Beyond the Lens with Matt Suess – Photography Journal & Blog



Aurora HDR 2018 In-Depth Preview

As announced a month ago Macphun is set to release Aurora HDR 2018, their second paid upgrade to their excellent Aurora HDR software. The program, which debuted in November of 2015, received a paid upgrade a year ago for Aurora HDR 2017 and Aurora HDR 2018 is now available for pre-order with a release date of September 28, 2017.

Find out what is new and what has changed in Aurora HDR 2018 and most importantly, find out if this new upgrade is worth the price here in my preview.

Note that this preview was completed using a beta copy of Aurora HDR 2018. As the official release date is still a couple weeks away there could still be some updates & enhancements to the program. I will wait until the official release to do an in-depth review.

3-exposure photo processed in Aurora HDR 2018

First, What is Aurora HDR?

In just a couple of years, Aurora HDR has become “the world’s ultimate HDR photo solution” and has been my personal go-to program for HDR photography. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is used by photographers to record all of the available light in a scene from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows by using exposure bracketing. Aurora HDR takes these exposure brackets and blends them into one image giving the photographer the ultimate control to further enhance the image with layers, masks, specialized filters, and more.

Since it’s release in 2015 I have found Aurora HDR to be so much better than Photomatix Pro, which was the default HDR industry standard for many photographers. I will have more to say about just how much better Aurora HDR is compared to Photomatix soon, so keep an eye out for that! Nik’s HDR Efex Pro was my go-to HDR software long ago until Google decided to abandon it. And for those of you using Photoshop or Lightroom to create HDR photos, boy you are in for a treat with Aurora HDR! It isn’t even fair to compare the two.

Aurora HDR works on RAW & DNG files as well as other common file types like tif and jpg. It’s specialty is blending multiple exposures, but it works great on single exposures too. It features batch processing, exporting to popular file formats, easy sharing to popular social media sites, and exporting to other Macphun programs like Luminar. It runs as a standalone program and also as a plugin to Photoshop & Lightroom and also as an extension to Photos and Aperture on the Mac.

And it is now finally available to Windows users!

Pre-Order Pricing & Special Offers

Before I get into the preview, let’s go over the pricing and bonuses first.


  • Current users of Aurora HDR may upgrade at a special pre-order price of $49 ($59 MSRP)
  • New users can purchase Aurora HDR 2018 at a special pre-order price of $89 ($99 MSRP)
  • A collection of bonuses will also be included with every purchase.

Pre-Order Bonuses:

  • Trey Ratcliff Deep Dive video
  • Travel Photography Tutorial by Matt Granger
  • Source Brackets
  • 3-month Zenfolio Pro website, including a complementary design consultation. $60 value.

Aurora HDR 2018 is now available for both Mac and Windows computers.

System Requirements for Mac:

  • Processor Core 2 Duo from late 2009 or newer
  • Minimum 4 GB RAM
  • OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks or newer
  • 2 GB free space, SSD for best performance
  • Display resolution 1280×800 or higher
  • Retina displays supported

System requirements for Windows (recommended):

  • Windows-based hardware
  • PC with mouse or similar input device
  • Direct X 10 compatible Graphics Cards or better
  • Intel Core i3 or better
  • RAM: 4 GB or more
  • Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10
  • 2 GB free space, SSD for best performance
  • Display 128-x768 size or higher

What’s New

There are a number of new features and enhancements in Aurora HDR 2018 and I will go through each one.

Rewritten completely from Scratch

I am told that Aurora HDR 2018 has been completely rewritten from scratch. By doing this, they were able to improve image quality and speed while bringing in new features that we will now explore in this preview.

Next-generation Tone Mapping

A new smart Tone Mapping algorithm automatically reduces noise, and produces more realistic and natural initial results. And let me tell you, this alone is worth the price of the upgrade for those of you craving more natural results with your HDR photos!

3-exposure HDR processed in Aurora HDR 2018

I have been using Aurora HDR 2018 for about a week now and I am so impressed with the natural look to most of my images now right out of the gate with no adjustments. And by starting with a more natural looking image you are able to enhance it further while keeping that natural look. I went back and processed some photos I had recently done in v2017. When I originally processed those photos, I needed to bring back in one of the original exposures to paint in the sky to keep things “looking real”. When I processed those same brackets in v2018 I didn’t need to bring back the sky in any of them. Impressive! I have also noticed a dramatic decrease in problematic halos along with better color.

Dodge & Burn Filter

If you were not yet completely convinced that Aurora HDR 2018 is worth the upgrade price, then this filter should convince you. Personally if this was the only major feature of v2018 I would definitely buy the upgrade just so I could use this one filter.

Dodging and burning has always been a huge part of my photo enhancement – ever since I started printing my own photos in a black & white chemical darkroom. When I transitioned to a digital darkroom many years ago, dodging and burning continued to be a super important part of my workflow, and I developed a great technique for doing it in Photoshop.

Now here in Aurora HDR 2018 we have a filter dedicated to dodging and burning, and it is awesome!!

Dodging and burning allows you to lighten and/or darken specific areas in your photo with the use of an adjustable brush. With that you draw attention to or downplay certain areas in your photo by lightening or darkening them. Effective use of this tool can allow you to control where the eye travels when viewing your photo and can give your photos more of a 3-dimensional look. It is one of my favorite things I do to my photos and I am very excited to see it here in Aurora HDR 2018.

Lens Correction Tool*

The new Lens Correction filter easily fixes all kinds of lens distortion, from barrel and pincushion to chromatic aberration and vignetting. There are no lens profiles in Aurora HDR 2018. Rather, when you are using the Lens Correction Tool you are making manual adjustments.

Transform Tool*

Easily scale, rotate and shift your image to better fit your vision. With this tool you can correct perspective issues common when shooting with very wide angle lenses. Architecture photographers in particular will certainly enjoy this.

HDR Enhance

Adds details and clarity to an image, adjusting colors, details and contrast without creating artificial halos or other problems. This replaces the HDR Look slider in Aurora HDR 2017 and does a much better job enhancing the HDR look of your photo.

User Interface

A new, modern and responsive user interface brings a powerful, yet joyful experience to HDR photo editing. Aurora HDR 2018 now looks more like Luminar and is quite polished from v2017. For some photographers the UI isn’t too important. For me it is. I don’t want to spend lots of time in an ugly looking program, and the new UI of v2018 is a pleasure for the eyes. In regards to workflow it is a little more streamlined. I just wish I could change the order of the filters like in Luminar.

A beautiful new user interface for Aurora HDR 2018.

The Presets also received an enhanced look as seen in the screenshot below.

History Panel

An easy-to-reference list of edits made to your image, the History panel allows you to click on any editing step to revert the photo to an earlier stage of editing.

Touch Bar support for Mac

Aurora HDR 2018 adds Touch Bar support to give new MacBook Pro users fast access to key editing features and speed up their workflow.

Image Flip and Rotate*

Perfect for correcting photos with incorrect horizons or making creative compositions or other stylistic changes to an image.

IMPROVED:  New Structure Algorithm

The re-developed Structure tool allows you to adjust detail and clarity of an image to get a classic HDR effect with great detail or a smoother effect with less details.

IMPROVED: RAW handling

An improved RAW conversion brings out more details in shadows/highlights, displays colors more accurately and reduces noise in RAW files.

IMPROVED: Crop tool update

Now specify custom crop sizes for even more versatility.


Faster merging and masking performance, improvement in RAW image processing. I have noticed up to a 25% increase in speed when loading a 3-photo bracket.

IMPROVED: Some of the Filters

The look of some of the filters has changed ever so slightly and some, like HSL, have become more powerful. HSL in Aurora HDR 2018 now provides you with 2 more color controls: Orange and Magenta.

New Option when saving .mpaur2 files

When saving your work in the proprietary .mpaur2 file, you can now choose to just save the history to dramatically shrink the file sizes of the .mpaur2 files. You will still need to hold onto your original bracketed photos however to continue editing where you left off. Saving in this file format saves all of your masks, layers, filter settings, and everything you have done to the file so you can get back to work on your file at a later date just the way you left it.


* Lens Correction and Transform tools, as well as image flip and rotate will be available in the Mac version at launch, and arrive in the PC version with the first free update in the beginning of October. Other tools and features that are currently available for Mac only would be added to PC version by the end of the year. Read more about this later in my preview.


3-exposure HDR processed in Aurora HDR 2018


What’s Different

Luminosity Masking is the most obvious, as Macphun has removed the Zone system of luminosity masking that is in v2017 and replaced it with their standard masking that is in Luminar. I don’t know for sure yet as to the reasoning.

I have noticed a couple other minor things missing from v2018 but I will wait until the final shipping version is available to see if in fact they remain gone. These are not deal-breakers by any means so there is nothing to worry about.

What Might Upset You

I know these next three topics are probably going to upset some photographers and I am going to do my best to explain why this is happening.

Here are the first two issues:

You can’t open .mpaur files from Aurora HDR 2017 or the original version of Aurora in Aurora HDR 2018.

You can’t use presets from Aurora HDR 2017 or the original version of Aurora in Aurora HDR 2018.

The reasons why you can not do either are pretty much the same. Aurora HDR 2018 is a brand new program, rewritten from scratch. The new version features a completely revamped tone-mapping engine that includes completely different slider controls. In v2018 the main HDR slider is the HDR Enhance and it goes from a value of 0 to 100. In v2017 we had a HDR Look slider that went from a value of -100 to +100. These different sliders have completely different algorithms, let alone value scales. And speaking of algorithms, many of those have been enhanced in the rest of the filters. Not only that, but there are some sliders missing in v2018 that were there in v2017, and there are some new sliders in other areas.

What this all means is that it is near impossible for them to have backward compatibility. If somehow they were able to engineer it and you could use old .mpaur files or old presets, your files would look completely different in v2018 than they would in v2017 because of the difference in sliders and algorithms.

How can you adapt?

Keep your Aurora HDR 2017 installed. You can open up both v2017 and v2018 at the same time. Do that and manually re-create your old presets in the new v2018. Remember that not all sliders will be the same so you should expect different results, but you will probably end up creating even better presets based off of your old ones due to the enhancements in v2018.

As for the .mpaur files from v2017, open those up and finish your editing in them and export the file as a tif or psd file that can then be brought into v2018 or Luminar for any final editing.

3-exposure HDR processed in Aurora HDR 2018 and finished with slight enhancements in Luminar.


And finally:

Why do I have to pay for another upgrade?

First off, you don’t.

If you don’t upgrade, your v2017 will still work and Macphun will update it with any necessary fixes due to operating system upgrades that might cause issues. But you won’t get any new features.

Secondly, get used to yearly paid upgrades for new features.

In the last few years Macphun has gone with a yearly paid upgrade for Aurora and will likely do the same for Luminar. Each year they offer the upgrade at a special reduced price and include a bunch of cool bonuses that end up paying for the upgrade and then some. Continually improving and supporting a program costs money, and to be honest the price they charge for upgrading is tiny when you consider how much you pay to upgrade your camera, your lenses, your camera bag, most camera accessories, filters, and on and on.

Best bet – download the free trial when it is available and find out if the new features are worth the upgrade price. If not, wait until v2019. If they are, order it right away to maximize your investment.

3-exposure HDR processed in Aurora HDR 2018


Hey Windows Users!

You are now finally getting your hands on the best HDR program out there – congrats!


Because this is the first Windows release there are going to be a few missing features at launch that will get addressed soon in free updates.

Here is as complete of a list as I can gather up on what you will likely be missing at launch but will be receiving in free updates – some soon and others most likely by the end of the year: Lens Correction and Transform tools, image flip and rotate, color clipping preview, full screen preview mode, luminosity masking, rotate image, batch processing (or possibly only Batch presets), Flickr and SmugMug sharing, export to PSD, support for Adobe RGB 1998 and ProPhoto RGB, and lastly export to HDR file formats .EXR, >HDR, and fp-TIFF (hey – even us Mac peeps don’t have that last one just yet).


Conclusion and Recommendation

The best has gotten better and Macphun’s Aurora HDR 2018 further separates itself from any competition – if it’s even fair to call it that at this point.

The new Aurora HDR 2018 is packed with a number of new features and enhancements that will provide you with a dramatic improvement in your HDR photographs and you really shouldn’t have to think twice about upgrading. In fact the new tone-mapping and Dodge & Burn filters alone are worth the small upgrade price.

And if you have been using another program for HDR or are just starting out in HDR photography, there is currently no program on the market that offers as many features, is as easy to use, or produces the image quality that Aurora HDR 2018 provides you.

I will have a final review once the full version is released on September 28th but in the meantime be sure to take advantage of the special savings and pre-order bonuses by pre-ordering your copy today!


I will soon be opening up pre-ordering for my upcoming Mastering Aurora HDR 2018 Online Course – the most complete training on Aurora HDR 2018. Add your name to my list in the box below if you want to take advantage of my pre-ordering offers for the course!

Join me for a free webinar with Macphun this Friday, September 15 at 7pm Mountain Time where I will be showing off some of the new features in this release.

And also join me on October 4 for a Facebook Live presentation I will be doing with Macphun on their Facebook Page.

I will post links to these events as soon as I have them!

Any questions?

Feel free to add them in the comments below or continue the discussion in my Online Forums Here.

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Luminar Receives Free Update With New Filter Plus Enhancements For Drone Photographers

Luminar from Macphun received a free update today to their Mac software to bring the current version to v1.2.1

Users can update by opening the program as a stand-alone and clicking on Check for Updates under Luminar in the file menu.

Photo by Laurie Rubin and used with permission.

The main features of this update are:

  • Aerial Workspace – Unique new workspace that features the most commonly used editing filtes for aerial photographers, including Macphun’s AI-powered Accent, Dehaze, Polarize and Clarity filters among others.
  • Whites / Blacks Filter  – This new filter makes setting the white and black points effortless.
  • One-click Aerial Presets – Instant styling and creative looks for aerial photos.
  • Various Bug Fixes – nothing specifically mentioned but various bugs and performance updates are included

Luminar is the first photo editor for the Mac that offers dedicated tools too help you make the most beautiful aerial photos, working with aerial photographer Romeo Durscher – the Director of Education at DJI – for this release.


The new Whites / Blacks filter is a welcome addition and allows one to control the white point and black point in your photo, helping to add or decrease contrast. This filter is instantly going into my Favorites.


The new Aerial Workspace is located in the Workspace dropdown and features common filters used in aerial photography but can also be useful in other photography subjects such as landscape.

Nine new presets are included in the new Aerial preset category. Just like the Aerial Workspace, give these new presets a shot on your landscape photos as well as other photo types. Some of the new presets include the new Whites / Blacks filter.

New Aerial Presets do not need to be used on just aerial photos!

This free update is only for the Mac version of Luminar. Users of the Windows Beta will have to wait for either a new beta or the final release of Luminar for Windows to take advantage of these enhancements.

Don’t have Luminar?

If you are a current user of Macphun products you can purchase it at their standard pricing of $59 with the program costing just $69 for all new users.

Save 10% on Luminar (and other Macphun software) by using coupon code mattsuess when checking out at Macphun’s Website!

Image Credit

Special thanks to my friend Laurie Rubin for the use of her image in my article. She is a drone photography pioneer and you can check out more of her work at the following online locations: website, Facebook, instagram, and skypixel.

Photographing the Total Solar Eclipse, With and Without Solar Filters

Tomorrow I will be photographing the Total Solar Eclipse above the Tetons in Wyoming on the Idaho side with a spectacular view of the Grand Tetons.

Here’s how I am doing it with 2 different camera setups.

Wide Angle

I am using my Sony a7R with a Canon 17-40mm f4 lens set at 28mm or 24mm – still deciding on the exact shot I want with this. I will be using a Formatt-Hitech 16-stop solid neutral density filter.

This is definitely NOT a filter recommended for photographing the sun as it doesn’t have any proper solar viewing certificates!

But many photographers have been asking me if solid density filters like this are OK for the eclipse.

Here’s the deal – if you do decide to use one it is at your own risk. You could potentially fry your camera sensor and worse you could potentially do permanent damage to your eyes.

If you decide to take such risks you are on your own. I am not recommending the following tips but rather telling you how I am photographing with these filters while assuming my own risk.

So here is how I am using this filter. I ran tests this morning while photographing the sun and did no damage to my eyes nor my camera.

For starters I have a mirrorless camera. This saves my eyes, as when I am looking through the viewfinder I am only looking at an LCD screen.

If you don’t have a mirrorless camera DO NOT LOOK at the sun through the viewfinder or you could ruin your eyes even with this filter on. Instead use live-view and only for short periods of time.

Next I was concerned with the lens being pointed at the sun for a few hours. Even with the camera turned off, my sensor is still exposed.

To protect my sensor in-between shots during the length of the eclipse I cut a piece of cardboard to cover my filter and used tape to allow me to flip the cardboard up to take a photo and back down to protect the sensor during the eclipse. It may not look pretty but it sure is effective!

With this setup my camera settings were ISO 100 at 1/250s at f16.


For this I am using my Sony a7 on a Sigma 150-600mm lens.

And with this setup I am definitely using the proper solar filter. I got it the other week from Bozeman Camera for $80 and it fits over my lens hood.

I had to make some modifications for my setup.

First I noticed the lens hood has holes at the base that were letting in light under certain circumstances so I taped those up.

Next, because my filter is made of a flimsy and delicate film I wanted to protect it better from rubbing or puncture. I used some foam core and tape to protect the front surface when the filter is transported in the cardboard box that it came with. This keeps the filter from direct contact twith he top of the box.

Again it may not look pretty but it works.

My camera settings with this setup photographing the sun are are ISO 100 at 1/500s at f8.

Other Things To Consider

Here are some other tips for getting the perfect shot!

  • Practice with your gear to be 100% familiar with what you will be doing during the eclipse
  • If you are in an area of 100% totality, when – and only when – it is at 100% totality it will be safe to look at the eclipse. Take your filters off at this time and bracket your exposures. The moment 100% ends back to the filters.
  • In regards to bracketing set your camera to 1-stop increments instead of 1/3rd which most photographers use. You only have at most just over 2 minutes of totality and it will be quicker adjusting shutter speeds and f-stops when dials are set for 1-stop. During totality do extreme bracketing with up to 10 brackets at 1-stop each
  • When photographing the sun rely more on the flashing blinkies than the histogram to judge exposure. Adjust your exposure until they disappear. If you are still seeing them you are over-exposing your shot.
  • Look for other photos during totality such as the crowds and look away from your camera every once in a while to fully experience it. This will be my first total eclipse and I will definitely need to remind myself of this tip.

I hope these last minute tips help out! Have fun, be safe, and enjoy the moment!!

Aurora HDR 2018 Coming Soon for Mac & Windows

I am excited to announce some awesome news – Macphun’s Aurora HDR will be upgraded later this year AND it will be available for Window’s users for the first time ever!! Aurora HDR has been my go-to HDR program since it first came out and it is so much better than any other HDR programs available. And now Windows users will be able to get their hands on this powerful software.

Aurora HDR 2018 is coming in September. You will be able to pre-order it on September 12 and it will be available on September 28. Get more info from Macphun here and read the announcement on Macphun’s blog here.

Aurora HDR 2018

Here are the Details on Pricing:

Mixed-computer households can share the same product key for Mac and PC that can be activated on 5 devices.


  • Current users of Aurora HDR may upgrade at a special pre-order price of $49
  • New users can purchase Aurora HDR 2018 at a special pre-order price of $89
  • A collection of bonuses will also be included with every purchase.

Retail price:

  • $59 for current Aurora HDR users
  • $99 for new users

Great looking interface more in-line with Luminar.

What’s New?

In addition to Aurora now being available for PC’s, here is some other highlights of the upgrade.

  • Lens Correction Tool – The new Lens correction filter easily fixes all kinds of lens distortion, from barrel to pincushion, to chromatic aberration and vignetting. Based on the screenshots I have seen, there are no lens profiles to choose from based on your particular lens. Corrections are done manually yourself via the sliders.

    New Lens Correction Tool for Aurora HDR 2018

  • New User Interface – Redesigned from scratch, the modern and responsive user interface brings a powerful, yet joyful experience to HDR photo editing. This new interface looks great and brings the UI much closer to that of Luminar.
  • Cross-platform version – Aurora HDR 2018 will be available both for Mac and PC users. Files are interchangeable and mixed-computer households can share the same product key.
  • Speed Improvements – Up to 4x improvement in RAW image processing, and up to 200% faster merging and masking performance means that Aurora HDR 2018 is dramatically faster than the last version.

This is what is currently publicly listed as what’s new. There might be some more enhancements coming – we shall see soon.

With the new UI comes a new look for some of the Filters.

My Observations

I will be getting my hands on an early beta release very soon and will then have a better handle on the improvements. But based on the screenshots I have seen I can make some initial observations.

For the Windows Users: Your time has come. You are now going to be able to use the best HDR program available. Perfect for both natural and more artistic HDR photos, you will be amazed at the toolset and options now available for you. It is much more advanced than any other HDR program out there. And it even does a great job on single exposure images!

Get on the list for the new Aurora HDR 2018!

Here are some highlights of Aurora HDR:

  • Total HDR editing experience with the most complete set of tools available.
  • Fast, powerful RAW processing engine.
  • Tone-mapping algorithm to achieve both realistic and dramatic HDR images.
  • Over 70 presets that give photos an amazing HDR look in just one click.
  • Luminosity masking that automatically makes advanced selections within HDR images based on the Zone System.
  • Unique layer system that supports blend modes, custom textures and using original exposures as source images.
  • Image Radiance, brushes, masks, lighting, vignettes and much more help users achieve their artistic vision
  • Highly versatile batch processing
  • Works as a standalone app, or a plug-in to Photoshop and Lightroom

Lens Correction now available in Aurora HDR 2018

For the Mac Users: For an upgrade price of just $49 dollars you are getting the latest and greatest version of Aurora HDR with a completely new user interface that comes closer to matching Luminar, there is a new Lens Correction Tool, your registration key will also work on a Windows computer if you have one, and you will enjoy much welcomed speed improvements.

The lens correction tool is definitely going to be helpful, eliminating the need of other software to make lens adjustments. And based on the screenshots of the new UI it looks like there will be some interesting workflow enhancements that I will be discussing more once I get a chance to use the program.

“Is it worth upgrading?” “Why do I have to spend money for an upgrade already?” “Am I going to have to pay each year for an upgrade?”

Every time a new upgrade comes out I see these same questions and also complaints. Photographers always appreciate new features, but don’t always like paying for them. The way most photo software companies are now operating are via a monthly subscription or a yearly upgrade cycle. Macphun for the last few years has decided to go the yearly upgrade cycle, meaning they spend a year making enhancements and adding features to their software and offering the upgrade at a special reduced price for previous owners.

I don’t understand why photographers complain about this. Often they reference Photomatix (a very popular HDR program) when complaining, mentioning that their recently released v6 upgrade was free for v5 users. They fail to mention however that they had to wait some 5 or 6 years for the upgrade… Personally I would rather pay a small upgrade fee each year for new features and enhancements to make my photos look even better than to wait years for such upgrades.

Lastly these upgrades are not mandatory.  You can still use Aurora 2017 and wait for Aurora 2019. But you will miss out on the new features of Aurora 2018 while you wait 😉

And why wait? Be notified when the pre-order and launch begins by signing up to Macphuns announcement list here.

Will I Have a New Mastering Aurora 2018 Online Course?

You bet!! The plan is to have it available on or around the release date of Aurora HDR 2018. Want to be added to my pre-order list for my course? Let me know by filling out this form:

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Luminar Now Available for Windows – How Does It Compare To The Mac Version?

Macphun today has released a public beta for Windows of it’s award-winning adaptive all-in-one photo editing program Luminar which was originally released for Mac computers in November of 2016. Countless people have been patiently waiting for a Windows version of Luminar (in addition to Aurora HDR) and now Windows users get a first-hand look at what all the Mac people have been so excited about lately.

So how does this first public beta compare to the current Mac version?

What is Luminar?

Before we get into comparisons let’s take a look at Luminar.

It is an all-in-one photo editor and RAW processor that lets you enhance your photos with over 40 photo filters, numerous presets, custom workspaces, layers, masking brushes, gradient masks, radial masks, luminosity masks, layer blending modes, and so much more. Additional tools include transform, clone & stamp, erase, denoise, and crop tools and it runs the other Macphun plugins from the Creative Kit as well as Aurora HDR.

Luminar Neptune for Mac

Luminar is designed for any photographer – from those just starting out with photo processing all the way to professionals.

The interface adapts to you, allowing for custom workspaces that only include the specific filters you want, providing you with a workspace free of clutter. You can export your files direct to your computer, Messages, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, SmugMug, and 500px and batch processing is also available.

Now all of these features are only relevant if the image quality is good, and I am pleased to report that I have found image quality to be excellent. Luminar has become one of my necessary tools in my digital darkroom for a large number of my photos.

Luminar for Windows

Macphun has set out to make Luminar cross-platform. Both the Windows and Mac versions will look alike, and workspaces as well as presets from each platform will be compatible with each other.

However, not just yet…

First Public Beta Luminar for Windows

The First Public Beta of Luminar for Windows

While Windows users now get a chance to see first-hand what Luminar is, I need to mention that you really are getting just a peak of the full Mac version right now. Something to wet your appetite with. There is much more coming for Windows users, and Macphun will be updating the beta version from time to time until the full release later this fall.

You also need to know that along with any beta, the interface, functionality of the tools, algorithms of sliders, and more is subject to change in the shipping version and bugs may appear.

First Public Beta Luminar for Windows

With all that said, how about computer specs?

Macphun is recommending Windows 10, a Core i5 2.2 or equal processor, 8GB of RAM or more, 1GB of GPU or more, and a SSD drive with 20+ GB free.

I haven’t owned a Windows computer since 2001 so my girlfriend Whitney Hall dusted off her old Dell computer that had Windows 7 on it (she has been Mac only for a while now too). Luminar wouldn’t run until we upgraded it to Windows 10. And Luminar is now running on it, although this computer is far from the spec’s Macphun recommends. The computer I am testing Luminar on is a Core i3 with only 4GB of RAM. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend these specs for anyone as the computer is almost unbearably slow, but Luminar actually does seem to run pretty decently on it.

What Features are Available Currently in this First Public Beta of Luminar for Windows?

The core functionality is here.

It supports most popular image formats (not PSD right now) and RAW formats. It includes over 50 presets, over 40 image enhancement filters, masking with a brush and gradient mask, a history menu, preview, histogram, side-by-side comparison, layers, and cropping. It is currently limited to exporting JPG files.

This is enough right now to allow one to get some great looking images while testing out Luminar and getting used to the program. It also includes the most talked about filter, the Accent AI Filter.

First Public Beta Luminar for Windows

This Artificial Intelligence filter is something. It has only one slider – a Boost slider – and the filter works by analyzing your photo and making what it thinks are the best adjustments to make. It will brighten, darken your image, open shadows and knock down highlights, darken blue skies, increase saturation & clarity, and more. All at once, all specific to each photo. It is quite amazing on many photos!

What Features are Still Missing?

Perhaps the most obvious thing missing is the file menu. Beyond that there is yet none of the following: radial mask, transform tool, clone & stamp tool, eraser tool, denoise tool, plugin support, stamped layers, layer blending, luminosity masking, other masking features like invert and fill, layer blending modes, layer options, workspaces, sharing options, exporting in other formats besides jpg, batch processing, and multi-colored histogram with clipping. Also some things currently are simplified, such as the crop tool – it is more advanced in the Mac version right now. And some things just aren’t working, like the Curves filter for one.

First Public Beta Luminar for Windows

The good news is that all of this is eventually coming to the Windows version. As I mentioned before, you are getting just a taste of things to come right now in this first public beta.


If you are on a Windows computer you definitely have to give the public beta a try. Even though it is far from complete, there is still enough here at present to start creating great images with an entirely new toolset at your disposal. And it will only get better.

If you are on a Mac and haven’t tried it out yet – what are you waiting for? Get it here today!

Let me know what you think of it too by commenting in my own Learn Macphun’s Luminar & Aurora HDR Facebook Group as well as in my own brand new Photo Forums on my site.

Start Mastering Luminar Today with a Special Limited Time Savings

I want to welcome all the Windows users to Luminar and help you get up to speed with using it by providing you with my Mastering Luminar Online Training Video Course with a special 25% off coupon code. This course is the most complete Luminar training course available and features over 8.5 hours of content.

It was produced using the Mac version so you will notice many features not yet available in the current Windows beta but that won’t stop you from learning and being ready for when those features eventually get enabled in the Windows version.

Use coupon code LUMINARPC when checking out here to apply the 25% savings. And please feel free to share this code with anyone!!


New Macphun Luminar Neptune Walkthrough

Macphun today has released a new free update to Luminar, now called Luminar Neptune, and it has a few awesome new features!!

I have been using a beta version of it for about a week now and these new features are really cool.

Here are the New Feature Highlights:

  • Accent – AI-filter – Uses artificial intelligence to create stunning images with a single slider movement, tapping into the power of dozens of filters.
  • Quick & Awesome workspace – A workspace consisting of the Accent AI, Saturation & Vibrance and Clarity filters. Great for achieving fast results in a fun and easy way.
  • Plug-in integration with Creative Kit and Aurora HDR 2017 – Seamlessly access Macphun’s other photo editing tools you own with Luminar as the host application
  • Brush, Gradient and Radial Gradient tools – Dramatically faster performance yields smoother selective editing.
  • Vignette filter – Addition of Vignette Styles, Place Center and Pre- and Post-Crop modes deliver even more flexibility to this popular photo finishing tool.
  • Memory management – Increased overall performance for large files and 5+ simultaneous open images.
  • User Interface changes – Extensive improvements to in-app animation and mode transitions make for a more pleasing editing experience.
  • Crop tool update – Added the ability to specify custom crop ratios.
  • Local history – Provision for reviewing separate history while in Transform, Denoise, Clone & Stamp modes helps optimize editing.
  • Improvements to the Top & Bottom Lighting and Adjustable Gradient Filters

Rather than go through each of the new features here in blog format, I recorded some videos instead to better show them off!

Luminar Neptune Walkthrough:


Podcast with Photo Joseph:

Don’t have Luminar?

Head on over to Macphun’s website and download a FREE trial. If you decide to buy it, it currently costs $69. Current Macphun customers can get it for $59.

And if you use coupon code: mattsuess you get an additional 10% off Luminar and also Aurora HDR 2017.

New ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 Update In-Depth Review

ON1 has just released the latest update to ON1 Photo RAW the other day giving it their traditional version .5 update. They have been doing this each year midway through the lifespan of their now yearly upgrade cycle for their software. They save the version .5 designation to include major updates to the program. The new version is called ON1 RAW 2017.5 and contains a number of new features and improvements to the software – some desperately needed by photographers for a true RAW workflow. So what is new, what has changed, and can we consider everything an improvement?

Let’s take an in-depth look at the new features and enhancements one by one.

Lens Correction

Lens correction tools have been probably the biggest missing feature and number one request for ON1 RAW and now here it is! It is turned on by default (no way to yet turn it off by default – more on that in a moment) and is applied automatically to all of your RAW files provided the program can see the lens data in the photo file and provided the lens is one of the many lens profiles included at this point. The newer the lens the more likely a profile exists.

By selecting a photo in Browse and bringing it to Develop, the first pane you see open is the Lens Correction one.

If the program can’t automatically determine which lens was used you can manually select the Make and Lens from the dropdown menu. Open the Manual options to increase or decrease Distortion amounts, correct Color Fringing, and also adjust light Fall-Off with the lens. This usually occurs in the edges of your photo but you can also adjust the midpoint as well.

As I mentioned earlier, this is turned on by default. The only way to turn off lens correction is to uncheck it once in the Develop Module. Honestly I am not a fan of this. I would much rather there be a preference option somewhere to turn on or off lens corrections by default. I was told by ON1 that they are actually working on a solution to this and at some point in the future that option will exist. For the majority of my photos I don’t enable lens correction when I am processing my RAW files in Capture One Pro, as I often like the creative effect such distortion gives. But I can see how other people would want it for all of their work and this issue probably won’t bother them.

Having Color Fringe control was what I was most looking forward to and it’s lack of existence was what was keeping me from using ON1 RAW on many of my files, so I was very excited to hear it was coming in this update. And in quick testing it appears to be doing a great job.

But here is the bad news – the only way it will work is when Lens Correction is on. You have to accept lens correction adjustments to your file if you want to use the Color Fringe tool. This is not the case in Lightroom or Capture One Pro – in those programs you can remove color fringing/chromatic aberrations without applying lens correction.

I have mentioned this already to ON1. In fact I suggested that if a Correction slider was added just below the lens profile, it could be set up with “0” being no correction, and the slider at 100 would be at the full correction. This would solve the separation from correction and color fringing, and also give people even more fine tuning of the lens correction being made. Here’s hoping this gets implemented in a future update.

Compare Mode

This is a really cool addition. Now you can select multiple photos and compare them all at once. The option is there to zoom in on all of them at the same magnification, and you can click and drag around one photo and all of them will pan at the same time.

While zoomed in, if you hold onto the shift key while clicking and dragging, it will only pan the currently selected photo. And to deselect a photo simply click on the “/” key to remove it from the selected group.

This Compare Mode will be great for helping you select the best photo from a series of shots and is most welcome here.

Details Pane

There is now a new Details Pane which combines Sharpening and Noise Reduction. It is always visible once you bring a photo into Develop and is located above the Lens Correction and below the Tone & Color. Note that I mentioned that it is always visible – there is no way to not have it present, and for that matter the same with Lens Correction. The difference though is that even though it is enabled with the check box, all settings are zero’ed out by default just like Tone & Color and unlike Lens Correction which by default applies correction.

As mentioned, the Details Pane combines Sharpening and Noise Reduction. Prior to the v.5 update, there were separate options in the Show More section for Sharpening and Noise Reduction (see photo below).

What’s to like about this new combination panel?

A great new feature here is that all of the sliders now have a greyscale mode to better see the effect being applied. When dragging the slider, click and hold the Option/Alt key. All color will be removed and you will see adjustments in a greyscale format. This can make it much easier to see the amount of effect you are applying, as your eyes are not influenced by the color. In the older version, there was no greyscale option in Sharpen, and the Color slider in Noise Reduction didn’t have it either.

What’s not to like about this new combination panel?

For some reason, ON1 decided to simplify the controls in Sharpening and Noise Reduction.

This is how the Sharpening and Noise Reduction panes looked like prior to the .5 update.

As you can see in the above photo, ON1 has really simplified the Sharpening, removing the option of selecting High Pass, Progressive, and Unsharp Mask and replacing it with an amount slider with masking control. They also removed the option to protect shadows, highlights, and skin from sharpening.

With Noise Reduction, they removed the ability to determine where you want it applied to along with the Range. They did however add a Detail slider for Luminance and a Detail slider for Color. Before, there was just one Detail slider for both. Also removed is default settings of Noise Reduction applied. Before, Luminance was set to 20, Color to 80, and Detail to 40. In the .5 update all sliders are at 0.

If you want access to the original Sharpening and Noise Reduction options, you will have to bring the photo into Effects where the full adjustments are available. If you choose to do that, I would just ignore this Details Pane in the Develop module, as again by default all settings are zero’ed out. This is what I would do in my own workflow, as I prefer as much control as possible and am surprised to see these simplified here in Develop.

Improved Search

A great improvement to search has been added.

Now there is an Advanced option used for searching. This will allow you to search for your photos via 16 different criteria (under the Everything dropdown) such as Camera, Description, ISO, etc. Prior to this update, the only other way to do such a sophisticated search was to create a smart album which only had 11 search criteria. Now the 16 search criteria contains new additions File Name, File Path, Height in Pixels, Orientation, and Width in Pixels. These 16 search criteria are also available when creating a smart album.

Clone Stamp

The Clone Stamp tool is now available in Develop and Effects, providing you non-destructive use of this tool. Prior to this update it was only located in Layers. This is definitely a great addition to the program.

Stacking Presets

It’s back!!

What was here in ON1 Photo 10, then taken away with the initial releases of ON1 RAW, is now back in v2017.5 – the ability to stack presets on top of one another in Effects. Without this ability, the way presets worked was if you chose one, then selected another preset, it would wipe out all the previous settings. With stacking, this does not happen anymore and you can enhance the look of your photo by using multiple presets on top of each other. (Note: this stacking feature doesn’t apply to just presets. If you started doing your own adjustments and wanted to add a preset on top of that, it will work the same way).

There are 2 ways to stack your presets.

  1. Make sure you have the top layer selected, then open up a preset category. When the preset thumbnails are displayed, hold onto the alt/option key and the thumbnails will give you a preview of what the photo will look like with the stacked preset (normally the thumbnails give you a preview of how the preset will look with wiping out all of your settings). Note: it may take a moment or 2 for the previews to generate – just keep holding onto the alt/option key. To stack the preset you want, while holding onto the alt/option key, click on the desired preset and it will be added to the top of your stack.
  2. You can right-click on a preset and select Insert Preset

Stacking a preset by right-clicking on it.

Lightroom Migration Assistant

Want to finally ditch Lightroom and move over to ON1?

Now you can with the new Lightroom Migration Assistant!

When in Lightroom, go to File/Plugin Extras/Migrate Catalog to ON1 Photo and you will be presented with the following dialog box.

The migration tool will take all of your photos and folders into ON1 and put them as indexed folders with the folder structure intact. All of the metadata that you added will be moved over as well into sidecar files. If you want to bring your collections over too, be sure to check the Migrate Collections box. Smart Collections and Collection groups will not be migrated or maintained however. Your Collections in Lightroom will be converted to Albums in ON1.

If you have made adjustments in Lightroom to any of your photos, during the migration process you have the option of creating copies of those photos with the Lightroom adjustments applied. You can save these copies as a jpg, tif, or psd file.

It is important to understand that these will be copies of your photos with the adjustments fully baked into the photo. Because ON1 Photo RAW and Lightroom are two completely different programs with their own sliders, controls, and algorithms, it is impossible for ON1 to accurately bring over Lightroom adjustments in a way that you could continue to edit those adjustments in a non-destructive way.

Once the migration is complete – and depending on the size of your catalog this may take a long time – you will find everything in your Indexed Folders inside of ON1 RAW.

Improved Preset Management

You can now delete and rename preset categories. You can even export your own preset categories to share with friends or to sell. To do this, simply right-click on the preset category of your choice.

Camera Updates

Per ON1: Added or improved support for: Apple iPad Pro 9.7, Canon EOS T7i/ 800D / Kiss X9i, Canon EOS M6, Canon EOS 77D / 9000D, Fuji X100F (compressed), Huawei Mate 9, Panasonic LX10, Sony NEX5n, Olympus Pen F, Panasonic DC-ZS70 / TZ90, Pentax KP, Olympus E-PL3, Sony Alpha ILCE 9.

Bug Fixes & Speed Improvements

I don’t have a list of what bugs were fixed or exactly what speed improvements were made. But I can say that on my computer, a 27″ late 2015 iMac 5k, 4GHz i7 processor, with 24GB RAM on macOS Sierra 10.12.5, the program definitely feels snappier than before. I haven’t had any crashes while testing either. I have noticed some temporary slowdowns when scrolling through photos in particular, but to be fair I have been testing it in a worse case scenario: with 10 other programs running in the background. In addition I also threw a folder at ON1 containing over 45k images in numerous folders for it to index. Even with all of that, the program for the most part feels smooth.

In my ON1 Photo Users Group on Facebook it appears that the majority of posters are also finding things speedier with less crashes.

Here is what ON1 has to say regarding these improvements: Several more performance upgrades and bug fixes including reduced memory footprint, increased stability and fixed user-reported issues.

ON1 Isn’t Done Yet

According to ON1, “there are still more free updates coming to ON1 Photo RAW 2017.5 this summer.” No idea on what is in store for the software this summer, but when I know and am able to share with you I will be sure to do so!


It appears to me that this is the release that people have been waiting for ever since ON1 RAW was first released late last year. When RAW was first released, there were so many features missing and stability issues that it honestly became difficult for me to recommend it. It even delayed me getting started on my upcoming Mastering ON1 RAW Online Course – my third comprehensive training course using ON1. I saw these issues first-hand while teaching my ON1 RAW Crash Courses – there wasn’t one student who didn’t experience crashing or weird behavior. There were countless complaints in my ON1 Photo Users Group on Facebook with a good number of people asking for a refund or giving up on the program until things got ironed out.

Now with v2017.5 it looks like the tide has finally turned!

I now feel comfortable enough with ON1 RAW that I finally threw my RAW Archive at it which contains over 45,000 images!

I have been impressed enough that I finally threw my RAW Archive at it. This folder contains over 45,000 images!. I am also excited that the program has progressed enough that I will now finally be able to produce my Mastering ON1 RAW Online Course. And I can now feel comfortable recommending the software once again. Even though I am an affiliate and friends with ON1 and work close with them from time to time on various projects, I am not employed by them so that gives me the freedom to share with you exactly what I think of things. With my reviews I tell it like it is, without inside influence, so you can make your own conclusions. If I recommend something, it is because I use it myself and I believe in it. And I believe in ON1 once again.

Now to be clear, everything is not roses with this update. There are some things I don’t care for, such as lens correction being on by default, no way to do color fringing without lens correction, and the simplifying of Sharpen and Noise Reduction in Develop. But the good far outweighs the bad, and my dislikes might not align with yours.

If you ever have been waiting to move from Lightroom over to ON1 – and I personally know many of you have been – then now is definitely the time to seriously take a look at it with ON1 RAW 2017.5

ON1 is very committed to improving their software and they absolutely listen to customer feedback and it has been showing in the recent upgrades. It should only continue to improve, and now we have a RAW program from ON1 that I enthusiastically recommend!!


When creating presets with the new Lens Correction in Develop, be sure to first consider if you want to have lens correction selected when creating the preset.

If you create the preset with it enabled, the preset will be based on whatever lens was used in that photo. So if you were using say a Canon 17-40mm f4 lens, the preset is made with that particular lens correction. If you apply that preset to a different photo taken with say a Sony 35mm lens, the lens correction will be set to the Canon lens and not the Sony.

If that happens, clicking on Auto next to Lens Profile will reset it.

This isn’t a bug – just the way presets work, and is fine if you want to apply the preset to all of your photos with the Canon 17-40mm lens.

If you want the preset to be used for any lens, uncheck Lens Correction when creating the preset. Then remember to enable Lens Correction when the preset is applied, otherwise it will stay off because that was how the preset was created.

Note that by unchecking Lens Correction, all it is doing is turning it off when the preset is applied. If you then turn it back on, it still defaults to the original lens profile at which point you have to click on auto or manually select your lens.

This means 2 things.

1) You might want to get in the habit of saving all your presets when in Develop (you can save Effects settings in the preset in Develop) so you can verify that Lens Correction is not checked. If saving preset in Effects, you may not remember if it was selected or not when saving the Develop settings in the preset.

2) You will want to do lens correction after applying presets. Even if you have lens correction originally turned off in the preset, then apply that preset, then turn on lens correction – it wipes out any changes you did prior and again you have to reset the lens that was used for the preset.

Discuss this Review

Discuss this review in my new forums here! Let’s hear your experiences with this latest update.

Save 20% on ON1 Photo RAW

You can save 20% on ON1 Photo RAW by using coupon code mattsuess when checking out. Download a free trial or purchase it here.
Houses 728 x 90

Test Prints at Celebration of Fine Art, Instagram post date: 01-25-2017

Celebration of Fine Art, Instagram post date:

Photo taken at: Celebration of Fine Art

Photo Caption: Studying test prints with @whitneyhallart of some new photo paper we are choosing from while here in our studios at @celebrationoffineart before placing a $600 paper order. All of our bin prints in our studios are printed by me here at the show – up to 16″x32″. Stop on by and check them out!

#celebrationoffineart #fineart #photography #reproductions #giclee #arizona #scottsdale #painting #epson #legacy #photopaper

View in Instagram ⇒

My Mastering Luminar Online Course Now Available for Pre-Order

I am excited to announce that my newest online course, Mastering Luminar, is now out of pre-order status and is available for purchase here!!

Luminar is a brand new program from Macphun that is the company’s first all-in-one photo editor.


Learn how to edit and enhance your photos in this software that is full of features & options in my comprehensive step-by-step online course. (check out my preview on Luminar)

Course Features:

  • Over 80 videos
  • Over 7.5 hours of content
  • The Most Complete Luminar Online Course Available
  • Video available in HD 1080p
  • Course photos are included so you can follow along and practice
  • Workflow options for using with other programs like Lightroom, Capture One Pro, Aurora HDR 2017, and the Creative Kit
  • Videos on using Layers & Masks and the tools to create them
  • Tips on how best to set up your Workspace
  • Videos explaining each of the 38 Filters in Luminar – great to return to for quick review
  • Available in Streaming Only AND Downladable Verions
  • Watch the videos as often as you like
  • A set of FREE Presets I created are included
  • The online course features an area to ask questions where I and other students can answer
  • Not only color photos will be shown & discussed but also black & white photos
  • And much, much more!

Check out this FREE VIDEO from Chapter 5 explaining how Filters work in Luminar to get an idea of the course.


Now Available For Purchase!

More Details Here >>
Macphun's Luminar - now available as a FREE TRIAL

Macphun’s Luminar Now Available – Try it For Free

Macphun today launches Luminar, it’s newest photo editing software for the Mac. It is their first all-in-one editor and includes some key features such as a RAW converter & processor, non-destructive workflow, customizable workspaces, layers, 38 filters, and much more.

Macphun's Luminar - now available as a FREE TRIAL


I have been using a beta of Luminar for a few weeks and have been very impressed. Be sure to read my Luminar Preview here! Image quality has been fantastic and I have really been enjoying the workflow and tools available.

But don’t just take my word for it – there is a FREE TRIAL available so you can see first-hand how impressive the program is and be sure to let me know how you like it, what your favorite features are, and even let me know what is missing from this v1.0 software in the comments below!

I will be having more to say about this software in the near future so be sure to stay tuned – including an announcement coming real soon on a new Luminar online course I am getting ready to produce 😉

Be sure to join my Luminar and Aurora HDR Users Group on Facebook!



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