Luminar Review and Tutorial

Let's take a close look at the new app from Macphun - Luminar!

Thanks for stopping by today my friends, and I hope you get a lot out of this review of Luminar.  It’s an amazing tool and one that I am using all the time.  It has some great features, an intuitive interface, and a powerful processing engine underneath it all.  Let’s dive in and let me show you just how awesome this product really is!


A couple of videos to get you started!

If you want to view my quick preview video, you can find that below.  It covers a lot of stuff!

Here's a quick preview of the brand-new Luminar app from Macphun. Edit photos with ease, create your own masterpieces in minutes, and do it all in one app! Read more on the blog here: http://nomadicpursuits.com/blog/2016/10/18/first-look-luminar-from-macphun

If you want to watch me edit a photo in Luminar, this video is for you!

In this video, I edit a lovely sunset from NYC in the new Luminar from Macphun. In just a couple of minutes, I take it from drab to colorful, expressive and fun. Luminar is literally allowing me to save shots I would have otherwise ignored.

Luminar is the first all-in-one-photo editor from Macphun, and it’s incredible.  I have used all the individual Creative Kit apps for a long time (and of course, I use Aurora daily for my HDR work), and now I can see how wonderfully Luminar will fit into my workflow and my entire creative process.  After just a short time with it, I am already very comfortable with the workflow, the tools and more.  It’s quite easy to use and yet it’s an incredibly capable app!

Some quick observations about Luminar:

  • It has 35+ filters that are easily accessed and applied to your photos.
  • It has many presets that are built into it for simple and quick edits.
  • It has Workspaces, a new idea that allows you to create “recipes” for certain types of photography, thus allowing you to more quickly access the necessary filters for that style of photo.
  • It has an editing brush, gradient mask and radial mask.
  • It has spot removal, clone & stamp, noise reduction, transform and crop.
  • It has layers and blend modes.
  • It has luminosity masking.
  • It has a lot of stuff!

As you can see, this is a very thorough product and one that is well thought-out.  It has an incredible array of features, yet the UI is not crowded and the product does not feel bloated.  It all works incredibly well, it’s really intuitive, and frankly it’s easy to use.  I love it - can you tell?  ;-)

Here's a look at the UI, with the major tools collapsed.  See how well laid out this is? (Both of these are unedited pics.)

And here is the UI after I have opened up the Histogram, Layers, and the Filters section.  That is a lot of tools at your disposal, but still the UI is easy to understand and the screen is not crowded at all.

Using Luminar to Replace Photos or Aperture

Luminar will work as a stand-alone app or as a plug-in to popular host programs such as Lightroom, Photoshop and more.  In my opinion, it’s a perfect replacement for at least a couple of other products in the market: Photos and Aperture.  Let me explain.

Perhaps you are a novice but you are coming along quickly and want to move up in terms of the power of your processing tools.  If you are using Photos, you may find that you quickly outgrow that product.  It’s fine for what it is, but it is not designed to support more advanced users.  You can use Luminar to take advantage of more advanced tools and up your editing skills.  While Luminar can certainly perform very basic functions, it can grow with you as your skills grow.  In short, you can scale this thing from a beginner user to a Pro.  It’s flexible like that.

If you have continued to use Aperture, despite Apple killing it off (I know there are still many who do), Luminar is the perfect replacement.  It’s a Mac-centric app that gives you all of the power of Aperture and much more.  It offers a lot of things you could never do in Aperture (I used Aperture for about 5 years before leaving it when they announced that it was dead).  It is way more advanced than that tool, believe me.  And considering that this is a major new product from Macphun, you can rest assured that it will be around for a very long time.

But here’s the thing you may be thinking - how do I manage my assets, Jim?  Both Photos and Aperture have a Library.  Does Luminar?

No, not yet.

To be clear - I do NOT have insight into Macphun’s plans with Luminar.  Yes, I work with Macphun a lot to create videos and tutorials and more, but I am not privy to their internal discussions.  However, I read their blog post announcing Luminar (you can find that right here) and in particular I read the comments section with much interest.  In there, you can see that Macphun folks have mentioned that DAM (digital asset management) is coming in a future release.  And truthfully, it makes perfect sense for them to do so.  Luminar is just that kind of product.  You will find out as soon as you download a free trial and test drive it.

So you could get Luminar now, learn how to take advantage of all the great features, and when the time comes, convert your library over to it and you are all set.  By then you will already know the tool, so all you will have to do is migrate your files.  Sure, that may not be a simple 5 minute task, but at least you will already know enough about Luminar to not be intimidated in the process.  (Note: Having migrated nearly 100,000 photos from Aperture to Lightroom when I converted a couple of years ago, I am well aware of what that fear feels like.  I had to learn both the library side and the editing side of things in LR, which was quite a bit of work.)  And by the way, I expect that at some point Luminar will also be a more than equal replacement for Lightroom (after adding the library/asset management capabilities).

Regardless of where and how you manage your library, you are going to love Luminar.  It’s flexible, powerful and a lot of fun to use.  I think it’s time to dive in and get going, yes? :-)


USER INTERFACE

The first thing you will see upon bringing an image into Luminar is the clean interface.  It’s not crowded at all, yet tools are easy to reach and abundant.  If you have used Macphun products before, I believe the UI will look familiar.  

Across the top you have common tools such as Open Image, Zoom In/Zoom Out, Before/After comparison and more.  You can also access your Histogram, Layers panel, and Presets panel there.  We will cover those shortly.

You will see down the right hand side that there are more tools.  In order, these are Hand Mode, Brush Mode, Gradient Mask Mode, Radial Mask Mode, and then a little further down you have the Transform Tool, Clone & Stamp Tool, Erase Tool, DeNoise Tool and Crop Tool.

See, that’s a lot of stuff!

Between the photo itself and the far right-hand tools menu, you have your editing section.  This contains your Histogram, Layers panel and quite obviously, you will also see that big empty section entitled Filters, which we will get into in a little bit.  First off, let’s talk about Presets.

PRESETS

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of presets (around 60 or so) built into Luminar and they are organized by category.  (You can also build your own, which is quite easy.)  To access the presets, just click on the icon on the top that looks like a little rectangle atop 3 little boxes.  Once you click on that, your Presets menu will open.

There are several categories of Presets built into Luminar: Basic, Outdoor, Travel, Street, Portrait and Dramatic.  Like with other Macphun products, you can add new presets that you get elsewhere, you can create your own, and you can “favorite” the ones you use most often, so they are quicker to get to.  If you already use any of the Macphun products, this should all feel very familiar.

If you want a preview of many of the presets, you can find my blog post about that right here.

Here is an example using the Vivid preset in the Basic category.  You can see in the Before/After photo that just a single click preset has made a huge impact on this photo.  That's part of the beauty of Luminar.  As a novice user, you can just use a single click to create a more beautiful photo.  You don't have to concern yourself with the advanced features that Luminar contains.  You can work your way up to those over time.

If you aren’t familiar with a Preset, it’s basically a collection of filters that have been adjusted and bundled together, so that with a single click you can apply a bunch of edits to your photo.  It’s a simple idea and one that works great.  I use presets all the time.  They can save you a lot of time, and I often use them as inspiration for whatever direction I may want to take my photo in.  You know, like a starting point for my creative inspiration.

However, you can also make further changes to the preset if you want to.  As you can see in the next screenshot, you can click on the individual filters that make up the preset and adjust them as you see fit.  This gives you a great deal of latitude in dealing with your images.  I moved some of the sliders around a bit and thus my image has changed as well.  Should you decide that you really like the effect you have ended up with, you can easily just create a new preset based on your current settings.  That way you can use these settings again and again.

You can also add or delete some of the filters that are used in the preset in order to further customize the look of your photo.  It's all very simple and everything is right there at your fingertips.

FILTERS

The other thing that I mentioned above is Filters.  These are the individual tools that are used to create presets.  But instead of applying a preset, you can just select them individually and apply them to your photo.  There are quite a few built into Luminar (over 35) and you will never be lacking in options here.  They are very powerful and flexible, and as you will see shortly, there are some cool features that can be applied to filters in Luminar.

While you can select a preset to get a starting point, you don't have to.  You can just build your photo by individually selecting each filter that you want to use on a photo.

To add a filter to your photo, you just click on +Add Filter and the list of filters will pop out to the left of the editing section.  You can view them by category, too - just like presets.  You may see the All category up there (highlighted in orange in the screenshot below), along with others like Color, Creative, Tonal Enhance, etc.  Some filters do appear in multiple categories.

I generally leave it in All, and since they are alphabetically arranged and I generally know what I am looking for, it’s quick to just find it and click it.  Once you click on it, the filter menu will close and the selected filter with its adjustment sliders will appear in your right-hand editing menu under the word Filters.

Then, you just move sliders until you like what you see.  You can continue to click on +Add Filter and keep stacking them until you get to the point of completing your photo.  Easy and fun.  Lastly, there is also a built-in description for each filter.  Just click on the two little arrows in the far upper left corner and it will expand to include descriptions and a sample image illustrating how that filter will impact a photo.

MORE FILTER CAPABILITIES

Filter Masking on a single layer

Filter masking is built into Luminar, and it basically allows you to mask in the effect of a given filter on a layer without having to add a new layer each time you do so.  In other words, you can filter mask in multiple filters on the same layer. This is a pretty cool idea, so let me show you what I am talking about here.

In the below photo, I added 3 filters and moved the sliders around quite a bit.  After moving the Saturation/Vibrance filter I decided that it was too much across the entire photo.  This is where filter masking comes in.  First you select brush mode, then be sure to click on the filter you want to mask, then just set your brush and paint it into the photo.  You can see my mask and the final result down below.  You can do this with multiple filters on the same layer.  It's quick and easy and a very cool feature of Luminar.

Here is the photo before I do any filter masking

Click on the brush and then the filter you want to mask, and then paint away.

Here is the final after painting portions of it at 50% opacity 

Using Blend Modes with filters on a single layer

You can also apply any of the blend modes onto a filter, as opposed to doing it on a layer.  You can just click on the filter and then you will see the drop-down menu that appears.  You can just hover over Blending Mode and see all the options.  It defaults to Normal but feel free to experiment and see how it looks!

Normal blend mode

Lighten blend mode

Color blend mode

WORKSPACES

Workspaces is a great idea that is well-implemented here in Luminar.  A workspace is a collection of filters that would commonly be used for a specific genre of photography.  So if you shoot landscapes, you often use the same filters each time you edit a landscape.  Instead of having to click to add each filter for every image, you can use a workspace to “save” all the necessary filters.  Then it’s one click and all the filters are in your right-hand editing panel.

It’s basically a shortcut to filter selection.  Note that this is different than a preset.  A preset has some filters bundled together and the sliders are adjusted to achieve a certain look on a photo.  A workspace also has filters bundled together, but they are zeroed out each time so that you are not applying any edits to your photo.  You just have all the filters accessible via a single click, and then you can take the photo in any direction you are inspired to pursue.  It’s sort of a “personalized digital darkroom”.  Your workspace has all the tools you need at the ready, so you can just start editing and not have to go collect the necessary filters (or think about what you might need).

There are 4 workspaces in Luminar (B&W, Landscape, Portrait and Street) but you can easily create your own and even share them with your friends.  I anticipate that I will create some for cityscapes, architecture and more.  To choose a workspace to begin editing with, just click on the drop-down menu and you will see your choices.  Select the workspace, and the filters associated with that workspace will populate in your editing section.  Then you can move the sliders around as needed, remove filters if you want to, or add additional filters to the workspace.  It's very flexible.

Choose a workspace

Here i chose the Landscape workspace to begin editing in - see all the filters that are there?

Here I am adding an additional filter to the workspace, and I have deleted some that I would not use on this image.  Note that next to the workspace selection area the workspace is now labeled as custom.  that is because I removed some and am adding another one.  It's no longer the same base workspace I started with.

If you decide this collection of filters is one you would return to again and again, then just go to the drop down menu and save it as a new workspace.

LAYERS AND BLEND MODES

Of course, no Macphun product is complete without layers.  You can quickly and easily add layers in Luminar and perform various edits as you see fit.  All you have to do is click on the big + sign across from the word Layers, and you have a new layer instantly.  Then you can go in and edit to your hearts content on that layer.

Also note that there are many blend modes available in Luminar.  These allow you to blend the current layer with the one below it, and they can significantly alter the look of a photo, depending on the blend mode you are using.  I often experiment with these when I am applying textures.  The effects can range from very subtle to sort of over-the-top, so it’s worth experimenting with because every photo is different. In other words, there is no formula here.

You have two choices when adding a layer: you can add an adjustment layer or you can add an image layer.  The adjustment layer just lets you keep stacking effects and making edits using the built in tools, presets, filters, etc.  If you choose to add an image layer, this allows you to insert a texture or add another completely different photo, such as when you are replacing a sky.  Yes, you can easily replace a sky in Luminar.  Who doesn’t need that sometimes??!  (See below for how to do that quickly and easily.)

Here are some example screenshots using Layers and illustrating the various tools that are available.

This is the base layer, known as Layer 0.  I applied the Vivid preset onto this layer.

To add a new layer, just click on the + sign in the Layers section, and choose the type of layer: either Adjustment or Add Image layer.  

I chose to add an adjustment layer, and applied a preset to this layer as well.  This new layer is known as Layer 1.

You can choose to blend the layers together in various ways using blend modes.  They are accessible via the drop down menu that looks like a little gear icon.

You can also go in and create a luminosity mask for each layer if you want to experiment with that technique (read on for info about luminosity masking).

REPLACE A SKY IN LUMINAR

There are plenty of times when we dream of a magical sunset but we don't get it.  Since this is art - and more specifically, your photos are YOUR art - then consider the fact that in Luminar you can quickly and easily replace a boring sky with a more beautiful one.  Here's how you do that, in pictures.  

Base photo, Layer 0, with a few filters added to make it a little prettier.  This is our starting point.

Click on + in the layers panel to add a new layer, and choose "add Image".

This will open a box that allows you to choose a new sky.

Here is the new sky file, laid on top of my base image.  This is layer 1 and it completely covers the base image when loaded.

Click on the gradient mask and add it to your photo in the appropriate spot.  You can adjust it up and down and tilt it, etc.  Just get it looking the way you want it to look.  Then click the green check mark to apply to this layer.  Now the new sky is blended into the base layer.  You can also use the transform tool next to move the sky up a little if you feel like that would help.

If you need to, you can then grab the eraser brush to clean up any of the blending.  In this one, I erased some of the new sky from that big rock area on the right hand side about halfway up.

After blending in the new sky, you can do whatever you want to do to the photo.  I added a new layer and applied three filters to give it a little more pop. 

Here's a before/after comparison so you can see just how far we came in a few quick steps.  Pretty impressive, right?

LUMINOSITY MASKING

Yes, you can add a luminosity mask (LM) to any layer in Luminar too.  Using LM allows you to apply effects in a much more subtle manner.  If you aren’t familiar with LM, perhaps you might want to view this video I did about them a while back.  The video is using Aurora, but the general principles are the same and it will give you a good understanding of LM.

Today I demonstrate and explain what a luminosity mask is, and how to use one in Aurora HDR. It's a very simple yet powerful feature of Aurora and one that can help you create very natural-looking HDR photos. Enjoy!

In short, a LM is a mask based on light values.  The mask is stronger in the brighter parts of the image and it’s reduced in the darker parts of the image.  This means any edits you apply to a layer with a LM will be applied as varying opacities across that layer.  So, without a LM on a layer you can move the Saturation pretty far to the right, and the image gets really saturated.  On a layer with a LM, the saturation does not appear as intense because it is applied across the LM at various opacities.

Here is how you add a LM to a layer...

And here is what theLM looks like on the image...you can see that the opacity of the mask varies across different parts of the image.  Thus, applying effects to a layer with a LM on it will apply at different opacities as well.

Here is an example of what I am talking about.  In the first photo, I added some filters and really pushed the sliders pretty far to exaggerate the colors.  This is just to show you a very strong starting point.  It's intentionally unrealistic.

Now, I created a Luminosity Mask on the layer and left all the sliders at exactly the same place.  You can see how much more subtle the effect on the photo is, and that is because of the LM.  So that is the beauty of using LM in your workflow.  You can preview a preset, for example, and maybe it looks way too strong for your shot.  But, if you apply it and use a LM on that layer as well, the impact on the photo is much more subdued and realistic.  You can also then experiment with blend modes and the opacity slider for that layer to reach a final, desirable look with your photo.  So many choices!  

I highly recommend that you experiment with this stuff quite a bit on different types of photos and get comfortable.  It's really quite easy and yet extremely powerful - another fabulous feature in Luminar!

BRUSH MODE

When in brush mode, you can select a brush, adjust it’s size, softness and opacity, and then customize a photo by brushing in your slider adjustments to specific portions of a shot.  This gives you a lot of flexibility in your editing process and is something that you will surely be doing a lot of as your skills advance.  Additionally, the brush can also be an eraser, so if you mess something up, just erase that so that you maintain control of your final output.

GRADIENT MASK MODE and RADIAL MASK MODE

These two tools allow you to quickly drop a mask on top of your photo and then make edits accordingly.  The Gradient Mask is a straight line (which you can tilt/adjust) and the Radial Mask is a circle (which you can also adjust).  Once you apply the mask and get it appropriately aligned to your image, you can make edits and they will apply inside the mask.  You can also invert so that they apply only outside the mask.  It’s very flexible.

Here's an example using the Gradient Mask.  In the first photo, I added a new layer and bumped up the color temperature and tint quite a bit, but of course that warms up the entire image.  In the second photo, I have added a gradient mask to that layer and then you can see that my temperature/tint changes apply only inside the mask.  The radial mask operates the same way as the gradient mask, except that it's a circle instead of a straight line.

Here  Layer 1 was added and the temp/tint changes were applied globally.

Here the gradient mask was applied, thus allowing the bottom of the frame from Layer 0 to show through.

TRANSFORM TOOL

Transform allows you to scale, rotate or skew another image or file that you have laid onto your base photo.  For example, if you are replacing a sky, you can easily adjust it so that it appears properly on top of your base layer.

In the below photo, I am just operating on the Layer 0 (base layer).  I opened the transform tool and basically squished it up to make it smaller.  Note that this is NOT a crop.  The entire image is still visible.  

CLONE and STAMP TOOL

This tool allows you to essentially “cut and paste” some portion of your photo and apply it onto another portion of the photo.  This is very useful when you are removing objects, or trying to replicate a part of a photo into another part of a photo (which is what I will do with it).  You can basically paste one part of a photo into another area, thus obscuring whatever it is that you are not interested in having in your photo. 

In the shot below, notice the dry sand on the beach on the right side of the frame, about halfway up.  I am going to paste over that with some of that nice shimmering golden light on the wet sand that is next to it, thus creating a much larger section of wet, golden shimmery sand.  You just choose the Clone and Stamp tool, adjust your mouse accordingly, and You are ready to start.  Position your mouse over the spot you want to paste from, and then simultaneously click the Option key and click the mouse.  Then, start pasting onto the new section with the mouse.  You may have to Option/click a couple of times to cover a larger area.  I did it three times here to fully cover the section.  You can see the final result below - looks great, right?

Once you are in the tool, adjust your brush and get ready to paint.

HEre is the final version with the golden shimmering light across that entire section of sand.

ERASE TOOL

This is great for object removal, whether it’s a dust spot or something larger.  Just open the tool and adjust your brush, then you can just click on what you want to remove and let Luminar do its magic!  It works really well and I use this a lot, because there always seems to be a little something that needs to be removed.  Once you have chosen all the spots to be removed, you just click  the teal-colored Erase button and it gets erased.  Once you are satisfied, just click the green check mark and you will be returned to the main screen again.

As you can see, I adjusted this photo first.  I used the Warm Sunset preset on this one.  Also note that after you are finished, this will create a new layer for the erased image.

See those little white spots on the sand in the lower right?  We are going to remove those things.

Once you activate the tool, just adjust the size of your brush and click on whatever it is that needs removal. You will have these red marks to let you know what is being removed.

Now compare this to the first image above - all gone!  This is super simple but very powerful.

DENOISE TOOL

This is a wonderful addition to Luminar, since typically noise removal tools are completely separate apps.  In other words, having it built into the app is a time saver and eliminates the need to make a round trip elsewhere.  You can just click on the tool, choose your level of noise reduction, and then apply it to your photo.  Note that it applies across the entire image, so I usually then click on the brush and just paint it into the section of the photo that needs it (usually a sky).  This is very powerful, but simple to use and incredible handy to have at your fingertips!  In the example photos below, I purposefully increase the details in the photo to create some noise in the sky, and then removed it with this handy tool!

Chose the level of noise reduction that your photo needs and it will apply across the entire image.  You can also drag the slider to reduce the intensity.

If you want to selectively apply noise reduction:  choose your level of noise reduction as per the first screenshot, then once that is applied, select the brush, adjust the size/opacity/softness of the brush, and paint it onto the portion of the photo that needs it.

You can see here that I have painted the adjustment just into the sky to remove the details from that portion of the image.

Here's a zoomed in look at the final image after applying noise reduction to the sky with a brush.  That left me with Smooth skies and yet I maintained some of the detail in the water and on the beach. 

CROP TOOL

Sometimes you just need to make changes to your photo and that’s where the crop tool comes into play.  You can choose from common crop styles and aspect ratios.  This is very simple and easy to use but quite handy and powerful.  You can also straighten your image in the Crop Tool.

Cropping using the golden ratio

You can straighten your image here, too (though of course this is crooked just for showing the tool - I'm not that off my game)!  :-)  


Well my friends, that’s my coverage of Luminar.  It’s a powerful and versatile app and one that I believe you will love using.  It has a great UI that I find really intuitive, and it makes everything seem quite simple.  But keep in mind that there is a very powerful editing engine underneath it all, and that is part of the beauty of this tool.  It can grow with you as your skills develop and as your comfort level with the various tools grows.  It can be a simple or a advanced as you want it to be.  

I believe Macphun has a real winner in this product, and I look forward to using it for a long time.

Thanks for stopping by and please let me know if you have any questions!


Just for fun, here are several Before/After comparisons so you can get a clear picture of the power of Luminar.  I think you will see that you can drastically change your photo with Luminar, if you are so inclined.