FREE HDR Tutorial (MAC)

This a free written tutorial, so if you enjoy it then send your friends over to my site so they too can learn HDR. Would be a great way to say thank you. This tutorial is for the Apple fans and MAC users out there. It’s a special feeling to own a MAC and we should celebrate that by making some cool HDR images, right?

If you are after a Windows PC HDR Tutorial there is a free one online here

We will be using Aurora HDR 2017, which offers the most advanced HDR software UI combined with the most tools and features built into one piece of software. The beauty of Aurora is that no matter what your skill level you can achieve stunning HDR results to be proud of.

Aurora HDR 2017 is currently a MAC only product. All those Windows users must be so jealous that you can use Aurora HDR 2017 and they can’t. But! Macphun is busy making the windows version of Aurora HDR 2017, so I suggest you jump on in and experience it before all the Windows users join the party.


HDR Software to Download

Aurora HDR is a standalone software that won’t require Photoshop and Lightroom, but these can be used together if you like tinker with your results. Lightroom is also still a great way to scroll through your library of images and select the ones you want to develop into HDR images.

Optional Software & AURORA HDR PRESETS, Highly Recommended!

-Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom

These are important parts of the finishing touches and allow you to use tools to help finalize your magical HDR image. The best way to get these 2 programs is to subscribe to the Photography plan on Adobe’s Creative Cloud. The Photography plan only supplies you with the photography apps and leaves out the rest that we don’t need. They also throw in Adobe Lightroom Mobile which allows you to edit photos on your smartphones and tablets.



I Myself Am a Master of Aurora HDR!

It was a very humbling experience when the VP of Macphun Software, Kevin La rue, invited me to be one of their official Aurora HDR Masters. Kevin is such a warm and wonderful person and it was a pleasure to work with the release of Aurora. I spent months getting to know the software and edited a lot of images using the software. I then selected my best Aurora images and was given a page on the Aurora site to display them, along with the other 7 Aurora Masters from around the world.

Here’s my Masters page and some of the amazing images I created with Aurora HDR Pro!


These images are from all over the world! Asia, Europe, Australia and the Persian Gulf. I will show you how to create images like this and in no time you will be sharing this kind of magic with your friends and family.


So you may already own a camera and that’s great! Nearly all the cameras released today have the features needed to create amazing HDR images (see features needed list below). I’ve been creating HDR images for well over 6 years now and I have been using mirrorless cameras since the release of the Sony A7R back in December 2013.

See my camera recommendations at the link below. As you will see I am very much in to mirrorless cameras and I list them in order of price. So if you have a high budget go the number one camera, it’s the best on the market and offers incredible resolution! If you are on a budget, then I have some great recommendations for you too! I’ve made HDR images from all types of cameras and you can too.


The camera features that you’re looking for to create HDR images in order of best to good are:

  • Auto-bracketing” or “Exposure Bracketing” or “Auto-exposure Bracketing”. Auto-bracketing allows you to push your shutter button once and the camera will shoot a series (a bracket!) of images for you, it’s fantastic!
  • A camera that can change the shooting mode to Aperture Priority as well as adjust the Exposure Value (EV) for a shot. An EV range of +2 to -2 is ok. One of +3 to -3 is excellent and a camera with an EV range of -5 to +5EV is amazing!
  • The final camera feature that can be used to make an HDR image is a RAW photo. HDR software and cameras are so advanced these days that it is possible to pull out the data from a single RAW file for a HDR photo. But this is a last resort, it’s better to shoot a bracket of images using the above methods.

So to sum this up! Try to find a camera that can shoot in aperture priority mode or allows you to adjust the EV value manually. If it’s got the ability to shoot in “Auto-bracket” mode, then this is even better!

Check out the cameras I have suggested on my page as I show which ones are the best and why. A camera like the Sony a5100 is great because it’s so light and small and can fit in your handbag/pocket! Then your more pro options like the Sony A7rii are slightly larger and will probably need a dedicated camera bag, but will produce stunning image quality! Personally I have shot with Sony A7r, since its release date. I also use the Sony RX 100 mk 3, (sony RX 100 mk v available now) and Sony a5100. As you can see I love the Sony mirrorless cameras.


A tripod is a needed accessory when it comes to HDR Photography because when we shoot a bracket of images we need them to all be taken from the exact same position and vantage point.


I’ve been creating HDR images for about 6 years now and I know from experience that you too can pick up the techniques to create your own HDR images in no time!

As you create more and more HDR images in Aurora you will begin to develop a 6th sense for what works and what doesn’t.

A camera is a machine, like a TV or a computer monitor, and if you notice they can never produce the same light quality in a single photo as what we see with our eyes. Take for example the times you’ve taken photographs only to be disappointed with how they turned out. The sky might have turned out completely white or the foreground was totally dark in shadow. Well, we can actually get around the limitations of cameras by combining a bracketed series of photos, that capture ALL of the available light, in HDR software. It’s really cool!

As an art school student of days gone by I spent many hours in the photography labs, painting studios and art galleries. I think that’s why HDR images struck a chord with me so much. I found a way to share the world around me in a way that feels exactly like my memories.


As I mentioned earlier, its best to use a tripod to do this!

Always start by checking your camera is in Aperture Priority mode. This is the mode we use for all HDR images.


Some Cameras have a feature called Auto-bracketing, which can be used to shoot HDR brackets. Whilst other camera’s do not have this feature but it’s still ok to shoot HDR brackets and I have described how to do it in the sections below.

For those with Auto-bracketing:

You will want to turn Auto-bracketing on. This is done inside the settings and it differs for each camera. I have a tutorial here on how to setup Auto-bracketing for the Nikon D800. I suggest setting it to -3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 and +3. With camera sensors becoming incredibly powerful you can get by in 90% of circumstances by shooting with -2, 0 and +2.  But if you want to cover all your bases shoot -3 to +3 as with the digital age you can easily store the files on a hard drive. It’s better to have them in your Photo vault then to wish you had taken them, trust me! You will also need to put the camera in Aperture Priority (A) mode. Next, see section below What Aperture to choose?


What if you don’t have Auto-bracketing?

If you don’t have Auto-bracketing but your camera allows you to change the EV value with a dial or in the Menu options, like the Sony A7R and a5100, then you can just shoot your bracket of images manually.

Start by putting your camera in Aperture Priority ( A ) mode. Next it’s as simple as turning your EV setting to 0 and taking your first photo. You should be using a shutter release cable so that you aren’t getting any vibration in the image, but if you don’t have one then use a delayed shutter of 2sec or 10sec. After your first shot you then turn it to EV +1 and take another photo. Then just repeat this process for all the values of -3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 and +3. Next, see section below What Aperture to choose?


Extra Shooting info-

HDR brackets are shot in Aperture Priority mode and in this mode your camera allows you to adjust your Aperture and ISO. So what ISO and Aperture should you select? Read on for more info…


What Aperture should you choose? 

When you are in Aperture priority mode, when you change the Aperture the camera’s super smart insides will automatically adjust the shutter speed for you like magic! If you want a fast shutter speed you should open up your aperture to the smallest numerical value e.g. f/2.8. But if you want a slow shutter speed, e.g. 30 seconds, then you should close up your aperture to its largest numerical value e.g. f/22. Slow shutter speeds are how photographers get all those milky ocean water shots and fast shutter speeds will allow you to freeze movement from say people walking on the street. The other thing to consider with Apertures is that a lens produces its sharpest images corner to corner in the middle of its aperture range, which is around f8 to f11, just something to remember.


What ISO to choose?  

In Aperture priority mode you also have the ability to change the ISO and this also can have a BIG impact on the type of image you create. As we have just learnt, if you select an aperture your camera will automatically apply a shutter speed for you. Equally so, if you change your ISO then it will adjust your Shutter Speed to compensate for an even exposure! Cameras are amazing little devices.

You should always try to shoot as close to ISO 100 as possible, as a rule of thumb. But at night, a low light situation, we need to increase our ISO to allow the camera to see better in the dark. So you might increase your ISO up to 3200 or 5000 ISO. As you select different ISO’s watch the way it changes your Shutter speed and try to get it to fall within the type of image you want to achieve, e.g. slow or fast shutter speed.


Extra Extra info to think about:

  • Always shoot in RAW. A RAW file offers so much more depth when you process the images in Aurora, or any photography software in fact. You can use JPEG’s in Aurora but the results won’t be nearly as magical, just so you know.
  • Shooting after the rain in a city at night is one of the coolest times to shoot HDR images as light reflects off everything.
  • The ‘Magic hours’ zones are also amazing! Sunrise sunset and the blue hours all produce the most stunning HDR images when it comes to times of the day.
  • Try to get yourself a tripod, handheld shots can be lined up in Aurora but my rule of thumb is never shoot a handheld image slower than 1/60th of a second. So anything faster than this, e.g. 1/250 second, you can shoot handheld HDR brackets!


Always save your files to computer straight after a shoot as to not lose them. Make backups of your backups too! If you can, have a backup stored online. There are many cheap online storage options these days so shop around for prices. Personally I recommend Dropbox for online storage of photos. Check out Dropbox here!

Why use Aurora when Lightroom offers a HDR feature?

Answer: To get the look and style you want + Aurora is amazing!

Lightroom’s HDR Merge is pretty basic and gives you just one style, somewhere in the middle between realistic and artistic. Aurora offers you tonnes of sliders and features that let you get the exact result you desire. With Aurora, you can opt for natural-looking results with one of the many presets. As well as exploring a large range of creative styled presets from subtly enhanced, to painterly, surreal or hyper-realistic.

Download 2 sets of my RAW Photos to use in AURORA!

If you have purchased Aurora and want to have fun along with me editing the photos from this tutorial, then download my files at these links FREE!


Sydney Opera House Sunrise Bracket:

Link- Download My Sydney Opera House Sunrise Bracket here

My Sunrise photos of the Sydney Opera house are -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2EV and as you can see they capture all of the light of this amazing sunrise.


Tokyo Night Street Bracket:

Link- Download My Tokyo Bracket here

Tokyo is a lot of fun to shoot HDR brackets, especially at night! This bracket series is also -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2EV


***I am happy to share my own RAW Files with everyone to use, but I retain the copyright of them still. They’re for your own personal use to learn HDR at home and not for commercial use, thanks.


So you are finally going to make a professional HDR image! Exciting I know and you should be excited, it’s still fun for me years after my first time.

Loading Images Into Aurora:

There are a few ways to open the files in to Aurora HDR Pro. Obviously you will need to have installed the Aurora software, so I’ll assume you’ve done that. MAC apps are so easy to install compared to windows and that’s one of the perks of being a MAC user.


Loading Images Manually:

Simply open up the Aurora HDR PRO 2017 app. Then click on the BIG Load Image(s) button in the middle and Navigate to the multiple exposure Bracket you wish to load into Aurora. Select all 5 images and open them up. If you don’t have any photos yet to edit, as your awesome new camera is in the post! then you can download my RAW files above and follow along.


Loading Images Through Lightroom:

Personally, I like to open my images into Aurora from Adobe Lightroom because when you finish editing the final result gets imported back into Lightroom and it’s a good way to keep track of your work.

  • Step 1- Import your photos into Lightroom.


  • Step 2- Then highlight the 5 photos in your film strip (See image below), right click > Export > Aurora HDR 2017 > Open Original Images.


*If you made adjustments in Lightroom first then select “Use .TIFF with Lightroom adjustments” and Aurora will keep all these changes, which is an awesome feature!


After your photos have loaded up you have a few decisions to make on how you want the software to treat your images. Here are the settings I selected! Rather than scare you with all the technical info of it all, for now you can copy mine.


I hope you are ready to enter Aurora as the fun and exciting world of HDR Photography is about to begin! Hit the big green Create HDR button down in the bottom right when you’ve contained your excitement.

Welcome to the eye Candy!

Aurora HDR Pro 2017 comes with a bunch of built in presets and you can download more preset packs from the PRO photographers. Selecting individual packs will allow you to scroll through all the presets in that pack or select the ALL button by clicking All Presets, highlighted in the graphic below, and you will be able to view all your presets at once.



This is where I want you guys to start to walk on your own 2 feet a little! Not too much, just a little…


Start to click on different preset windows down the bottom in the film strip. With all of the preset packs installed that I have there are a total of 88 presets and these grow as Macphun releases more packs. The bottom preset windows are actually in a long strip and you can slide it left and right. Try out different ones, don’t be afraid! They won’t make any permanent changes to your images. You can click on one preset and then just click on another, easy!


Next, pick one you like! I know it’s hard because there are so many cool ones, but at this stage just pick one you like. In a way Aurora is able to ease its new users in as it works similarly to a common app we all know and love, Instagram! But, you’ve got a HDR image created with 36MP full frame files from a Nikon D800 combined with an incredibly powerful HDR program. So the results are going to be a little more stellar than an iPhone with an Instagram filter “Mayfair” applied to it 😉


So for new users if you like the result and are happy with it than that’s it! You can save result as a photo by just clicking the share icon at the top of the image. You can also save it in a common format like JPEG! So you can share the results with friends.


If you launched your images from Lightroom you will see a green apply button, seen in the image above.


So, as you become more accustomed to Aurora you will want to learn more about it other than using the presets! Aurora HDR Pro 2017 is the most advanced HDR software on the market and we have only begun to scratch the surface of what it’s capable of doing.

Learning about the Tools:

Every preset in Aurora is made up of tools, which can be found on the right hand side in the Tools Panel. What’s great about getting presets from the Pro’s is that you can learn how each preset is made up. This is actually more valuable than you realize because if you spend the time to study them it will increase your understanding of Aurora HDR exponentially.

Click on any preset so that it’s applied to your image. Now go over to the Tools Panel and you can see the little white arrow next to each tool? (see image below). Click on the arrow and it will collapse that particular tool into a single neat line. Go down the list clicking all the white arrows and you are left with a complete list of all the tools.

Notice some Text is in yellow and some white?


Well the yellow ones are the tools being used in this preset and the white ones are the tools not being used.

Click on an arrow on a yellow tool to open up its details again! For example, I could click the arrow next to HDR Tone Mapping and this would open up all the sliders and settings used in this tool. You can play with all these sliders by the way! Everything is adjustable, go ahead! Move any of them around! So this is a valuable way to adjust any of the tools in a preset.

Next thing I want to teach you is that little yellow dot next to each Tool, see them all in the panel above? Click on a yellow dot next a tool being used (yellow text), e.g. the Image Radiance. This will hide that tool a bit like an on/off button. You can click the yellow dot again to turn it back on.

This is actually another really powerful learning point in your Aurora HDR development! You can now, in real time, see how each tool affects an image. AND you can see how the pro’s use the tools to create presets. This will give you extremely valuable information moving forward to create your own HDR magic. I don’t think there is any better way to learn this program than learning from the PRO’s. It’s a bit like going to a famous restaurant only to be given the secret recipes!

Fun isn’t it! And the results are amazing!

Some good advice! Remember that not every preset is going to look great on all the images. So, download all the preset packs you can and don’t be afraid to scroll through and click through the presets like a look book.


Now that you know how to run, it’s time to learn to fly! Corny I know, but it’s true!

This section is for the brave souls out there wanting to learn even more advance techniques in Aurora HDR Pro.


Masking: Have you heard of it? Don’t worry if you haven’t, it’s a really easy process in Aurora. Masking is the process of revealing a layer beneath! I’ll show you the basics and then it will be up to you to let your creative juices flow.

There are various reasons for wanting to mask in parts of a preset and mask others out. An example might be that a preset looks great in the buildings but looks terrible in the sky.


The Process of Masking! 

  • Step 1- It’s a good practice to leave an original layer on the bottom, so start from scratch by hitting the recycle button( )


  • Step 2- Next add a new layer by clicking the ( + ) icon


  • Step 3- Rename the Layer. Double click on the Text Layer 1 to bring up a text box. Left click on the new layer you created and continue to step 4.


  • Step 4- Go down to the presets and select one that you only want to use parts of and leave other parts out.


  • Step5- Click on the Brush ( B ) icon at the top right of the User Interface.


  • Step 6- Adjust the brush settings to the desired amount. Play around with the sliders to see how they affect the brush. You can see the settings I used in the window. 20% opacity shows 20% of the layer beneath and 100% shows the entire layer beneath. You can go for something like 20% and paint another 20% over the top of it, which is a good way to start.


  • Step 7- With your Brush selected start painting directly on to your image, this will apply the preset like painting with real paint! Except you are painting on a preset. It’s a really cool feature if you are new to brushes and masking I think you will love it. A tip for everyone is to notice inside the brush is a little plus sign ( + ). This indicates you are adding the preset to the layer below. BUT! You can also subtract ( ) a preset. The hot key to change between ( + ) and ( ) is X. So while you have the brush open hit X a few times and paint on the layer to see how it changes.


  • Step 8- You can see your mask in red by hitting the key ( / ). This will bring you back to your childhood days where you were taught to colour in between the lines! Well, now you can colour in red! Use this mask to paint the edges of the mask and you can zoom in and out using the + and – feature to the top left of the UI.


  • Step 9- When you are finished with that preset you can go back to step 2 and repeat the process. Beginning with adding a new layer by going back to the big ( + ) icon in the Layers panel and then go and select another preset. Select your Brush ( B ) and you can begin masking in parts of another preset you like.


So you’ve mastered presets, tools, masking and brushes… What’s next?

Well you will be happy to know that Aurora still has a lot more depth to it! There are plenty more features and tools to discover including:

  • Gradient masks
  • Radial gradient masks
  • Layer opacity control
  • Save your image as JPEG, PNG. GIF, TIFF, JPEG 2000, PDF, Photoshop format as well as HDR formats.
  • Create and Save your own Presets!
  • Blend modes
  • Luminosity masks
  • Texture Layers
  • And using source images in your layers


There is plenty to keep even the most advanced HDR Photographers going for a long time. Plus, the great thing about Macphun software is that they are always supplying their users with free updates that give them new tools and features!


Often after I complete the process in Aurora HDR I personally like to finish off the stylisation in plugin software. The main ones that I like to use after Aurora HDR 2017 are these, but I have a complete list of software that I use for HDR here.


In On1 Effects there are a bunch of specified sharpening settings including different print papers, various screen settings and other sharpening filters like Amazing Detail and High Pass. I am a big fan of the On1 package and it goes great with Aurora.


Topaz Adjust offers you different options in filters and sharpening because you can get a look in some of filters that are a bit unique, like the Dynamic Pop and Pop Grunge filters. If you mask in parts of these using Photoshop your images will just bounce of the screen or paper 😉 Get a 15% discount on all Topaz Software using the code LukeZemePhotography


Now that you have all the tools to start making amazing HDR images create as many as you can as this is how you will improve. Then share them online with your friends and family.


If you enjoyed this tutorial and found it helpful, you can send your friends to subscribe to and they will also receive the free tutorials and DSLR cheat sheet. That would be a great way of saying thank you 😉


I look forward to hearing from you guys and seeing your HDR images soon!


Thanks, this has been fun


Luke Zeme Photography.

Photo Portfolio:



I hope you found this FREE HDR Tutorial valuable. Remember you can get a 15% discount on Aurora HDR PRO 2017 with the code “LukeZeme

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