Using Textures in Aurora HDR

Now that we have covered all of the basics of image editing in Aurora, let’s delve a little deeper into some of the not-so-common things you can do with a photo in Aurora.  The first one we will cover is applying a texture to your photo.  It’s a unique and interesting way to enhance a photo.  It's not something I really took an interest in until I started using Aurora, but now I love to use this technique.  It's quick, easy, and can significantly change your photo in just a few clicks!

What is a texture?

The first question you may ask is “What is a texture”?  Basically, it’s another image that you lay on top of your base photo and blend it into the base photo to customize and create your own end result.  It often appears to give your base photo some additional “texture”.  In many cases, these “texture” images may be actual photos of textured items: concrete, wood, brick, crumpled paper, bubbles, water, clouds - you name it.  They usually have some type of pattern to them.  

Here are some examples of common texture files (many textures can be found online, and they are often free):

Generally it’s a photo of a “thing” that can be blended in to your base image to give it a unique flavor.  It’s adds some grain or “texture” to the photo, and can have the intended effect of causing your photo to look old/vintage or some other desired outcome.  Many textures are used for artistic flair, to liven up an otherwise less interesting photo, or just to express a creative vision.  I have used them many times to give life to an otherwise dull image.  Here are a few examples:

But as you will see, it doesn’t have to be just something basic like a brick wall - it can also be another photograph of something entirely different that you add selectively in to parts of your final image.  Maybe you blend in another sky or something like that.  Technically, any photo you have previously taken is possibly a texture for you.  The options here are just limited by your imagination.  The sky is the limit!

The other thing to know is that you can alter the intensity of the textured image by changing the opacity and the blend mode.  We’ll get into that too in a moment.  So here we go!

Blend Modes Explained

Before we get into the processing tips, let’s discuss blend modes for a moment.  With each layer you create in Aurora, you have the option to change the blend mode.  That option is in the drop-down menu right above where each layer sits (upper-right hand panel).  You simply click on the drop-down menu and then click on your selection.  It is then blended based upon that choice.

Everything we have done so far we have left it in Normal blend mode because we have been using Presets for layers, generally speaking, and the Normal (or default) blend mode approach is to hide the lower layer under whatever is present in the top layer.  But with textures it’s worth taking some time and experimenting with blend modes because we are now trying to more fully blend the two images, instead of just laying one on top of the other.  

There are 8 options in Aurora for blend mode.  Let’s explain them quickly: 

  • Normal: blend modes will display your image exactly as shot
  • Soft Light: blend mode is a softer version of Hard Light
  • Screen: inverts both layers, multiplies them and inverts that result
  • Multiply: Simply multiplies each component in the two layers
  • Overlay: combines Multiply and Screen blend modes where light becomes lighter and vice versa
  • Hard Light: combines Multiply and Screen modes with the bottom and top images & behavior swapped
  • Color (Or Color Burn): darkens the top layer, increasing the contrast to reflect the colors of the bottom layer
  • Luminosity: preserves the hue and chroma of the bottom layer while adopting the luma of the top layer

Depending on the color and type of texture file you use, and the colors of the image layer below it, the blend modes will have very different effects. The key here is to mix and match them to see what you get.  We can talk about it all day, but the best way to find something you like is to experiment with the various blend modes.

Adding a texture in Aurora HDR

This is where the fun begins!  First you create your base HDR masterpiece in Aurora (of course, you can also use a single exposure as your base image if you would like to - it doesn’t matter in terms of using a texture).  Once you have the photo looking the way you want it to look, it’s time to experiment with adding a texture to it.  

First, add a new layer just as you have done in previous lessons, by clicking on the “+” sign in the Layers section, and give this layer a name you will remember (texture is an easy one).  This helps you keep track of which layers correspond to whichever changes and presets you may have applied to them.  Sometimes you may want to go back and make an adjustment to one part of a photo, and being able to quickly determine which layer it is on is super helpful.

Once this layer is created, you need to go get your texture file and bring it into Aurora.  All you have to do is right click on the layer, or use the drop-down menu just above this layer, and select Source Image > Custom Texture.

This will open up your finder window on your desktop and you can go locate the file that you want to use as your texture (you should have it on your desktop or in a desktop folder prior to needing it).  

Once you select that file, it will import into Aurora and it will lay on top of your photo.  This means you cannot see your base photo, because this texture file is on top of it and the opacity defaults to 100%.  

But that’s ok, because if you remember from up above, we talked about blend modes.  This is when that part comes into play.  When it comes into Aurora, it will default to the Normal blend mode at 100% opacity.  Here is where experimentation comes into play.  It’s recommended that you try out various blend modes (you just click on the drop-down menu and select a different blend mode) and also try out different opacity settings.

Once again, I have a video showing you how I do this in Aurora HDR:

Today's video has me quickly and easily adding a custom texture to a landscape photo, giving it an "old West" sort of look.

Brush in a texture selectively

But what if you only like the texture for a portion of the photo?  By default the texture will lay across your entire image, but that is easy to correct.  All you have to do is use the brush and just paint in the texture to the places where you want it to be visible.  Just pay attention to your opacity levels and brush away - it's easy!

So that’s how you add a texture (and selectively apply it, if desired).  It’s quick and easy and very straightforward.  

Replace a sky in Aurora HDR

Did you know that instead of a texture, you can add a new sky?  You sure can!  In fact, it’s really easy to do.  You see, a new sky is just another “texture”, and you can paint it in just to the sky the same way you did with the texture files.  

Here is a video I did about that very thing.  I think the video is the best way to demonstrate this technique.  While this does not work in every circumstance, it's a very powerful adjustment technique that you can experiment with.  The key here is how well you can brush in the new sky.  The closer your horizon line is to a straight line, the better off you will be!

Today I show you how to replace a boring sky in your photo with a new one, inside of Aurora HDR Pro. I will also add additional adjustments to get the perfect final look to the shot.

There really is no limit to what you can do with textures in Aurora.  Experiment, have fun and get creative!

Ok, next up we will discuss creating black and white HDR photos - it can produce some stunning results!

Take me to the black and white HDR photography page, Jim!