HDR photography has been all the rage among both the amateur and professional ranks of photographers over the last few years. With the advent of affordable and capable DSLR models like the Nikon D90 and the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, anyone can snap amazing photos and use post-processing software afterwards to bring out their full potential. If you want to create polished, expressive HDR images without spending hundreds on proprietary processing software, Luminance HDR can make it happen.
Essentially, Luminance HDR is an open source utility that takes multiple snapshots of the same subject with different exposures and merges their raw data together to allow for easy HDR imaging. Alternatively, it can create HDR-like photos from a single, high-speed action shot. It can import both 16-bit and 32-bit JPEG and RAW files, and can output both 8-bit and 16-bit per channel TIFF and JPEG file formats. In addition, it supports HDR tone mapping, resizing, cropping and much, much more.
Installing the program is quite simple, thanks to one-click binary installers for Windows and Mac OS X. Linux users can install the program from source. Once you’re up and running, it’s quite easy to use the program to generate HDR images. Let’s say you want to craft an HDR photo from a single JPEG. Just click “New HDR Image“, select the photo in question and tap the “Tonemapping” button. Adjust your saturation, contrast and detail levels, and you’re all set.
When it comes to tone mapping performance, Luminance is actually superior in some respects to expensive programs like Photoshop. The native support for Canon CR2 raw files is a nice touch. Also, the fact that users don’t have to manually convert from RAW to TIFF before processing images is a big plus. The auto-align feature of Luminance is more or less flawless when merging multiple files, and it generally delivers an extremely stable editing experience that’s largely devoid of crashes and lag.
Luminance HDR is a versatile program that delivers a lot of options and technical brilliance in a relatively lean package. Compared to similar free HDR programs like Picturenaut, Luminance serves up an admirably competent photo editing experience regardless of the platform you’re running it on. That’s not to say that the program doesn’t have its faults. For one thing, obtaining resolutions higher than roughly 1680 x 1050 is difficult to achieve without crashing the program. As such, it might not be the perfect tool to use for professional production work. Regardless, it’s still one of the best free HDR programs available for personal use on the Web at the moment.