8 Best HDR Software For Mac, Windows, and Apps

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If you’re new to photography, you might not yet be familiar with HDR and related programs. The best HDR software on the market can take your images from mediocre to spectacular in just a few clicks. This page is designed to help you trim down your choices.

We’ve combed through countless options and landed on a list of our absolute favorites. If this is all new to you, don’t worry. We’ve tried to keep things as simple and easy to understand as possible. Read on to find the best HDR software for you.

In case you’re not sure, what is HDR?

High Dynamic Range imaging, or HDR, refers to the range of light in a given image — from its shadows to its highlights. Take the darkest part of a photo and then compare it to its brightest — this is the bedrock of HDR processing.

This comparison is used to compensate when a given environment surpasses the built-in dynamic range of your camera. By combining multiple images of the same scene together, HDR can help you achieve a higher level of accuracy for your darks and highlights.

As a general rule, HDR images appear more vibrant and appealing to the naked eye; they brighten areas that can otherwise look washed out and introduce color back into a darker photo.

HDR software lets users tweak and adjust their HDR images to their hearts’ content. You’ll be able to choose how many photos to combine and precisely how much editing magic takes place. The best HDR software on the market can produce some absolutely stunning images.

The Benefits of Good HDR Software

The benefits that come from using HDR software mostly come from the benefits of HDR images in general. This section will explore just some of the things that these programs make possible.

They Give You Control

When you use the HDR setting on your camera, you’re leaving a lot of the processing decisions up to your specific device. In many contexts, the results can still be amazing, but sometimes you just need that extra bit of control.

Even free HDR software offers better levels of customization than your built-in camera settings. You’ll be able to brighten your highlights and deepen your blacks as you see fit.

They Bring Detail Back to Your Images

It’s true that HDR has gained a reputation for producing surreal, “larger-than-life” images with crazy color palettes. The reality is, however, that this is just one application of high dynamic range photography.

If you’re shooting an environment with big disparities between its darkest and brightest points, your final images may lack the detail you need without HDR. High dynamic range processing can rebalance your images, brightening the areas that are too dark and toning down the areas that are over exposed.

When used correctly, HDR can make your images more “realistic.”

HDR Images are Flexible

The trouble with most photography environments is that your lighting and other conditions are subject to change, especially when outdoors. On a cloudy day, for example, your available light can shift dramatically from moment to moment.

Taking multiple images of the same scene and relying on HDR software can allow users to compensate for the dynamic nature of outdoor photography. Tweaking the light of a scene can sometimes be much easier than battling against the elements in real-time.

The Best HDR Software — Our Top Picks

Whether you need some quick free HDR editing or want the best HDR software money can buy, we’ve got you covered. The list below contains our favorite options for creating amazing HDR images in 2021.

1. Aurora HDR

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Download link: here.

Price: $125

First up on our list is Aurora HDR. The developer Skylum claims that Aurora is the “world’s most advanced HDR photo editor.” While their claims might be a touch exaggerated, there’s loads to love about the Aurora HDR package.

Why we Love it

This award-winning HDR software uses the might of modern AI to deliver some truly stunning results. This isn’t the early guesswork that some still associate with AI. This is phenomenal tone mapping, next-level color enhancement and, most importantly, HDR images that impress.

If you’re the type to do things yourself, you’ll have access to over 20 tools to fine tune your work. Aurora HDR isn’t what you’d call cheap, but it comes with a toolkit that justifies its price tag. You’ll be able to lift detail and color from your high dynamic range work like never before.

If you’re a nature or architechture photographer, you’ll know how difficult it can be to produce HDR images with multiple shots. Fortunately, this HDR software can unlock a surprising amount of detail from just a single image!

Aurora HDR works as a standalone app but it can also be downloaded as a separate plugin for Apple Photos, Photoshop or Lightroom.

Pros:

  • Over 20 tools to tweak your work
  • Aurora HDR produces stunning images with its “quantum HDR engine”
  • Powerful AI features
  • Over 80 unique “looks” for your photos

Cons:

  • This is an expensive option

2. Photomatix Pro

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Download link: here.

Price: $99 for standalone app, $49 for Lightoom plugin, and $9.99 for iPhone app.

Geared toward real estate photographers and HDR photo enthusiasts, Photomatix Pro is designed to “capture the scene as you saw it.” A simple suite of easy-to-use tools are ready and waiting to bring your images to life. At $99, this might just be the best HDR software for real estate companies.

Why we Love it

One thing that really stands out about Photomatix Pro is its plugin functionality with Adobe Lightroom. It can significantly boost your workflow when processing large batches of images. In just a few clicks, your HDR photos will be ready to publish.

This handy piece of HDR software also does a great job of processing RAW files. This functionality isn’t a given with this kind of program, so it’s great to see here.

Pros:

  • Excellent HDR software for real estate photographers
  • The batch files plugin works well
  • Handles RAW files like a champ
  • Relatively affordable

Cons:

  • Photomatix Pro can be a little sluggish on older machines

3. Luminance HDR

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Download link: here.

Price: Open source

Now for something a little different. Luminance HDR is open source HDR software that does a great job of tone mapping and improving your images in general. For those looking for a free solution, this one is well worth a look.

Why we Love it

The tone mapping operators that come with this HDR kit are quite impressive, especially for a free option. If you’re not familiar with tone mapping, it’s essentially a means to artificially boost the dynamic range of a scene that was originally limited in scope.

The tone mapping operators that come with Luminance map sets of colors from one of your images to another, dramatically improving detail, brightness and color. The HDR “wizard” is another aspect of this option that caught our attention.

While you work on your images, the final result can be previewed live before you click “accept.” This can make your work much more efficient and save a fair bit of time.

Pros:

  • Open source (if that’s your thing)
  • Great mapping and preview features
  • Constantly tweaked and updated by contributors
  • Produces some great HDR images

Cons:

  • Feels less “polished” than some premium options

4. HDR Efex Pro

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Download link: here.

Price: $185

Another more premium option, HDR Efex Pro is designed to “take the guesswork out of” creating a stunning HDR photo. You’ll be able to combine multiple, differently exposed photos of the same scene to produce an image with miles more detail than with a camera alone.

Why we Love it

The precision photo editing capabilities of HDR Efex Pro are pretty impressive. While relying on AI and automatic algorithms can be great, sometimes you just need to get things done yourself. The toolkit that comes with this suite of plugins makes it trivial to tweak specific aspects of your work.

You’ll be able to work much more precisely than you might be used to. If trusting the power of computing is more your speed, the single-photo work possible with this software is quite remarkable. Even a single image can be given pretty stunning HDR results thanks to its built-in processing algorithms.

Pros:

  • Great for precision work
  • Similar specs to Aurora HDR with a smaller price tag
  • Still works well on single images
  • Works flawlessly with Adobe Lightroom

Cons:

  • Works best as a supplement to Photoshop, etc. The post-processing capabilities are decent but not show stopping.

5. Adobe Lightroom (Photo Merge Feature)

lightroom-youtube-screenshot

Download link: here.

Price: $10 a month for Lightroom and Photoshop

This is a decent option for professional photographers who already use Lightroom for their other photography tasks. Adobe’s robust suite of tools also comes with a ton of built-in versatility — with countless plugins available, you’ll be able to boost your functionality whenever you need it.

Why we Love it

This option makes the most sense if you already subscribe to Lightroom for your other photo editing needs. Many users aren’t aware of the built-in photo merge feature. The baked-in functionality is fairly simple, but what it does do, it does well.

The magic of Lightroom, though, comes from the slew of plugins available online. This can more than make up for any initial limitations. Check out Adobe’s handy tutorial for creating HDR images here.

Pros:

  • Many professionals already subscribe
  • Super expandable with third-party plugins
  • Simple and effective
  • Adobe’s suite of tools can be really powerful

Cons:

  • Adobe’s subscription model can turn some people off

6. Oloneo HDR Image Processing

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Download link: here.

Price: $50 (introductory price)

If you need to do HDR image work using RAW files, this option from Oloneo is worth considering. It’s built for professionals and offers a range of powerful tools designed to produce the HDR photography you’re looking for.

Why we Love it

When working with HDR photography, common complaints include “haloing” and “ghosting” issues where artifacts from certain photos remain in the final HDR image. The Oloneo processing engine does a great job of ghost removal and cleans up this aspect of your images with very little input required from the user.

Your images will be vibrant, colorful and full of vivid detail.

Pros:

  • Handles RAW files like a champ
  • Offers a number of flexible photo editing tools
  • Comparatively affordable at $50
  • Excellent ghost removal

Cons:

  • Less frequent support than more premium options

7. Eclipse HDR Pro (Windows Only)

eclipse-website-image

Download link: here.

Price: $150

Unfortunately, this option is only available for Windows. If you’re a PC user, though, you might want to pay attention. This software can create a mean HDR image and offers a flexible selection of tools — if you can afford them.

Why we Love it

Eclipse gives users a refreshing amount of freedom to get creative with their HDR photos. With over 40 gorgeous presets, you’ll be able to tweak and tinker with the look of your images to your heart’s content.

If serious photo editing is more your style, you haven’t been left out either. Eclipse’s state-of-the-art HDR editing engine does a wonderful job and produces images to a professional standard. We recommend testing out the software’s previews on their site.

Pros:

  • Works with RAW files
  • Tons of included presets
  • Great suite of photo editing tools
  • Decent ghost removal

Cons:

  • Can hiccup and lag occasionally

8. Easy HDR

easy-hdr-youtube-thumbnail

Download link: here.

Price: $5o for a professional license

Last, but certainly not least on our quest to find the best HDR software, is Easy HDR. This comparatively affordable option handles ghost removal, tone mapping and most other aspects of HDR photography very well. This a great option for professionals and hobbyists alike.

Why we Love it

The image alignment for panoramic photos works very well. If you’re doing some HDR editing on a wide panoramic image, intelligent tone mapping algorithms will process the left and right sides of your photo correctly. The result is panoramic HDR photos that capture the scene flawlessly.

Batch processing is another thing that Easy HDR does very well. For larger HDR projects, this can save you a significant amount of time and headache.

Pros:

  • Speedy batch processing
  • Great Lightroom/ Photoshop plugin
  • Excellent for large HDR projects
  • Comparatively affordable

Cons:

  • Your post processing options are limited

Considerations When Using HDR Software

The best HDR solution will look different for everyone. Your specific requirements, computer and budget will determine the option that’s right for you. This section will run through some of our tips and tricks to make sure you’re using the right editing software for the job.

Cost

Ask yourself how much you’re willing to spend on editing software. Ideally, you should ask this question before looking at available feature sets and reviews. This way, you’ll enter into the “shopping” phase with a clearer idea of what’s actually worth your money.

Don’t overspend on software if your needs could be met by a free or cheap tool.

Features

It’s worth taking the time to consider what you actually need your editing software to do for you. Just looking for a boost to your HDR projects? Need something that can give you laser-focused precision? Your specific requirements will determine the option you go with.

Remember that less heavy-duty requirements can often be addressed by free online tools.

Amateur or Professional?

If you’re a professional photographer, we strongly recommend choosing options that offer an included Lightroom plugin. This of course will depend on your individual use case, but the broad-reaching capabilities of Adobe’s software makes it possible to achieve much more than just basic HDR.

If you don’t work professionally, we suggest trying out a free tool first and continuing from there. If you find that the free options don’t cut it, then by all means pursue an upgrade. It’s just that pro tools often offer features that amateurs just won’t find useful.

Your Computer’s Specs Matter

Make sure you double-check the minimum requirements of any software you’re considering. The last thing you want to do is fork out $100+ on a program, only to realize that you can’t actually take advantage of it with your machine.

The main components you’ll have to look out for are GPU, CPU and available RAM. GPU in particular can be very important for smooth image editing.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are tons of options out there when it comes to getting the powerful HDR results you deserve. Even if you’re a professional who needs this kind of software for work, we recommend testing out some of the free or cheap options on this list first.

Make sure you get a feel for the feature set and only upgrade if you feel you don’t have enough tools at your disposal. When you’re ready to make the jump, use the tips outlined in our buyer’s guide to make the right decision.

Whichever option you go with, we hope it produces stunning images for you!

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