Create dramatic waterfalls in Aurora HDR Pro

Hey there - thanks for stopping by today.  I'm sharing the text version of a tutorial I recently added to YouTube.  This one is about creating dramatic waterfalls in Aurora HDR Pro.  Follow along!

By the way, if you want to get a free trial download of Aurora, you can do that here.

If you would prefer to watch the video, you can do that here:

Ok, let's get going!

First things first - you have to merge your brackets in Aurora.  This was a 3 shot bracket of a waterfall near my house in Austin, TX.  With the rain we often get in the spring, this is a place I frequently find myself this time of year.  I love shooting waterfalls!

But truthfully, this was not a moody or dramatic setting - at all.  So I want to create that feeling in my final result.  So after I merge them in Aurora, I land on this start screen:

As you can see, it's pretty BLAH.  While I like the silky look of the water and the placement of the boulders, the colors, details and overall mood is pretty lame.  Let's start fixing that!

The first thing I do is apply a preset to the base layer.  I chose Landscape Deep from the Landscape category - reducing it's intensity to 50% - and then painted it onto the rocks only.  I don't want to touch the water yet - I am going to adjust the water on a separate layer in a few minutes.  Here's the mask:

And here is how the photo looks after that preset is applied to the rocks.  I think they look better already - certainly more detail and "pop".

But we are just getting started here, so let's add a new layer, called it Sleepy Forest, and then apply the preset of the same name to that layer at 50% intensity.  Yes, I often name my layers after the preset I use on them - it helps me keep things straight.  Here's that view:

Notice in the layers section above that the mask from the base layer is an exact match of the mask on this layer.  That's because I just wanted this preset (Sleepy Forest) to apply to the rocks only (same as the first, base layer), so I just copied the mask from the base layer and pasted it onto this layer.  That's quick and easy, and saves you time.  No need to remask anything.

Ok, now we are going to work on the water.  I want to make several edits to the water, but we will do them all on this new "water" layer since that keeps things a little simpler.  So, copy the mask from the last layer, paste it to this new layer, then invert it.  You want the next few actions to only affect the water, so you have to use the OPPOSITE of the mask of the rocks.  Make sense?

The first step is to choose a preset for the water - I chose the Realistic Dreamy preset, and applied it to this layer (which is water only) at 100%.  Here are a couple of other steps I took on this water layer:

  1. Reduce temperate by -5 to give the water a slight blue tint
  2. Increase DeNoise +18 and Smooth +12 to give the water an "extra-smooth" finish
  3. In the Color Filter, increase Blue Saturation +24, then reduce Blue Luminance -37.  These combined will make the water more blue, but a little darker.

Here's where we currently sit with the photo:

Ok, we are getting there my friends!

Next up, we are doing to do a little bit more work on the rocks, to give them a slight bit more texture and detail.  So, add a new layer and name it - I chose Rocks.  Once again copy the mask from 2 layers back (NOT the water layer, but the one before that) and paste that mask onto this layer.  I then made these three adjustments:

  1. Increase Clarity +27
  2. Increase HDR Look +34
  3. Erase the mask from the background area, because I just want this in the foreground (which leaves the background nice and dark)

That puts us here:

Ok, one more layer - this one is going across the ENTIRE photo.  I created a new layer, named it after the preset I chose (Realistic Dreamy, once again) and applied it at 35% intensity across the entire image.  No masking and no painting this time - just slap it on the whole image!

It's not a huge change from the last layer, but I really like the Realistic Dreamy preset and I think it works well on this image.  I wanted to sort of sprinkle it across the top of the final image for that last little bit of awesomeness.

But did you notice that pesky hose in the background?  Yea, me too - and we have to get rid of it.  So that's our next step.

We're moving over to Snapheal!

If you aren't familiar with Snapheal (read about it here) just know that it is Macphun's super-awesome, powerful, and easy-to-use product that allows you to quickly remove unwanted objects.  It's a lifesaver, that's for sure.  I use it all the time.

Anyways, part of the beauty of the Macphun products is that they all work together so well.  So from Aurora, you can just pop over to Snapheal to finish this thing off.

Once you choose Snapheal from the Export menu in Aurora, you will land here:

Since this isn't a Snapheal tutorial (I do hope to create one, though!), I will just tell you the basics.  It's pretty straightforward.  Just choose the diameter of your brush, click on the paint icon (highlighted in yellow in the upper right), and paint over whatever you want to remove.

Your screen will look like this:

If you notice in the right-hand panel, there are several erasing modes.  I generally stick with Local, and as you can see you can also choose how precise you want it to be.  For something like this hose, I chose Highest (but most objects I choose High and it works great).  Note that Highest will take the longest, whereas Norm will be shortest.  High sits somewhere in between.  It's pretty quick, generally speaking.

When you have your selection ready, just hit the big Erase! button and you're off to the races.  While it performs it's magic, you are entertained with trivia.  It's kind of fun, really.

Once it calculates and removes the objects, you are back to the main view and your objects are all gone!

I also went in and took out a couple of small rocks and sticks in the background that were bugging me.  It was just another quick paint/erase job, handled in less than a minute! 

So now you are all done, and it's time to save and/or share your image.  That's easy to do - just click on the little right-facing arrow in the upper left of the frame, and choose what you want to do next:

As you can see, you can export to other Macphun products for further edits, or save it, or share it online.  It's up to you!  

Now you are all done with this photo, and have taken a bland, lifeless image and turned it in to a stunning, dramatic photo worthy of hanging on a wall.  Here's the final image:


Well that's it for today my friends - thank you for stopping by.  Feel free to leave a comment with any questions, or send me a note via the contact form at the bottom of my blog.  If you are interested in Aurora HDR or any of the products in the Macphun Creative Kit, just click one of the banners below and you will be delivered to their website.  Thanks!