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Luminar 4 Review: The Future of Photo Editing?

Luminar 4 is carving its own niche in the already saturated world of photo-editing software. The latest creation from Skylum, Luminar 4 is full of easy-to-use editing tools that are perfect for photographers who want to streamline the process of editing their photos. If you want to spend less time in front of a computer, then this is a serious contender. In this Luminar 4 review, we’ll look at exactly what this software is capable of.

There’s plenty of Luminar vs Lightroom talk around photography circles, and I do think that Luminar 4 will be capturing more Lightroom users. Any loose ends of Luminar 3 have been tidied up, bringing a much more stable and exciting editor to use. It feels fresh; it feels new. For the first time ever, I’m actually enjoying using a photo editor.

Download Luminar 4 now at this link and use code NATURETTL for around 10% off!

Is Luminar 4 an upgrade to Luminar 3?

Luminar 4 is its own stand-alone software. It is a completely new version in the Luminar series and is, therefore, not a free upgrade to Luminar 3. If you already own Luminar 3, you are able to switch to Luminar 4 at a discounted price.

Read on to decide if investing in the next version is worth it for you!

AI photo editing tools

When I used the previous version of Luminar, I was impressed by how customisable it felt. It was like the software was personal to you, as you could set it up exactly how you wanted. This time around, Luminar 4 feels like it could actually be looking at the future of photo-editing.

AI and automation is here to stay, in all walks of life, and Skylum has brought that into the photography world. Very few people actively enjoy photo-editing, and Luminar 4 looks to reduce the drain on your time caused by photo-editing. To do that, the software has some powerful AI tools. Let’s take a look.

Sky replacement in Luminar 4

One of the really interesting features in Luminar 4 is the sky replacement tool. This tool isn’t for everyone; a lot of you will be thinking that this is sacrilege. However, everyone has different needs and replacing skies is something particularly attractive to photographers dealing with commercial clients.

For example, you’ve shot an image but a client wants a different sky. Well, traditionally you would go through the painstakingly slow process of masking out the sky, and then positioning your sky and relighting the scene.

Luminar 4 has completely turned the tables on this process. You can now switch skies instantly, at the click of a button. Fine-tuning it with a selection of sliders takes seconds. It’s incredibly accurate and impressive, too.

The biggest question – can you use your own sky? Yes. Luminar 4 comes with a number of different skies packaged within it, but you are more than welcome to load in your own sky images and use them. This allows you to keep things unique and stops thousands of people all having the same skies!

Just take a look at this example – this shot of a giraffe was taken last year in South Africa, but the sky is incredibly bland and white.

luminar 4 sky replacement

Perhaps this was shot for a magazine, and they wanted some more punch and colour in the sky for a magazine cover? Normally I would now have to mask out the sky, selecting all of the gaps near the eyelashes, mane, and around the horizon. But with one click, we see almost perfect masking:

luminar 4 sky replacement example

Ok, so there are some things we clearly need to adjust. The sky, for example, is completely in focus and the attempt to relight the scene has darkened the face of the giraffe a little too much. The one click button is just the beginning, though, and there are a number of sliders you can use to easily amend any mismatched issues.

settings in luminar 4

Using the Sky Defocus slider, I can throw out the background to make it match the image properly. Close Gaps allows you to play around with the blending, should anything be slightly off. Sky Local blends in the original sky, helping to reinforce “realism” in the shot if required. The result?

I was incredibly sceptical of this feature when I initially heard about it. I am not one for photo manipulation to this extent, but it is actually extremely impressive and works very well. It’s important to remember that not everyone will want Sky Replacement as part of their workflow, but there are plenty of photographers out there who need it for commercial purposes – or just to have fun!

It is, amazingly, able to pull out the details from between branches. Those tiny gaps where the sky only partially penetrates through a tree – it’ll find them, and it’ll mask them. That’s crazy!

luminar 4 review luminar 4 review

As you can see from above, the software actually relights the scene. What it can’t do, of course, is move shadows. So you need to use skies with the sun in the correct place. You can always flip the sky if needed.

bear in forest bear in forest

The above image of the bear is lit with flash, and so the sky change is probably not ideal for this scene but I wanted to illustrate just how good it is at masking the sky when there are many trees and branches to deal with. Big thumbs up from an initially sceptical reviewer!

The limitation seems to be when dealing with reflections. Unsurprisingly, it is unable to pop a sky into reflections in water or on buildings. Maybe that’s something we’ll see in a future Luminar 5, but for now you can’t proper sky swap in Luminar 4. You could, of course, swap out the sky and then make manual manipulations to the reflection if you so wished.

Download Luminar 4: Use code NATURETTL for around 10% off!

AI structure

This is a tool that you can use to adjust the apparent sharpness of an image without actually sharpening it. It’s a contrast adjustment, boosting details in the background without negatively impacting your subject.

Unlike with a sharpening tool, AI structure does not introduce any noise, halos, or artefacts into the shot. You can also apply both a positive and negative value, meaning that instead of boosting the apparent sharpness of your background (a positive value on the slider), you can actually throw it more out of focus (negative value).

Here’s an example using a subtle negative value, in an effort to separate the subject a little more from the background.

Essentially, it is an intelligent clarity slider. When you are first experimenting with AI structure, it is important to note that the “Amount” slider denotes the area of the image being affected, and the “Boost” slider denotes the intensity of the adjustment.

Perhaps most useful for landscape or portrait photographers, AI structure is best used subtly in nature photography in my opinion.

AI skin & portrait enhancer

If you photograph people, then the new AI skin and portrait tools will be a very welcome addition for you. With the ability to quickly, and intelligently, airbrush your subjects, the editing process is much quicker.

As I’m a wildlife photographer, and not a portrait photographer, I bought some stock images to experiment with and see how these tools work. Even I can tell that this is pretty amazing. Check out the image of a man with heavy blemishing.

luminar 4 review

Now, usually you would go through and gently remove the blemishes. Not with AI Skin Enhancer – just tick the “defects removal” tool and adjust the slider to suit. Instantly, the skin is cleaned up.

skin enhancer

That’s impressive. Again, the Amount slider adjusts how intense the tool is. You can ram the slider all the way to 100 for a very “airbrushed” look, or keep it in the low digits for a more natural feel (which is what I’ve done here, at a value of 27).

Look in the hairline, just above the ear. The tool has attempted to remove a spot under his hair, but whilst the detection of this is great it has left a noticeable patch. So at this point you would want to apply a mask over that area to stop the tool removing it, and instead apply your own manual intervention for this tricky area.

Where things get really scary is when you’re tidying up an image of someone with both freckles and spots. The software almost perfectly removes just the spots and blemishes, leaving freckles intact. In this example, a couple of moles are removed, however this is easily masked out in a small fine-tune adjustment if needed.

On some of the images I tested, it did seem to leave noticeable patches when masking very complex skin structures. For example, when there were dense freckles on someone’s face it struggled to leave a smooth texture where there had once been a blemish. This tended to coincide with a low quality image, though, that had imperfections in the shot itself.

AI vertical alignment

One particularly interesting tool on the horizon is the AI vertical alignment tool. We’re told this is coming in version 4.1 of Luminar (a free upgrade to Luminar 4). It will allow you to instantly correct your horizons and straighten things up in your image.

Beyond AI editing tools

Layered editing

Ok, AI not for you? So what else does Luminar 4 have? Well, it continues to benefit from layer editing. This allows you to stack your edits in adjustment layers, making Luminar 4 almost like a hybrid of Lightroom and Photoshop.

Being able to edit in layers allows you to create more complex adjustments, should you wish to, and dip in and out of your edit as you see fit. If you like to take your time with your editing, you can still do that with Luminar 4 – the AI tools are not compulsory – and the layers will help you do this.

Advanced masking

Everything you would expect to be there, is there. Advanced masking with brushes, radial, gradient, and even luminosity masks are possible. The latter allows you to mask the image based on the brightness, which is a great way to quickly mask out skies and other highlights.

luminar 4 review

Lens profiles

Coming in a future update, lens profiles will soon be here. This means that you will be able to tick a box to remove the likes of vignetting and any bevel in the image caused by the glass in a particular lens. Each adjustment will be unique to each lens used, and a definite welcome addition to Luminar.

Adjustments held in Luminar

Since there is a Library attached to Luminar 4, your adjustments remain within the software until you export them. For example, you are able to make some edits and then close down the software without saving any changes. Once you come back, the edits are still there; it is a non-destructive process, just like with Lightroom.

Luminar Looks

Luminar still has a wealth of presets, which they are now calling “Looks,” that you can apply to your images. This is a good way to get a quick starting point to your image, or to completely remove the editing process (although no one would suggest relying entirely on a preset).

You can also make your own adjustments and save a custom Look, allowing you to apply to across a range of images if you desire.

looks and presets

The user interface

Editing window

Whilst Luminar 3 was very customisable, there was a risk it was a little complex. With so many options and filters to apply, it lost a level of simplicity. Luminar 4 has addressed this by fixing the layout, providing you with 5 different sidebars of tools. This allows you to select the appropriate range of tools for your image. You can, of course, move between them to use different tools if required.

It is now much neater, and it feels easier to navigate the editing process.

user interface of luminar 4
The user interface of Luminar 4 is cleaner and easier to use.

One thing I mentioned in my review of Luminar 3 was that the export window is very simple. Sadly, Luminar 4 has not brought any updates in this area. The options for exporting images are still fairly restrictive, and you can’t make export presets. Hopefully this is something they will address, but as it stands there are no updates in that area.

export window
The export window is still restrictive in the tools that it offers.

Both users of Luminar 3 and prospective Luminar 4 users will be pleased to hear that the ability to edit the metadata of your photos (that’s the caption, keywords, etc) is coming to both versions of Luminar. We’ve been told early 2020 for that, and I’ll be updating the review in due course.

Library window

There are few improvements to the Library section of Luminar 4 as of yet. This is partly because Skylum is not looking to replicate Lightroom, and instead is positioning itself as its own beast.

luminar 4 review

Still, some areas have been tidied up and we will also be able to search for images by their metadata once that update is released early 2020.

Speed and performance

Some users reported issues with Luminar 3 being slow, particularly those working on a Windows computer. Personally, I never experienced such problems and Windows users I spoke to did not have issues with the speed of the software.

The big factor here was, of course, the build of each machine being used to run Luminar. If the computer doesn’t have the necessary hardware, things will be slow. However, with that in mind, Skylum has worked to bring equilibrium between both the Windows and Mac versions of Luminar 4.

We are told both Mac and Windows users will see the same features, and there are speed and performance boosts built into Luminar 4.

In my personal experience of Luminar 4, adjustments are quick and easy. There doesn’t seem to be any delay when applying small adjustments, and minimal delay when applying the larger AI tools.

Is Luminar better than Lightroom?

This is a question that a lot of you reading this Luminar 4 review might be asking. The truth is, the two are different beasts. Skylum has always been very clear that they are not looking to make their own version of Adobe’s Lightroom, but instead want to carve its own position in the industry.

Lightroom is arguably the better choice for organising huge libraries of photos. If you’re only looking for workflow management, then you’ll probably stick with Lightroom. However, if you are looking to make editing a quicker and more streamlined process, then Luminar 4 is for you.

Keep in mind, though, that Luminar does have its own cataloging function. It’s just not as fledged out as that of Lightroom. So, consider the trade-off for the better editing tools. Plus, Skylum rolls out a lot of updates and they are updating the cataloging feature to make it even better.

In conclusion

In all honesty, when I first read that Luminar was bringing AI tools and a lot of “futuristic” updates I was sceptical. In fact, I was a little disappointed thinking it would all be gimmicky and not work very well at all.

Boy, was I wrong. I’ve had the software for a couple of weeks, and I’ve completely U-turned on my initial thoughts. The tools do work – and they work really well. I am extremely impressed, and clearly Skylum has taken the necessary time and money to invest in Luminar 4 to create a serious contender.

If you’re on the fence, I would say that it’s a bargain. There’s no subscription fee, and with an affordable one-off price (retailing at €89) you can’t go wrong. Once you’ve bought it, you own Luminar 4 forever. The “usual” photo-editors feel monotonous and old compared to Luminar 4 – and Skylum has breathed some necessary life into the photo-editing process.

You can download Luminar 4 from the Skylum website, and use code NATURETTL for around 10% off.

 
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Luminar 4
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Will Nicholls is the founder of Nature TTL and a professional wildlife photographer and film-maker from England. Having been photographing since the age of 12, Will's images have won a string of awards, including the title of "Young British Wildlife Photographer of the Year" in 2009 from the British Wildlife Photography Awards. Will is also the author of the book On the Trail of Red Squirrels.

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