other images. If you have problem on creating your own HDR looks, this Aurora HDR 2019 Getting Started Walkthrough video will help you.

Color adjustment and one-click look adjustments are just the basic things you can start with. With advanced options like masking, layer adjustments and the ability to add other plugins into the program you can apply distinct adjustments to different parts of your images. This works well for photographers who want to adjust only specific parts of the image such as applying a gradient on the sky, adjusting the look and feel of clouds etc. You also could read the review of Aurora HDR software, to learn more details about this best HDR software for professional photographers.

Bottom Line: The Aurora HDR 2019 may not be a full-fledged HDR photo editing software, but it has all the required HDR photo control options that can easily be used by anyone. For $99 (a 10-day free trial is available), the Aurora HDR 2019 is the best HDR software for photographers who specialize in landscape and scenic photography.

Rating – ★★★★
OS: Windows & Mac
Price: $99.00
$10 Off Code: MACLIBS
Download – Skylum.com/AuroraHDR

2. Photomatix Pro 6

If you’re looking for a professional HDR photography processing software, the Photomatix Pro 6 is exactly what you need to merge, edit and adjust bracketed images into one single file. Although it is available as a standalone app for $99, it can also be used as a plugin for Lightroom.

Photomatix Pro 6 interface

Professional HDR photographers use the Photomatix Pro 6 to edit and merge bracketed images (sequence of images of the same scene taken under different exposure settings) into a single file within a matter of seconds. Similar to other photo-editing apps, the Photomatix Pro 6 has 40-present styles to choose from which helps give you a unique touch to each of your photos. You can also adjust each style according to your own preference and save it as a personal preset for later use.

Photomatix Pro 6 style

One feature that sets the Photomatix Pro 6 apart from the others is its powerful ghosting tool which lets you remove unwanted objects from your images with two options – selective or automatic deghosting. If you have a batch of images affected by moving objects such as people or vehicles passing by,  you can use the deghosting option to remove those objects through a manual lasso selection of your desired ghosted area which you can replicate on images within that specific bracket.

Bottom Line: If you’re a professional landscape photographer looking for a tool that’s convenient to use and allows you basic controls of editing and merging bracketed image files, then the Photomatix Pro 6 is one of the best. Use it as a plugin in Lightroom to make your photo editing process easier and manageable.

Rating – ★★★★
OS: Windows & Mac
Price: $99.00
Download – Photomatix Pro 6

3. Adobe Lightroom CC

Like taking and editing pictures on the go? Adobe Lightroom is just what you need, however, at $9.99/month, you will need to think carefully over why you need the Adobe Lightroom CC when there are other one-time pay, cheaper HDR photo editing app options available.

Ok! So, let’s clear one confusion first. Initially, Adobe Lightroom was one program, however, in 2017, the company decided to split the software into versions – the Classic, desktop-based Lightroom version and the second, an internet-savvy, cloud-based version termed Lightroom CC. Both have their own costs and differ considerably in terms of functionality. The Lightroom Classic is a more mature software with essential photo controls that professional photographers rely on. The Lightroom CC is limited in functionality and focuses more on quick editing using your mobile app rather than the desktop app. Once pictures are edited they are automatically synced to the cloud so you can continue editing them using the desktop app. You get 1TB of storage with the Lightroom CC, but if you exceed 1TB, you’ll have to pay $20 for 2TB. 

Although the Lightroom CC is meant for editing on the go, it comes with its own bundle of problems – you’ll have a hard time accessing images if your internet is bad, you’ll be limited in functionality, you’ll also end up paying more money if you cross the image storage threshold. The positive side is you have a clean interface, mobile+desktop friendly apps and a limited set of tools that you’ll need to get the most out of your picture.

adobe photoshop lightroom

The Lightroom Classic, on the other hand, has more advanced tools (which consumerist photographers may not need), minus the mobile app and cloud storage, so it’s really up to you if you want to choose between a Classic version that runs on the file system or the modern version that runs on the cloud system. Either way, both versions are powerful HDR photo editing tools that let you edit, enhance and improvise your images using presets and photo editing features like dehaze, healing, noise reduction tools etc.

Bottom Line: Adobe does intend to upgrade the Lightroom CC with some of the tools of the Classic version, however, for novice users, or general consumerist photographers who want to click, edit and upload images on their social media while on the go, the Lightroom CC is the best option.

Rating – ★★★
OS: Windows & Mac
Price: $9.99 a month
Download – Adobe.com or get from Amazon.com

4. EasyHDR

Easy HDR is a mid-range HDR photo editing software costing $39 for the home version and $65 for commercial use. Although EasyHDR is often lost under the hood of renowned HDR photo processing software like Aurora and Lightroom, it is actually quite popular with users who are looking for an affordable and easy-to-use HDR software. While it does not boast of functionalities and quality like other premium programs, EasyHDR does have most of the basic stuff a photographer would need to get the job done.

You’ll find modern features as lens distortion and chromatic aberration correction, free Lightroom plugin, live preview, batch processing and a whole lot of other features as provided by other expensive options. There are also several additional post-processing features that will let you use filters to smoothen, sharpen or reduce noise and color manipulation to fix shadows, highlights or middle tones.

Bottom Line: EasyHDR is one powerful tool that is designed to cater to the technicalities of HDR photo processing. You do need to have some technical information about HDR photography to use this program. It’s not as easy and simple as Aurora HDR, however, it’s more powerful and functional at one-third the cost.

Rating – ★★★
OS: Windows & Mac
Price: $39.00-$65.00
Download – EasyHDR software

5. Luminance HDR

Luminance HDR, formerly Qtpfsgui, is probably one of the oldest HDR photo editing app since 2010. Compared to modern HDR photography processing software, the Luminance HDR 2.6.0 is not as fancy or flexible, however, it does accomplish critical photo-editing and processing tasks for HDR photographs. But, as a free app, Luminance does do a great job especially since it has almost all of the important features you’d need for editing HDR images. Important photo-processing features as tone-mapping, white balance, level adjustments, image resizing, cropping, saturation and contrast factor settings can all be done easily using the program. Like other programs, you can upload batch images and merge multiple images together to create one HDR image.

free HDR software - LuminanceHDR

There is also a command-line interface available for users who prefer a non-GUI interface on all platforms. Luminance is actually an efficient program that is designed to do exactly what is required of an HDR photo editing software – nothing more, nothing less so if you’re looking for fancy stuff like layering, masking or auto-detection etc, you won’t be getting that in this software.

Bottom Line: For a free software, Luminance HDR is super efficient, easy to use and boasts of modern features like multiple tone operators, batch tone-mapping, fast export, and a few others. If you’re looking for a free software that can get the job done without all the fanfare, get the Luminance HDR. If you like the platform and appreciate it, you can also consider donating an amount.

Rating – ★★
OS: Windows & Mac
Price: Free
Download – Luminance HDR

Conclusion

With all modern phones having HDR capabilities, it’s no longer difficult to capture HDR images. That being said, if you want spectacular results, you’ll have to invest in an HDR photo-editing software. If you’re a complete novice who’s just starting out with HDR photography, you should start with an easy-to-use software like Aurora HDR. If you live by taking photographs and editing on the go (psst, travel photographers, take hint!) then Adobe Lightroom CC is your best bet. For experienced photographers, you know your best pick!

Tagged

2 thoughts on “Best HDR Photo Editor: Unbiased Review of Top 5 Picks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *