Software

How to edit HDR image files on a Mac

Creating images for ads, PR materials, and similar initiatives is easier using HDR photos. iOS devices, macOS Sierra, and third-party programs make the HDR photo editing process straightforward.

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This streetcar image was shot in bright sunlight that threatened to wash out colors, particularly the sky and treetops. HDR exposure assistance and a quick edit using MacPhun's Filters for Photos helped punch up the colors while preventing the image from appearing too bright.

Image: Erik Eckel/TechRepublic


You don't need to be a professional photographer to create professional images using an iOS device and a Mac. HDR (high-dynamic range) photographs, which are supported by Apple iPhones, iPads, and Macs, make it easier for amateurs to close photography knowledge gaps and produce compelling images for marketing, public relations, advertising, and similar purposes.

According to Apple, HDR works by blending the best parts of three separate exposures into a single photo (the under- and over-exposed versions, which tend to be too dark or too bright, are discarded). Because HDR photos collect multiple images possessing multiple exposures simultaneously, it's easier for non-professional photographers to perform minor edits and create professional images.

SEE: PhotoBulk simplifies bulk image editing chores for Mac users

Confirm your iOS 10 device is configured to take HDR photos by opening Camera, selecting Photo, and tapping HDR from the top menu. Auto is typically the default setting, meaning the iPhone will automatically take HDR photos when capturing images, if the circumstances are appropriate. You can choose On or Off to enable or disable the feature, respectively.

Some users prefer to also store non-HDR, or normal, images that don't collect additional HDR information. You can confirm your iOS device's configuration by going to Settings, selecting Photos & Camera, and confirming Keep Normal Photo is enabled, in which case the iOS device will record both normal and HDR images when taking a picture. Subsequently, photographs taken using the HDR technology are stored on the device, and within macOS Sierra's Photos application (if you leverage iCloud photo sharing), with a small HDR icon in the upper right corner. HDR photos, when opened on an iOS 10 device, will show the HDR label in the upper left corner.

Multiple applications and utilities are available to further edit HDR photos, thereby enabling amateurs to better manipulate shadows, contrast, highlights, clouds and sky elements, and similar components without compromising the entire image's exposure balance.

For example, Mac users can open HDR images within macOS Sierra's Photos application. To do so, double-click an HDR image within Photos and click the Edit Photo icon (it resembles three horizontal slide bars) to edit the image as you would another photo. Click the Adjust icon to change the image's color and light. Note: You can also click the Add link from the Adjustments menu to add additional color and lighting adjustment menus and tools, including White Balance, Levels, and Histogram.

Photos users can leverage properly configured and compatible Extensions using the Extensions icon (it resembles three circled dots). Clicking a corresponding extension should enable leveraging that program's image-editing features within Photos. I purchased and installed the MacPhun apps Tonality ($24.99), Filters for Photos (free), and Intensify ($9.99), which can all be integrated and used within Photos to manipulate HDR images and photos.

One option for enabling Photos to use third-party extensions is to click Photo's Share icon from the application's menu bar, click the More icon, and select All (All third-party extensions). Check the box for HDR- and photo-editing compatible installed applications to enable those programs to interact with Photos. Alternatively, you can open System Preferences and select the Extensions app to open the same configuration window.

MacPhun has recently introduced an upgraded version of its Aurora HDR 2017 for Mac program. The $99 program (which is currently available for $89.99 from the Apple Store) provides a powerful HDR-specific editing utility that just earned N-Photo magazine's Best On Test rating (for version 1.2.3).

Numerous other options are available for editing HDR files on a Mac. Choices include Adobe Photoshop (multiple pricing options exist), Adobe Lightroom (multiple pricing options exist), easyHDR 3 ($39 home license; $65 commercial license), Google HDR Efex Pro (free), HDR Darkroom 3 ($89), and Photomatix Pro 5.1.3 for Mac ($99).

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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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