While it seems that most Australian professional photographers of my acquaintance depend on Adobe Bridge’s Camera Raw module in conjunction with Photoshop as their first choice for raw processing and imaged editing, followed by Adobe Lightroom in order of popularity, there are alternative products and alternative software companies.
One of the most creative is Skylum, formerly named Macphun, maker of Aurora HDR and Luminar, the first a high dynamic range image merging and editing application and the second a raw image processing and image editing application the features of which are ever-growing and unlike any other image editor in their scope and innovation.
Luminar 2018 recently gained an artificial-intelligence driven feature, the AI Sky Enhancer, and the long-awaited major update, Luminar with Libraries, due sometime in December 2018, will add sync and batch editing, image organizing, rating, labelling and tagging to improve Luminar’s photo management and editing editing workflow.
Ever since Apple signalled the coming end of its support for Aperture, one of the best media management, picture sorting and editing, raw processing and image editing applications ever, relied upon by photographers as well as picture editors, magazine publishers, advertising agencies, deign firms and more, photographers have been searching for a direct replacement and the available solutions have been found wanting to various degrees.
Since then I have tried a number of media management applications and modules built into raw processing and image editing software and none of them have filled the bill in exactly the way I need them to.
Skylum has verb working on a media management solution aka library for Luminar for some time and it looks like it will finally make its appearance soon.
I cannot want to try it out and with luck it will be the media manager cum image library I have been after for all these years.
Skylum Luminar 2018 AI Sky Enhancer Before and After
How Does AI Sky Enhancer Work?
LUTs in Skylum Luminar 2018 and Aurora HDR 2019
I have been developing an approach to portrait photography based on five to seven bracket images batch processed in Iridient X-Transformer then merged in Skylum Aurora HDR 2019 with maximum image editing done in Aurora’s 16-bit colour space including applying film emulation and looks LUTs.
This has only been possible in the way I have long envisaged it since the release of Aurora HDR 2019 and its amazing realistic automatic tone-mapping, a huge evolutionary leap beyond previous versions of Aurora HDR and other HDR software I have used over the years.
The addition of the LUTs feature in both items of Skylum software is welcome as I have assembled an enormous collection of camera profile, film emulation and looks LUTs over the years and enjoy applying the film emulation LUTs in particular to portraits.
The challenge when editing with LUTs is to choose exactly the right one, or two or more of them in combination, to communicate the information and emotions I visualized for the finished image when I made the exposure.
Right now selecting that one or more perfect LUT from a big collection of them is a time-consuming process of trial and error, loading and looking, rejecting then choosing again.
Some video editing applications and colour grading applications and plug-ins have LUT library previewing capabilities that speed up the processing of choosing the best LUT for the job and I want to see the same functionality added to Skylum Luminar 2018 and Aurora HDR 2019.
In illustration, the above three portraits have been graded with three different film emulation LUTs, one from a medium-sized collection and the other two from a far bigger set of LUTs.
Choosing the looks I wanted took far too long and I skipped over thousands of other possible candidates.
Small previews of how each LUT would render the image would have sped up the process considerably.
Photolemur – “The world’s first fully automated photo enhancer that makes all your images great automatically with the help of Artificial Intelligence.”
Towards the end of each photography editing software maker Skylum, formerly Macphun, announces then releases the annual major update to its two multiple award-winning flagship products, Aurora HDR and Luminar, and both are made available at pre-order discount for a certain period from announcement to the actual release date.
Right now it is Aurora HDR’s turn, about to be updated to Aurora HDR 2019, with discounts applying until October 4 2018, and the many new additions and improvements in this version make it an absolute must-have update in my humble opinion.
I have dipped my toes in and out of the high dynamic range aka HDR realm for some years at least since Adobe added HDR capability to Photoshop, trying a range of HDR software whether in the form of plug-ins or standalone applications, but none really caught my attention nor got me excited by the possibilities of this form of image creation and editing until Aurora first made its appearance.
Over the years since then the Skylum team has steadily improved Aurora as well all the rest of its software with concepts and features very different from what those usually found in more conventional image editing software made by more conventional image software companies.
One of those unconventional concepts involves features that appear to derive from a side project, Photolemur, described as “the world’s first fully automated photo enhance that makes all your images great automatically with the help of Artificial Intelligence”.
The products of Photolemur’s AI advances started to find their way into Aurora HDR and Luminar a versions or two ago and, with Aurora HDR 2019’s software engine being radically updated to the brand new Quantum HDR Engine and with a number of AI and Smart features appearing in both flagship applications.
I suspect the AI integration in both will continue and look forward to seeing what will appear in Luminar 2019 in the coming months.
Skylum’s modus operandi has been to create standalone versions of its software that can also operate as plug-ins to popular host applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Elements, and more recently to each other with, for example, Aurora HDR 2019 being able to call on Luminar and Photolemur as well as a long list other popular Photoshop plug-ins.
My personal MO when processing HDR images is to do the fundamental HDR tone mapping and basic editing in Aurora then pass the image on to Luminar directly or oftentimes export as a TIFF file with a detour through DxO ViewPoint for powerful automatic optical corrections based on my raw files’ EXIF data and sometimes though DxO FilmPack or Alien Skin Exposure as well for each application’s excellent simulations for classic and quirky analog films and printing processes.
With the addition of Look Up Tables aka LUT support in Aurora HDR 2019 as previously occurred in Luminar, I suspect I will doing less of this detouring with the benefit of applying items from an extensive LUT collection acquired over many years shooting video.
A number of those LUTs are derived from scans of classic, now often sadly discontinued, colour and monochrome movie film stocks and printing films or are based on feature film colour grading looks based on analog films, with one of the most recent such releases being Digital Film Stock aka DFS by LookLabs.
There is a host of similar LUT collections available on the Web for free or very reasonable prices given their quality and if you are new to the world of LUTs I recommend searching and trying to see what LUTs can do with the benefit of Aurora HDR 2019’s new LUT Mapping tool.
Screenshots, Aurora HDR 2019 user interface
Skylum Aurora HDR provides the most feature-complete set of controls for merging and styling multiple-bracket and single-frame high dynamic range images.
The new and improved features in Aurora HDR 2019
User Interface / Performance
Tone-mapping technology for bracketed images with the Quantum HDR Engine.
Tone-mapping technology for single images with the Quantum HDR Engine.
HDR Smart Structure for realistic and artifact-free structure.
All new Aurora HDR Looks to enhance and stylize images.
LUT Mapping filter for creative color and tone adjustments.
Eleven integrated LUTs to use with the LUT Mapping filter.
HDR Details Boost filter that allows for high-resolution tuning while adjusting – improved.
Adjustable Gradient filter with new controls for Shadows and Highlights– improved.
Open / Plugin / Export
Photoshop plugins support.
Photolemur plugin support.
Plugins menu for both Mac® and Windows® users .
A quick tryout, resurrecting ghosts
2017 version of Aurora HDR, 3-exposure brackets, with optical corrections applied in DxO ViewPoint.
Skylum Aurora HDR 2019, 3-exposure brackets. Note the absence of the halos in the sky that often appeared when editing in previous versions of Aurora and other brands of HDR applications. Impressive!
Previous image further edited in Skylum Luminar 2018 with a little Golden Hour, Foliage Enhancer, Micro-contrast and Vignette applied. A much better rendition of how this scene looked and especially felt on the day.
Unlike most of the photographers who rely on HDR, I use this style of photography not so much for landscapes, cityscapes, architecture or interiors but for portraits, product shots and stills for use in videos often for use with the Ken Burns effect.
For portraits and product shots in particular, most often shot with a mixture of natural and artificial light and increasingly with rather challenging natural light conditions, the HDR plus Aurora HDR combo results in images where textures acquire a hyperrealism that enhances the feeling of actually being in front of that person or those objects.
But I digress.
The 3-bracket HDR image above is one of my less frequently shot scenic photographs and my rather unsophisticated quick and dirty edit in Aurora HDR 2019 in the middle shows just how far Skylum’s software engineers have come with their Quantum HDR Engine and its radically improved processing quality and speed.
Instead of needing a fair bit of work to get a typical HDR image natural looking, Aurora HDR 2019 creates a very realistic tone mapping rendering from the word go, then allows you to choose from a large and growing selection of naturalistic or highly creative presets, or even more image editing controls than in previous versions of Aurora.
From the evidence of the list above of new and improved features in Aurora HDR 2019, and the results of my quick and dirty tryout scene, I will be rethinking my use of HDR imaging and especially how I will be processing future HDR images.
Reservations that I used to have about HDR due to haloing and processing speed have now gone and I am looking forward to counting on HDR and Aurora HDR 2019 far more than I ever have before.
Portraiture tryout, 7 brackets, straight tone mapping and minimal processing
Straight tone mapping, no further processing, shot in extremely hard available light without benefit of supplementary lighting or even bounce boards.
Minimal colour contrast, HDR details and vignette on two layers on top. Photograph made with Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens.
A friend I have often used as a test subject dropped by and I decided to try out Aurora HDR 2019 as a portrait processing toolset.
This is the result, above, after minimal processing entirely in Aurora HDR 2019.
During my editorial photography career in the analog era, I specialized in making emotive close-up portraits and information-packed environmental portraits for magazines and newspaper colour supplements, using colour transparency films, Polaroid Type 55 instant positive/negative film and Kodak Tri-X using sheet film and 120 roll film cameras of various types.
That career was interrupted at its height due to succumbing to photochemical allergies followed by conceiving and cofounding “not only Black+White” magazine, a project that helped further my longtime ambitions to help bring about positive change in how photography was understood and used as a means of communication and as an art form in Australia.
My portraiture practice was intimately shaped by the cameras, lenses, films and processing and printing materials and methods of the time.
I carted my 4″x5″ sheet film camera with a medium wide and a medium long lens, sheet film and 120 roll film holders, Broncolor 3-light electronic flash kit, tripod and light stands, with my two Leica M-4P rangefinder cameras and lenses as backups, around the city and suburbs on assignment, photographing creative people, chefs, actors, celebrities and businessmen.
It was fun while it lasted and I used it as an opportunity to introduce my clients to new ways of processing, printing and reproducing my work all the better to communicate the emotions I wanted readers to experience when looking at my photographs in those magazines.
I have long wanted to get back to those forms of photography but this time unencumbered by all that gear, stripping my means of production back to just me, a handheld camera and uncomplicated but expressive processing methods.
Will Aurora HDR 2019 allow me to do that?
I hope so, based on the results of this quick and dirty test above.
Time to take a good, hard look at the current state of the magazine editorial photography landscape here in Australia now?
Definitely time to build a new portrait portfolio, and Aurora HDR 2019 may well be an important factor in that.
One of my aims in portraiture was and is to create the impression in the viewer’s mind that they are in the same room as the subject.
High dynamic range photography appears to assist in helping form that impression, though I have much to try and much to learn about how and why, and how to get the best out of it for portraiture.
“Brand new for the Apple crowd is Plugin Support. You’re now be able to use these third-party plugins through the Plugins menu: Imagenomic Noiseware 5, Imagenomic Portraiture 3, Imagenomic Realgrain 2, and DxO FilmPack 5.
You also now have access to these Luminar improvements:
Raw Develop filter.
The Lens and Transform effects are now improved, for example when using the Compare option, effects aren’t shown on the left (Before) side, nor are the effects blended with the original when using the Filters Amount slider.
It’s now easier to use the Sharpening filter with more responsive and accurate results. You can also get real-time feedback as you adjust the Sharpening controls and see all your changes in high res.
Exporting to several file formats is now possible, including new options for both PDF and JPEG-2000.
Save time by clicking on the checkbox or control name to enable or disable all filter checkboxes. You can also use scrubbable number sliders by mousing over the filter values, then moving the slider by clicking and dragging left or right.
You can now precisely control your JPEG and JPEG-2000 compression. The Quality slider shows you the precise numeric value, and you can change it by clicking on a number or entering the exact value you want.
When using the RAW Develop and Develop filters, check your image history to see White Balance presets, which are displayed with the preset name. You can also now use the “Save History” option when you save files using the “Windows Compatible” option.
You can now easily scroll through your LUTs in the LUT Mapping filter. Just hover your mouse over a LUT and it updates in real-time.
These eight languages now have improved localizations: Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, and Simplified Chinese.”
Skylum Software, the independent photography image editing and raw file processing software company, maker of the excellent Aurora HDR, Luminar and Creative Kit desktop applications, has released the Jupiter update for Luminar 2018.
Skylum Software was formerly known as Macphun during its macOS-only days and changed its name to better reflect the fact that the company is now making its software for Windows as well as macOS.
Luminar 2018 Jupiter contains over 300 improvements and updates to make Luminar more responsive and more useful, including significant performance enhancements to allow faster photo editing with speed gains of up to a factor of twelve.
Luminar’s Raw Develop filter has reportedly been updated for even cleaner images with better color and less noise.
Luminar’s long-awaited digital asset manager (DAM) functionality is scheduled for release later in 2018.
“New to Luminar? Just purchased Luminar 2018 and interested in learning how to master it? This is the tutorial series for you! In this multi-part series, I will walk through how to use Luminar 2018 and take advantage of the incredible power and flexibility of this tool to create stunning photographs. I will cover everything from the basics to advanced techniques and everything in between….”
“Hello friends! This was an attempted Facebook Live event that didn’t go live there due to technical issues, so I recorded it and am sharing it here instead. I edit 3 images and go through some new filters in Luminar 2018 while sharing some tips for getting the most out of them. Check it out and enjoy!”
“We haven’t announced it officially, but many of you have already guessed that the new version of Luminar will be available this year….
… Right off the bat, get better images with an improved RAW engine that’s not only faster but delivers less noise and better color. Then take complete control over your image with new Lens Correction and Transform Tools, plus old favorites such as Spot Heal and Color Temperature to remove flaws.
We’ve dramatically improved the existing filters and added blazing fast noise reduction for cleaning up unwanted noise in real-time. Also added: new impressive filters to stylize, tone, and enhance your photos, including Sun Rays, Dodge & Burn, LUT Mapping, Hue Shift, Brilliance, and a cool new Matte Look….
… We’re working on a fantastic digital asset manager (“DAM”) which will work like magic with the hard drives you already own and with any cloud storage platform you want to use. …”
Macphun has announced it is now accepting pre-orders for the latest version of its high dynamic range image editing software Aurora HDR. Aurora HDR 2018 is scheduled for release on September 28 and will be launched with a big, impressive set of new features, improved current features, new and improved tools and filters, and a more sophisticated user interface as well as a 200% speed boost.
Aurora HDR 2017 will be available for Mac and Windows, and both versions can be pre-ordered right now at a 60% discount along with bonuses.
As with Macphun’s other products, Aurora HDR 2018 can be used in its standalone version or as a plug-in or external editor for a range of popular image editing applications, supports raw files as well other common file formats and exports to PSD (Mac-only), TIFF, PNG, GIF, JPEG and JPEG 2000 as well as to other Macphun products.
Aurora HDR 2018 User Interface, Tools and Features
Before and After, Naturalistic and Enhanced
With Aurora HDR 2018’s new capacity to create an acceptably naturalistic HDR merge before you apply presets or controls, you cam choose a wide range of looks for each image from mildly realist through to wildly surrealistic, as illustrated by the following images from Macphun’s Aurora HDR 2018 press pack.
If Aurora HDR 2018’s over one hundred tools and editing features are not enough, you can export your images directly into Luminar as a plug-in for even more editing tools, presets and more extreme looks again.
Lone Yucca, White Sands, by Alik Griffin
Moraine Lake, by Jim Nix
Dubai, by Dima Sytnik
Using Aurora HDR
Based on the lovely landscape and travel photographs most software developers use to promote the products’ capabilities, I am not their typical user.
My photography practice centres on documentary genres in monochrome and naturalistic colour, on portraiture, on scene-setting cityscapes and street photography to keep my visual reflexes in order in between documentary projects.
I have yet to produce a sunrise or sunset landscape like the many fine examples Macphun uses to show off its excellent Aurora HDR and Luminar raw processing and image editing software.
But I do use both Macphun products for all the genres and subjects un which I work, as well as the company’s Creative Kit, and I am increasingly shooting portraits and product shots as multiple bracket HDR images.
Although I have some excellent LED lights for stills and video in the form of a Rotolight Neo 3 Light Kit, I often need to quickly grab fast but good quality portraits or product shots with camera and lens only, handheld.
Since its inception Aurora has been adept at handling handheld HDR brackets, automatically erasing the effect of movement between frames aka “ghosting”.
Each successive revision of Aurora has made it easier to avoid HDR’s more blatantly surreal effects, adding controls and presets permitting more subtlety, increased realism.
Aurora HDR 2017 was key in that regard, persuading me to shoot almost all my product shots as HDR images, all the better to deep dive into the textures, materials and construction of the objects depicted.
Early forays into handheld HDR portraiture bore encouraging fruit and the arrival of Aurora HDR 2018 with even more improvements in more real than real image processing now have me planning an environmental and head-and-shoulders portrait project.
The photographs in this project will initially be handheld and consist of three to five brackets, but I am itching to try seven and even nine brackets under challenging lighting conditions to learn whether that will reveal even more information and a visual richness not achievable by any other means.
Having tried out 3 Legged Thing’s Equinox Leo micro-traveller tripod some time ago, the same company’s taller Albert travel tripod is looking appealing so that I can stand face-to-face with my subjects or a little higher art lower as demanded by an environmental portraiture approach.
I will be working on new HDR photographs in several of my favourite genres – portraiture, still life, urban documentary – over the coming weeks and look forward to sharing the results in other articles on Aurora HDR 2018 as well as using them to illustrate articles on production hardware.
First images processed in Aurora HDR 2018
These first stumbling steps into Aurora HDR 2018 reveal new possibilities and some major improvements over its predecessors that I will continue to explore over the coming weeks and months.
I have been wanting to explore new directions in photography for some time, other ways of making images more related to what I experienced of painting and the other fine arts way back in art school compared to the film-simulations-influenced way I usually default to when processing digital photographs.
One thing I am really happy about is how Aurora HDR 2018 is not subject to halos in the skies like previous versions. In the photograph of the garage, Aurora HDR 2017 would always render distinct halos around the power lines and now there are no halos at all!
Another thing I really like about Aurora HDR 2018 is how good the initial tone mapping looks, how naturalistic it is. It is a great starting point from which to explore realism or surrealism with further manipulations within Aurora based on what works best to support the ideas and emotions I want to express.