Are you a lover of landscape photography but are always afraid of not being able to make the most of it due to complex lighting conditions? Have you ever tried to use the HDR technique?
There is software to produce HDR images that can be very expensive, but there are free alternatives. I have collected them all in this article!
But let’s see some history first.
What is HDR?
The abbreviation HDR stands for “ High Dynamic Range “, images with high dynamic range. Obviously, dynamic range refers to the range of light between the shadows and the highlights. High dynamic range images have very bright areas and very dark areas, so a contrasted image with a lot of contrast has a lot of dynamic range.
Cameras, of course, have their own limited dynamic range. This means that it is not possible to maintain a photographic exposure for lights and shadows at the same time most of the time.
Trying to keep the exposure right for the highlights will make the shadows too dark and vice versa.
And here comes HDR photography , which thanks to a complex technological system manages to overcome this problem. Instead of taking a single photo and having a single dynamic range, take multiple photos with different exposures.
The photos are then combined in post-production and by mixing them you can highlight a perfect exposure. This is HDR for short.
Basically you have to take 3 photos:
- One to expose the shadows
- One for the highlights
- One with mid-tones
This technique is then called “ bracketing ” and each exposure should be about 1/2 stop different from the other.
Many modern cameras have a similar tool built in, so you can manually adjust the exposure compensation dial for similar results.
3 images are required for an HDR photo, but professional photographers also use 6 or 7!
But let’s start now after this preamble to see what are the free software to process HDR photos.
However, to find out more if this explanation wasn’t enough for you, read the full article on HDR photography.
Best Free HDR Software for Mac & Windows Software for hdr
These below is the list of hdr programs that you can use, some are even just plugins to be incorporated into programs that you probably already have installed.
One of the best programs ever to get spectacular HDR photos, there are really many useful tools such as automatic anti-ghosting.
It is part of the Sourceforge chain, so behind it there is truly a stable and innovative industry.
It reads JPEG, RAW, PNG files and has a mind boggling ease of exporting photos to additional photo editing software. For example, you can export them to Gimp with a simple click. I wrote several Gimp and over time I realized that to be a free alternative to Photoshop it’s not bad!
Let’s start talking about a very powerful HDR program , available both as a standalone program and as a Lightroom plugin also this, soon also for Capture One, has its own free version that does not expire but leaves the watermark on the images.
It includes many settings, color and tone mapping, you can selectively paint color effects, and you can blend your photo with more advanced blending modes for professional results.
Photomatix is also capable of recreating an HDR image from a single photo.
A free tool, certainly not as advanced as its competitors, but useful for beginners who don’t want an interface that is too complicated.
The color mapping algorithm is much simpler and the results obtained are still noticeable even if the user always has full control of the blending process. However, their very attentive customer service and the continuous release of updates should be emphasized.
Another free HDR photo tool, very light, easy to install and use. Very intuitive and works by simply dragging photos. It supports PNG and RAW files. Includes alpha channel display, and is one of the fastest tools for lathe mapping.
It is also interesting to know that the program is Open Source, therefore publicly available for programmers interested in modifying the program and improving it to make it constantly evolving day by day
Free hdr software that can be used both as a Lightroom plugin and as a standalone program.
Easy to use, very powerful, just drag your photos into the program, adjust the tone mapping and you can get a satisfying result right away.
The interface is similar to Photoshop and Lightroom, so those with a minimum of familiarity will not find it difficult to use it. It is compatible with both RAW and Jpg images.
Read Also: 12+ Free Celebrity Photo Editing Apps
There are brushes and masks like other editing software, but in addition it has a very nice function, it allows batch editing, automatically identifies sequences in HDR and proceeds with the processing. This is great when there are a lot of photos to edit, it will really save you a lot of time.
It’s inside Photoshop, just go to the File> Automate> Merge to HDR menu.
You can adjust the brightness, tone curve, colors and other parameters to get the correct exposure.
Nik HDR Efex Pro
It is part of the Nik collection and also works as a Lightroom plugin. The Nik was acquired by DXO recently and no longer has the free version like when it was from Google, but it still has a free trial version.
However, it is famous as a program due to its high quality presets and various HDR options . You can control the appearance of the image and the amount of effect applied in all its shades.