Grow your Luminar expertise with these 21 tips!
As you can probably tell from my blog posts and videos, I love Luminar and use it on all of my images now. It has literally given new life to my photography in many ways, and I can’t get enough of it. As I get deeper and deeper into it, I find more and more things you can do with it. It’s just so powerful, capable and flexible. It’s amazing.
I started thinking about how everyone can maximize their use of Luminar to get the best results in their own photos. How can you get more out of it? What steps can you take to ensure you are learning as much as possible, and growing your own editing skill set with Luminar? How can you get the most out of your usage of this amazing product?
So I started writing down a few tips about how to get the most out of Luminar, and the list just started growing and growing. It turns out there is a lot you can do to maximize your use of Luminar (and of course I didn't think of it all). Some of these tips may be obvious, and some may seem a little out there, but give it a try and see how it works for you. I am certain there is something here for everyone!
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Ok, let's get busy!
1) Shoot raw
Raw files contain more data, and data is good, especially if you decide you want to make major changes to your photo. A raw file is just better to have around, period. Sure you need more storage, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and future flexibility. Plus, you never know where your mindset will be in the future, so having a raw file is also great insurance. The raw processing engine in Luminar supports lots of cameras, too (I use Sony and it works great).
2) Edit raw or TIFF only
I do most of my Luminar videos using JPG images, and the image quality is just not as good. I frequently see artifacts in those JPG images. However, I do it because it’s a smaller file and that means it’s quicker (which is good for video) - plus it’s just to demonstrate a technique. But for my real, published work, it’s raw or TIFF only, no exceptions. The quality is much better and it shows in the image. I get no pixelation, no artifacts, and no issues.
3) Create custom workspaces
Using workspaces allows you to customize the look, feel and use of Luminar, and that is very powerful. I have made quite a few workspaces, and they are a serious time-saver. Try this out and you will see what I mean. While there are a few built into Luminar, it’s quick and easy to build your own.
Even if you don't build one for a specific style of photo, you could build one called “My Favorite Filters” or something similar, assuming you have a group of filters you use on nearly every photo (which I certainly do). You could build one for "Color Shifts" or "Color Enhance", for example, that contains filters you would use for that (Color Balance, Color Temp, Cross Processing, Golden Hour, Saturation/Vibrance, etc). The options are limitless, really. But taking advantage of this innovation in Luminar is a time-saver and also ensures you are using the filters you intended to use on a photo (and not forgetting stuff).
4) Try out some presets, with intent
Although this sounds like a shameless plug (since I create and sell presets, right here), I am not asking you to buy my presets (and to those of you who have, thank you very much!). You can get some off the Macphun website (on their site, scroll to the bottom and look at the footer menu under "Extras", click on "Luminar Presets") or elsewhere, or use the ones that come built into Luminar (or get my Magic Hour pack for free - it is 8 presets designed for the magic hours of photography, such as sunset, golden hour and blue hour). I think using Presets is a quick and cost-effective (or free!) way to learn more about using many of the filters and helping you determine what you want your photos to look like.
Apply a preset, but then go look at the filters that make it up and see how they impact the photo by clicking each filter on and then off. Pay close attention to what happens to the photo when you do this. Read the filter description, or find a video that details it on the Macphun site. Read the Macphun user manual which is on the Macphun site (click on "Luminar", then scroll about halfway down the page and click on "User Guide"). This guide provides some detail about each filter.
5) Now customize the presets a little
This is the next step after you apply a standard preset to your image. Get into the filters and move them around a little bit. See what that does to your image. Try another preset and do it again. The more you experiment with presets (and thus, the filters that comprise them), the more quickly you will master this stuff. It’s really not hard, it just takes a little time.
6) Blindly recreate a preset
Now, without looking, see if you can recreate a particular look of a preset without writing down or otherwise memorizing the filters that were included. This isn’t a graded test obviously, but rather another big step to take in your education. Can you replicate something that you like without using a preset? Do you know the filters well enough to do so? You’ll be surprised at how quickly you start to get a handle on this stuff. It just takes practice and experimentation, which is pretty fun anyways, right?!
7) Build your own presets
Ah yes, this is the final step in the presets section of Luminar. Make your own stuff, from the ground up. Build something cool. You can keep it to yourself or share it with your friends. It doesn’t matter, just make something that is all yours. I make presets all the time. Some of them make it into my preset packs, and some make it into the trash can - but either way, it's a great exercise. Having made quite a few presets myself, I can tell you there is a real joy in creating this stuff and seeing it function across multiple images. It’s like you have been given a key to unlocking a door to creativity. Walk through that door!
8) Try out filters that you don’t understand
This is a huge thing to do, because it involves setting fear and confusion aside and just going for it. But it’s quite fun and you will certainly learn something along the way. There are a LOT of filters built into Luminar, and you have to experiment a bit to really get your arms around some of them. I think the Curves Filter probably comes to mind for many. It can be a bit intimidating, but really it’s pretty simple and it’s incredibly powerful. But if you don’t try it, you will never know, will you? ;-)
And if the Curves Filter is the bane of your existence, maybe this video will help:
9) Get familiar with layers
One of the most powerful features of Luminar is Layers. This is a HUGE advantage that is built into Luminar, and once you get your arms around it, it really is pretty simple. Being able to add a new layer gives you incredible flexibility in your processing, and opens up a lot of new creative edits, such as adding a texture or even replacing a sky. While this may sound intimidating, it’s rather easy and of course there are some videos you can watch that demonstrate how to use layers.
Here is an example video showing how I replace a sky in a photo:
10) Get familiar with layer masking
Once you have gotten used to adding layers, start to experiment with layer masking. This is a simple trick that allows you to just brush in part of the new layer on top of your photo. For example, you can add a preset on top of your photo on a new layer, but just use it in the sky by using layer masking. Super powerful and not hard to do at all.
11) Stack filters, presets and more
This goes along with the layers we just talked about. You can make some filter edits on your base photo, then add a new layer and apply a preset. Then, experiment with adding another layer with another preset on it, or just a few filters. You can stack many layers to get creative in Luminar and achieve the look you are going for.
For me, the key here is to manage the opacity of each layer (and that’s another advantage of Layers in Luminar). At the default 100% opacity, any edits on a new layer may appear to be too much, but you can easily slide the opacity lower and end up with something of beauty. Or take advantage of layer masking to brush in the edits on that layer selectively.
12) Use filter masks
Filter masking is one of those really cool little features of Luminar that make you wonder how you ever got by without it. Basically, you can just mask in a filter to a portion of a photo (like using a layer mask), but without adding a new layer. And you can do it with multiple filters all on the same layer. It’s quick and easy and so effective. Literally I use this on just about every photo. There is always something that looks great in one part of a photo, but not so great in another. Just mask that filter in selectively and move along. It's quick and painless and this innovation of Luminar is probably one of my most-used.
13) Do some black and white
I will admit that I am a big color guy at heart, but as my style and tastes have evolved I have grown to really love monochrome images. While I used to spend my time doing this in Tonality, I now do it in Luminar and get great results. Monochrome photography is a great way to focus on the composition and lines in a photo, instead of getting distracted by big, bold colors (which I admit, happens to me a lot - I love big color). It’s like a purified version of photography, and Luminar makes it easy. Literally just a few clicks and a few slider adjustments, and you have a winner!
I even put together a custom workspace for monochromes, entitled Monochrome Magic, that you can get here. As you can see in the screenshot below, even a stunning, colorful sunset can look beautiful in black and white.
I also did a video a while back showing how I edit monochromes in Luminar, if you want to take a look:
14) Use the gradient and radial masks
These two masks are very useful and getting accustomed to using them will really help your editing. I generally use them when I am doing something a little unique - adding a new sky (see that earlier video about sky replacement), converting day to night (yes, you can do that in Luminar, too - see video below), adding a sunflare or adding some light, for example. But they can be used in a lot of different ways and give you some amazing flexibility for getting creative.
Here's the video showing how I change day to night, using both gradient and radial masks:
15) Experiment with blend modes
I will admit that using blend modes is not something I do a lot of, but whenever I do, I get unexpected results - and I mean that in a good way. Any outcome I get with them is completely unpredictable, and sometimes that causes me to change how I am editing and thinking about a photo. It’s a good way to have your brain get forced to think differently, and I believe that is a positive when it comes to creative endeavors such as these. Otherwise, we tend to be creatures of habit, which isn't exactly the goal in artistic pursuits, right?
16) Watch some videos
Yes, this sounds like a shameless plug, though it’s not intended that way. I do have a LOT of Luminar videos available on YouTube, and of course there are a bunch on the Macphun site, too. But even if you don’t watch mine, watch someone’s videos. More and more content is coming online about Luminar as it continues to grow, and you can always learn something from somebody (and I believe video is the best way to do this sort of instruction).
17) Join the Macphun FB group
I never really expected to find myself saying "Hey, go join a Facebook group!", but I will admit that this one is really good. Any of you reading this that are already in the Macphun Facebook Group can likely attest to how helpful it is to be a member of. In addition to seeing great shots from Luminar users around the world, you can solicit and receive constructive feedback, get inspiration from others and make like-minded virtual friends from around the world. It’s truly a great group and one of the things that keeps me looking at Facebook every day. I really enjoy it, and that's not something I say about most things on Facebook these days! ;-)
There is also a new Community Forum that Macphun/Skylum created wherein you can read about support topics, chime in and just keep up to date on the apps and general support-related questions. You can find that site right here.
18) Think about your desired outcome
Call this pre-visualization, and get into your "art brain". Think about what you want your shot to look like, assuming you are getting into creative edits. Don’t just go on auto-pilot but think ahead. Get creative and think outside the box. Maybe come up with a different and unique look in your mind, and then go figure out how to get it done. Luminar has a TON of power, and all it takes is to get in there and experiment. Pretty much the only limitation is our own imagination.
19) Try to replicate a look you have seen in another photographer’s work
I have tried this many times over the years, and it’s always a good exercise. Find a photo from someone else that you like, and then see if you can edit a similarly-composed (or similar subject) photo of yours to achieve a similar final result. No, you don’t want to just carbon copy someone else’s style, but as a learning exercise it is great to try and sleuth out how someone did something, and of course you will learn in the process (which is really the point). Of course you have no idea what their starting point looks like, but since you know the endpoint you can take something of a similar subject of your own and aim it in that direction. Regardless of the outcome, this is about experimentation and learning the tools.
20) Process the same photo multiple ways
This one really gets the brain in gear, and fast. Take one of your shots that you have already edited, and then go edit it in a completely different manner. Then do it again and again. I have done this many times, and it really does cause the brain to stretch as you are reaching for new and creative ideas. There’s something about taking the same photo and making various looks with it that really works for me. Try for 5 totally different looks if you can. It’s fun.
I wrote an article about this idea using Aurora HDR a while ago, which you can get to by clicking on the photo below. Yes, that was Aurora HDR and not Luminar, but the idea of it is the same. It caused me to get creative and learn the tools, and that is always a good thing for an artist to do.
21) Take a lot of different types of photos
While this is also a good exercise for getting better at taking photos, I also believe it helps you get better at editing. For example, if you always take photos of the same subjects, then it’s likely you fall into the habit of editing them in a similar way…which means you are not exploring all the power and versatility of Luminar. But if you take photos of a lot of different subjects, you sort of force yourself to change up how you edit things, and this will get you using a lot of different tools in Luminar. Basically, I am trying to encourage you to experiment, which is how I learn new stuff (and I am assuming the same goes for you).
If you take cityscapes, try some portraits. If you take landscapes, try some macro. If you shoot portraits, get outside and shoot a landscape. If you shoot florals, go shoot architecture. You get the idea. Expand beyond your comfort zone, which in addition to helping you better understand the editing power of Luminar, will also help you better learn your camera. It's really a great exercise. Plus, it means you get to go photograph something, and isn't that always fun?
Well that’s it my friends - 21 tips for getting the most out of Luminar. Did any of this help? What did I miss?
Luminar truly is an incredible product and taking the time to learn how to use many of the powerful tools that it contains will help you grow your post-processing skill set. You will find yourself coming up with new and creative ideas, and then finding a way to implement them on your images.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below, or use the Contact Form to send me a message. I always do my best to assist, though of course I don't know everything. I'm always trying to learn, too. That's part of what makes this creative, photographic life so interesting. There is always something new to investigate.