An HDR Photo Contest to Win a New 15″ MacBook Pro!

Note: I have edited this post after the winners were announced:

This was a photo contest for HDR MAX. Even though the contest is over, you can still try out the software for free. If you decide to buy it, you can use the HDR MAX coupon code of “StuckInCustoms” for $20 off.

The winners are:

  • 1st place – Justin Kern -Hall of the Mountain King
  • 2nd place – Tamara Bauer – Life Is All About Choices
  • 3rd place – John McCormack – Three Brothers




Below are images that I personally made with HDR Max.

An HDR Photo Contest to Win a New 15

On the Road to Somewhere

The Lightning Temple

  • Sounds like fun!

  • Dustin Sapenga

    are you aloud to enter as many as you’d like?

  • Sweet! I’m almost intimidated after looking at all your great shots! (But I think I learned a thing or two!)

  • This is great.. need some super subjects. HDR max is pretty easy to use.

  • 1. No Automatic alignment for handheld exposures. Tripod only images.
    2. Automatic tonemapping (tonal compression..I think) but fast automatic tonemapping nonetheless
    3. No Detail Enhancer to cook up the image?

  • I especially like the first shot – because of its natural look. So this contest sounds like real fun and it gives a boost to go out there and shoot. Also thanks for inviting your readers to share their HDR work. Looking forward to try out HDR Max. And to see some of the work of others!

  • the first one looks like its made of CGI… the software’s work looks nice,,will definitely give a try,,

  • The first picture is very good and I honestly think that the last picture is overdone. But it sounds like a fun contest.
    Oh a questions –
    1. Do the stock photos that are turned into HDR have to be my own or I can use pictures obtained through public domain or maybe the Flickr CC pool ?

  • Well this sounded great until I tried the trial version with some D300 NEF files – HDR Max won’t process them! Has anyone else seen this problem.

    When I run batch mode with a couple of NEFs HDR Max creates the .hdr file but it’s just black with green and red dashes all over it 🙁

    I had similar problems with the D300 and Photomatix 2.5 – had to upgrade to 3.0 to solve that one.

  • @Stephen

    I too can’t process the latest Nikon RAW files 🙁

    If you want to process them and you have a bracketed set you have to go to JPG first.

  • Thanks for the good feedback…

    Yes I tried to post a range of photos from subtle to “overdone”. I notice everyone has their own tolerance for “overdone”… so a range should make most people happy!

    As for Technical Questions or Contest Questions, I asked Mark from HDR Max to come here to answer your questions – he is better equipped than I am! — I am sure you understand – thanks!

  • Hmm, crashes too often for me when opening Canon RAW (CR2), and I’m not about to convert to JPG every time I want to edit..

    Seems like a nice tool though, need some more experience to do it right 😛

  • Is this contest open to U.S. Residents only (I know a lot of online competitions exclude Canada, because our stupid laws).

    Just want to know before I head out to the mountains to take some shots for this!

  • Dr. Electro

    If I can get the software to run, I will enter the contest. I have some good photos to try with.

    I downloaded the free trial version but it stops with an error if I try to run it in trial mode. Still checking to see what works. God I love Windows Vista! (insert hanging man emoticon here)

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  • DEE

    I still don’t know what HDR is.

  • oh i just did a test run on an image. I’m loving how easy it is to use. i’m getting less halos with this software than i am with others.

  • @Keri

    Glad to know it’s not just me doing somthing stupid 🙂

    Converting to .jpg is a possibility but I think losing the RAW information is too big a price to pay. (I’m also a little too lazy to try to prove myself wrong!)

  • Jacques (aka Fotofreq on Flickr)

    Cool, Trey! Thanks for posting this. I think I will take a shot at this. Just need to find a great subject, shoot and then fiddle with HDR Max. I tried to process a set of handheld shots today, without success. As someone else in this thread pointed out, I guess there is no way to align images with HDR Max. BTW, I like all three of your shots, but the middle one (Montana) really rocks!!

  • James Bradford McGinley

    I had to convert to the .hdr format with photomatix before hdr max would read the picture; that’s something that will have to be addressed before I purchase it.

  • James Bradford McGinley

    aka wishiwsthr on flickr

  • Ariea

    Thanks to everyone for trying out HDR MAX.

    Some Windows Vista users are reporting a somewhat common problem related to Microsoft’s UAC feature when attempting to install HDR MAX. The steps to resolve this are listed here:

    The issue with NEF files not loading properly is being addressed at the moment, and a fix should be available shortly.

    For anyone else experiencing issues, please don’t hesitate to contact for personal assistance.

    Thank you!

  • For those having problems opening RAW images, it won’t…as far as I know. I tried it and it said the files were the wrong format. So I converted them to jpg’s and it worked just fine.

    I’ve also read somewhere that some people recommend doing HDR with jpg and NOT RAW files. Don’t know that I agree with this.

    HDR Max is easy to use, once you get used to the different workflow (if you’ve been using Photomatix).

    Also, for those who have questions pertaining to the contest itself, go check out the website. All contest details are listed there. (Only original work, up to 3 photos, etc.)

  • Sorry about multiple comments!

    Here’s the first image I tried using HDR Max, taken to the extreme!

  • Oops, no image. It’s on my blog here:

  • I love to give it a try. Does it support Windows Vista 64 bit?

  • Hi, this is my first comment, though I’ve been looking at your images every day since I first came across your site several months ago. I love your images and there isn’t a single page that doesn’t contain something inspiring or jaw dropping in its beauty so my thanks for your wonderful work and may it continue. I just wanted to post a question for Mark from Ariea to answer when he checks in here. I downloaded the trial version, installed and it seems to open my D200 .NEF files fine apart from the lack of auto reading the exposure bracketing information (I can’t remember the settings I used for most of my HDRs so I shouldn’t have to go into lightroom and manually look the exposure increments up). I am however having a problem with saving images once I’m done which is a pain, I tried everything but Bitmap image, it goes through its whole writing image format thing with the pop up progress bar but when its finished there’s no image to be found, not where I saved it or anywhere else on my machine. Having encountered this before with trial software where you can’t save your results or if you do, you have a watermark over the end result to stop you from using the software for profit making purposes without paying for it I have to ask what the deal is here as if we can’t save our work in any way shape or form without buying the software there’s no point in there being a second or third prize since you would’ve already bought the software in the first place. I’m using a powermac G5 Dual 2ghz with 4gb of ram if this info helps.
    There is an auto align setting within preferences for the software itself (silly since it should be on the import/process window when you pic your shots like with photomatix.

  • I’ve been playing around with HDR Max today and I have to say it’s very promising. The default settings give very natural looking output and the program is remarkably resistant to producing halos. Color balance and saturation is also natural looking (though it’s a shame you can’t change the color balance except in defaults).

    Unlike Photomatix it handles moving subjects gracefully. No black blobs around moving foliage and flags for example.

    The program is very fast and works well with D200 NEFs, and 16-bit TIFFs. Alignment is excellent, though as others have noted it’s odd having the switch for alignment hidden in preferences.

    The only downsides I’ve noted have been a very poor install process in Vista (the worst of any program in 18 months of using Vista) and lack of tools to remove Chromatic Aberration and noise. For a version 1.3 program though it is extremely promising.

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  • Ariea

    For those who were experiencing issues loading various RAW image formats, this issue should be resolved. To update HDR MAX with the latest update, go to Help > Updates in the application menu bar. Download the update, make sure HDR MAX is closed and run it.

    If you have not installed HDR MAX yet, you will not need to run the update. Version 1.3.2 is up and available to download.

    If you have any further problems, please don’t hesitate to contact for assistance.

    Thank you!

  • Ariea


    Thanks for your response. This is a very unusual problem and it’s not immediately clear what might be causing it as all features are enabled in the trial, including saving.

    The current and officially supported system specs are listed here:

    If you don’t mind, please forward this issue to and include your OS version.

  • Here’s my first try. It does generate some interesting noise if you try to set your smoothing to near 100%.

  • p.s. i can’t seem to attach a photo by means of HTML… how were you thinking we would do that?

  • Hey David, I couldn’t attach an image either. I just left a link to my blog page with the image. Hopefully Trey will clarify this for us!

  • Trey, feel free to remove all my obnoxious comments (in my attempt to post a picture).

  • I take it back. Auto alignment is here but I think still inaccurate..I still got blur. Lack of detail enhancer turns me off..and no white balance setting to make images warmer or cooler…

  • Justin

    Are the demo pictures here done solely in HDR MAX or did you also do the Photoshop layers steps to them?

  • Have updated to 1.3.2 but to no avail, still can’t write out the results of using the software in any format so sent them an email asking what’s up. Is nobody else having this problem?

  • Glad to see people are having fun and some of the bugs are getting fixed quickly…

    For my photos, I did the same as the process in the HDR Tutorial, but I started with HDR Max instead for these three.

  • Awesome, I have tinkered around with the trial and think it’s a very good start. I’m looking forward to seeing all the upcoming submissions!

  • Thanks to Mark for looking into my problem. It would appear that while older versions of OSX are supported and the software will run on IBM PowerMacs, you can’t save with it since it isn’t officially supported on the recommended system specs on their page. I can only assume that this runs lightning fast on Intel Macs which is very cool but for those of us who have yet to update to the latest machines, we’ll have to stick with Photomatix for the time being. Oh well, looks like I won’t be able to enter this contest. Best of luck to everyone else!

  • Dr. Electro

    I still can’t get the program to run in Vista. It hangs when I press Next and then the dialog closes. nothing else happens.

  • This is a really impressive piece of software. It is a substantial improvement over Photomatix in both workflow and image quality. The big improvements I see are:

    Lack of halos – i have a couple of images that halo badly in Photomatix – not in MAX
    Detail – the detail is much crisper using Max
    No problems with tonal inversion (reflections that are lighter than the image they are reflecting
    Being able to turn exposures on and off to really figure out what is impacting the image, and then do local adjustments on layers in magical

    I’ve posted a couple of images that I re-processed with MAX to and

    Mark – I do have a feature request though. It would be great to be able to mask out part of an exposure – this would be helpful when I want to use a darker exposure to put detail in the sky but don’t want that exposure to impact the rest of the image. Just a thought.



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  • There is a fix for the latest Nikon RAW files
    “Hi Keri, apologies for the inconvenience. This is a known issue and should be resolved. To update HDR MAX with the latest update, go to Help > Updates in the application menu bar. Download the update, make sure HDR MAX is closed and run it.”

    The mac update can be found at

    Shame the trial we all downloaded the other day wasn’t the latest version of the software, missed out on two days off work playing with the software 🙁


  • Version 1.3.2 of HDR Max seems to handle D300 NEF’s now. Are other Nikon users seeing similar results now?

  • Does anyone know if this contest is only open to US residents?

    Hopefully, the Canadians can join in on this too!

  • Kathy

    I can’t get it to run I get an immediate Run Error in Vista anyone figure out how to get around that

  • I downloaded the trial, it’s awesome that it’s so tiny in filesize. But then I started to open up a few 3-exposure sets, and it is WAY slow. Albeit, I’m not on a “latest and greatest” pc hardware, it’s a dual core laptop I purchased new early last year.

    I also do a lot of hand held shots, and so there is this very slow and tedious task of aligning it (manually)… something that photomatix has done a great job doing it automatically for the most part.

    All in all, unless the speed issues are addressed, I will be staying with photomatix for now.

  • Rod

    Ok I have been playing with the software for alittle bit. One annoying thing. When saving the jpg file the OK button is not automatically higlighted. I have to click it instead of just hitting Enter again.

    One other annoying little thing that I miss is the rotate feature of other software and cropping. Those are about the only two features I really need on each picture after using Photomatix or Qtpfsgui.

    One of the pictures I am going to enter I think

  • Thanks everyone — interesting stuff.

    Pongky – one thing I have noticed is that the “speed” of the preview is direction proportional to the size of your preview window… make it smaller, and it should be fast.

    (just one little thing – sorry I can’t give feedback to everyone – Mark from HDR Max can probably do a better job than me.

    Also, if you post a LINK, it goes to my Comment Approval queue. I will approve them, of course, but I only check once a day then batch approve… so just be patient… my filter thinks you are spammy! 🙂

  • Ariea

    Thanks to everyone for the comments and feedback thus far.

    While still a little ways off, the next major update will incorporate many new features including several that have been requested, so keep the requests coming. In the meantime, smaller features or issues will take priority and updates will be announced as they are made available.

    And a kind reminder to send all issues to This system helps track problems and address them faster and offer quicker personal support.

    Also, when contacting support, remember to include your OS version and provide detailed information about the problem.

    Finally, this contest is open to everyone and there are no restrictions on the number of entries that you can submit.

    Thank you!

  • Here is one I did using HDr Max

  • Guess I can’t load a photo…

  • I am going to have to check out the program.
    I like photomatix however this sounds promising!

  • I do hope the Vista issues will go away (I won’t disable UAC and reboot just to get a program to work), can’t wait to try it out and participate in the contest. 🙂

    Also looking forward to the updated tutorial.

    Your photostream and blog told me all I know about HDR and helped me impress quite a few people. 😉

  • @ scott webb HDR Max looks very promising and more than holds its own against Photomatix, I’ve comapred the two at my site. The price tag is a bit steep though!

  • Susan

    Can’t wait to get home and try out this new software…. but oh, I was just learning to love Photomatix……

  • Michael

    Wow, after reading the product write-up, HDR Max is vast improvement over Photomax. The interface looks nice too,. I’ll see if I can borrow an Xp machine. You can’t just make a compile that works on Win2000 Pro? HAHAHA – That’s not that important but there are still a lot of Win2000 Pro Servers out there and a lot of SysOps with cams and a lot of time to fool around on their hands … I’m joking. I am dying to try it out. Brilliant idea Trey! Looks like it’s got killer-ap written all over it LOL ??? Cool! Nice work as usual and I just love Borobudur! I’ll get there one day. 🙂

  • susan

    I downloaded the trial tonite, and I’m having the same problem that Mike did, I can’t save the file! Running XP, and no matter how I try to save, program way, or just as a jpg, it looks like it’s working at saving, but then it just locks up and quits!!! Anyone have any suggestions?

  • susan

    ok, i tried it again, and it worked…it just takes a phenomenally long time to save…..but i think i may like the results better with hdr max, than with photomatix…… More $$ to spend…..

  • I just downloaded the trial and gave it a quick test. It looks good so far. I’ve only just restarted shooting HDR stuff after a break of a few months, so the timing is great.

  • Just processed the first HDR with HDR MAX. I seem to have more noise in the pic than when using Photomatix. I tried Noiseware and that helps greatly to remove the noise. But since I only have the trial I have a grid over the pic… Will try to work a bit more with HDR Max before posting the first pics.

  • Ariea

    A few updates have been added over the last few days, so make sure you are using the latest version (1.3.4). Be sure the update works by checking Help > About HDR MAX in the menu bar.

    Thanks to all those who have submitted their photo’s. Remember, there is no limit to the number of entries you can submit and anyone is allowed to enter the contest.

    And thanks also for the wonderful feedback thus far. The more requests received for a particular feature, the higher priority it will receive, and the faster it will be released!

    Again, if you have any issues, or feedback, contact

    Thank you!

  • Nick Moore


    Do we send in full-res images or resized images for our submissions?


  • I posted the same shots on my flickr page – one was done with HDR MAX, the other one with Photomatix. Here’s the link:

  • susan

    Having a long weekend, so re-did several of my photomatix hdr’s with hdr max…seems that some shots are better in photomatix, and others in hdr max….. they’re all here…let me know what you all think!!

  • I am enjoying this software a lot!
    It’s got me working on some old photos that need attention! and I want to get out and shoot some brackets.

  • Matt Lloyd

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but HDR Max does not save my images the same way that they look when I am editing them in the program. I made an HDR Christmas tree that looks really great in the program, but when I saved it it looked like Santa Clause came to my house while on LSD. Any ideas?

  • Matt Lloyd

    P.S. I don’t have the same problem with Photomatix.

  • @Matt

    I’m having the exact same problem, what are you running it on? I’m using MAC OSX 10.4.11 and HDR Max 1.3.4.

    I’ve emailed Ariea and they were very helpful in suggestions but unfortuantely nothing has worked so far.

    This is really annoying me as it gives great results prior to saving 🙁

  • Matt Lloyd

    I have 10.5 and I don’t know what to do. My first pic turned out great. But every other one is crap. I don’t know what to say except I think that this program has potential, but still needs a lot of work.

  • HD MAX is solid….here is one of my recent shots….

  • Matt Lloyd

    Yeah, I got one good one out of if too before it decided to start outputting a picture that looks totally different than the preview in HDR Max.

  • Greg Anzalone

    Just downloaded the trial software… It is telling me that my trial has expired. (Running OS X 10.5.6) The trial didn’t last 30 minutes, let alone 30 days!

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  • Chris

    Here is my first attempt of HDR ever and used HDRMax to process my photo. In addition, I submitted this photo for the contest…

    I thought it came out well for a first attempt and hope to have more in the near future.

  • Liset


    I downloaded HDR MAX, installed it and when I checked the free trial box, it gave me an error. I’m using Windows Vista.

  • Anyone else having trouble getting images that have highlights really blown out and the rendered image not looking at all like the preview in HDR MAX? I can’t get my images to export cleanly to jpg. It really messes up the image….

  • brandon

    i gave up on hdr max, i was troubleshooting with them about my issues and then they just gave up. might as well stick with cs4 or photomatrix.

  • Here’s another pic that was generated with HDR MAX and submitted to the contest:
    HDR Max does still have issues – the programms shuts down way too often. Besides that I begin to like the programm…

  • Here’s my query (already e-mailed the folks at Ariea, but no response): do the shots have to be submitted as-is once they’ve been run through HDR MAX, or will other adjustments in PS or Lightroom be tolerated? I’d hate to be disqualified for making cosmetic adjustments.

    Thanks anyone who has some insight into this!

  • Ariea

    Daniel, most participants are submitting photos with minimal adjustments including resizing, saturation, brightness, contrast, etc. These will be accepted as valid entries, so feel free to use the workflow that you are comfortable with.

    Birgit, if you don’t mind, would you forward this issue to There haven’t been any reports of HDR MAX crashing yet, so if you could provide as much information as possible this would help.

    To all others experiencing issues, many of these (including saving issues) have been addressed and will be included in the next update which should be available over the weekend, along with a few other enhancements.

    Finally, HDR MAX is still very new. However there has been an enormous amount of feedback and requests for features, many of which will be added over the next few months, so stay tuned!


  • Hi i would like to know if there will be confirmation mails regarding the mails sent because I have no idea if my mail went through and i think gmail was pretty much berserk at that moment. I also didn’t want to send multiple of the same mails, in case I get disqualified but if it can’t be helped, i will send another mail in. Thank you

  • Chase

    Just a quick question about contest submissions…a couple weeks ago when I checked the Ariea site, the rules said that you could “process up to 3 photos and submit them”. Now it simply says “process your photos and submit them”. I was just wondering if the rules had changed or if we were still allowed to submit 3. I didn’t want to break the rules by submitting more than were allowed. Great site by the way, I really love reading your blogs and this contest has really encouraged me to learn how to do my own HDRs…I’m having a blast with it! Thanks!

  • Too bad I missed it by one day, so sad. I finally got HDR working properly, I was using shutter priority mode instead of aperture priority mode. Now all is right with th world.


  • Matty

    Trey, the contest winner photos are set as private. Please update so we can see them in their original hi-rez glory. Thanks!

  • don’t but it. my credit card was processed in 1 minute this am. can’t get the program to activate. no reply from ariea after 6 tries. tomorrow all my trial images from hdr max get a big x on them with this explanation about their tech/customer service. I vented

  • don’t buy it. my credit card was processed in 1 minute this am. can’t get the program to activate. no reply from ariea after 6 tries. tomorrow all my trial images from hdr max get a big x on them with this explanation about their tech/customer service. I vented

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