Luminar AI is claimed to be the first image editor which is entirely powered using artificial intelligence. Skylum’s previous image editing software, Luminar 4, has been discontinued and replaced with AI, even though it is being pitched as a completely new and different product.
Although there are some similarities with its predecessor, Skylum says that Luminar AI features a completely new artificial intelligence engine, which means that certain processes can be both smarter and faster. That includes a promised 30% faster Sky Enhancer, recognition for more than 7000 kinds of objects and a range of other new AI tools, including Composition AI, Atmosphere AI, Iris AI, and Body AI.
In January 2021, an update to Luminar AI – which is a free update for anybody who already has Luminar AI – also became available. Luminar AI 1.0.1 promises to be a more refined version of Luminar AI, with a more convenient Edit panel, a new Import interface and a host of refined and redesigned tools that should make the process of using the software even easier than before.
As well as being a standalone piece of software, Luminar AI can also be used as a plugin for software such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Elements.
At the time of writing, you can buy Luminar AI for £79 / $79. Skylum also offers a “Happiness Guarantee”, which means that you have 30 days to decide whether it’s right for you. Luminar regularly runs offers and special discounts.
Ease of Use
We have been using Luminar AI on a Mac computer, but the installation process should be roughly similar if you are using a Windows computer instead. For Mac, you simply need to download the software and then drag it into your applications folder.
Once the software is installed you’ll be greeted with the Welcome screen the first time you open it. As well as being a photo-editing tool, you can also use it to organise your photo library. By default, Luminar will create a folder ink which to keep your Catalog of images, but you can move it to somewhere else by clicking the Change button if you prefer – perhaps if you want to keep it on an external hard drive.
By clicking the + symbol in the top navigation bar, you can add a single image or a folder of images, depending on what you want to work on. If you add a folder of images, you’ll now see in the right hand navigation bar, the folders that you have added to your catalogue. This allows you to quickly navigate to the folder you want to work from quickly in future.
You can also create new folders to add photos to directly from the bar. On top of that, you can also create Albums, which is a useful way to divide up your photos – for example by subject, genre, location or even date. Albums use the files that are stored in your various folders and don’t move the file itself.
Other things to note within the catalogue navigation bar is the ability to browse by year, or to quickly jump to images that have been recently added.
At the bottom of the nav bar, you’ll see the file name and what kind of file it is – this can be useful for quickly choosing between a raw and a jpg that might be stored together in the same folder or album.
If you click on the “I” button, you’ll be shown the EXIF data for that file, such as the date and time it was recorded, the camera and lens used and key camera settings.
Your images will be shown in catalogue view as a series of thumbnails, but if you double click on any image, you’ll see it expand to fill the screen, with the rest of the images in the album or folder you’re viewing now appearing as a strip along the bottom of the window.
Once you’ve chosen which photo it is that you want to work on, you have a couple of different options. If you click on Templates at the top of the Luminar window, Luminar AI will suggest a few different templates which you can use, based on what it has evaluated the subject to be.
Luminar says that these Templates have been created in collaboration with professional photographers and retouchers, and are designed to produce high-quality results quickly and without much knowledge or input from the end user.
You can click each Template which appears and it’ll fairly quickly apply the effect that you’ll be left with. Although there are examples shown in the thumbnail for each photo, to see how it will look on your photo you’ll need to click it to apply it, which can be quite a painstaking process when you’re new to the software and are exploring it. However, once you get used to it and discover your favourites (which you can record by clicking a heart icon next to any templates you use), then it can be a very quick way to apply an edit.
Similarly, if you decide you like a particular edit and are working on a number of images in the same folder or album that you want to look the same, you can quickly apply the same Template to multiple images.
To do this, you’ll need to select the photos you want to add the Templates to in the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, then right click > Adjustments > Sync Adjustments. In just a few seconds, the Template you’ve selected will be added to all of the photos you have selected.
There’s dozens of Templates to choose between, but you can’t blend them together which is a bit of a shame – but they are designed to be a quick and almost instant way to improve your photo.
If you want more control, and more refined controls, then you need to head into the Edit section, which is next to the Templates option at the top of the Luminar window. Once you click this, you’ll be presented with a host of different settings which you can make tweaks using.
Here, however, Luminar is still making use of AI to enable you to make quick adjustments without much effort or knowledge. The good thing however is that you can “override” or decide against its decisions, so it’s a good section to use if you want that extra layer of control.
As you move down the sections, you’ll see which of those use AI as they have small orange symbols to the side of the Tool names – for example Enhance AI, Composition AI, Sky AI, Atmosphere AI, Face AI and so on.
The tools are split into four different sections, which are sensibly arranged for ease of use and quick navigation between the different options. They’re also colour coded so you can quickly see which is which.
At the top – as you’d expect – you have “Essential” where you can carry out a number of relatively straightforward tasks. This includes Enhance (AI), Composition (AI), Erase, Light, Structure (AI), Color, Black & White, Details, Denoise, Landscape and Vignette.
Next is Creative, which includes Sky (AI), Augmented Sky (AI), Atmosphere (AI), Sunrays, Dramatic, Mood, Toning, Matte, Mystical, Glow and Film Grain. The portrait section includes Face (AI), Skin (AI), Body (AI) and High Key.
Finally, there’s a professional section which might appeal to slightly more advanced users and includes Optics, Supercontrast, Color Harmony, Dodge and Burn and Clone Stamp.
Unlike with Templates, the various Tools can be used in conjunction with each other. So for example, you might want to adjust Composition, replace the Sky, and whiten teeth, all within the same picture.
Each of the Tools are fairly straightforward and self-explanatory to use, mainly working either as push buttons or sliders to control the intensity of certain effects. The Composition AI tool is flexible in that it gives you the option of a one-click Composition, whereby the software will judge what is the best composition, but you can also adjust perspective, rotate and flip and make other transformations yourself – or you could use the Composition AI button as a starting tool and go from there.
Some of the other tools also give you similar levels of flexibility. For example, the Structure AI tool can be used across the whole frame, or you can use a Paint Mask tool to only apply it to selective areas of the frame. Colour, Black and White and the Denoise tools – among others – also work in a similar way.
The Creative set of tools are perhaps the most impressive – or at least the most noticeable. The Sky AI tool is something you can use for all those pictures where it was overcast or just a bit boring. Or perhaps if you want to experiment with how the scene might have looked at different times of day, or at night.
The Sky AI tool will only work with images which have a sky present – for obvious reasons. Once you’ve opened up the file you want to work on, you can choose from a variety of different skies in the drop down box. Click on each one to see how they look and it will be applied in just a couple of seconds. Again, when you are new to the software, it’s arguably a bit of a laborious process but once you’ve been using it for a while you’ll likely remember which ones are your default favourites.
There’s a set of sky selections to choose from, but you can also choose your own if perhaps you’ve got another good sky in another picture that you want to use. You can also download additional skies from the Macphun website too, for additional charge. Once you’ve selected whichever sky you want to use, you can either leave it as is, or you can make adjustments using the sliders to settings such as Horizon blending, where the Horizon is and so on.
The Augmented Sky AI Tool is also quite good fun. With this you can place objects in the sky that weren’t there at the time of the shot – such as aeroplanes, birds, balloons, clouds and even the moon. Some look more realistic than others, and again you have some flexibility whereby you can move the object around the frame, choose opacity level and so on.
There’s a range of other tools which are particularly well-suited to creative images, such as the ability to add fog/mist, add film grain, create a different toning effect and so on. The “Mood” tool allows you to use LUTs (Look Up Tables), of which several are included.
You can hover over the name of the LUT and you’ll see a preview of how it will be applied to your image before you click on it. You can also download additional LUTs, or upload any that you have made yourself. Once you’ve selected a LUT, you can use the slider to adjust the intensity of it, or to change contrast and situation and so on.
If you have a portrait to work on, the next set of tools are ideal for those. They are divided into Face, Skin and Body, as well as an option for creating a High Key look. In the Face section, you can add some lighting to the face area to lift shadows, and you can also apply a Slimming filter. The latter is likely to be a little controversial, but if used sparingly so as not to completely distort the way someone looks, it could have its applications.
Underneath this, you’ll find the opportunity to make adjustments to the eyes, including changing their colour, whitening them, removing red eyes, reducing dark circles and so on. For the mouth, you can change saturation, redness, darkness, and whiten teeth.
Next up is the group of Skin tools, which again should probably be used sparingly for best, or at least the most-realistic effect. You can apply the effect to the whole frame, or you can apply it just to the face – though being AI you shouldn’t generally need to direct it to do that. Here you can apply an “Amount”, which is essentially skin smoothing. You can also remove shine too.
There’s also a Body section, which can be used to slim (or the opposite) somebody. Again, there are ethical considerations to make when using this tool to dramatically adjust the appearance of somebody. You can apply it quite subtly, or go quite extreme, depending on how far you want to go with it. Finally, there’s a High Key section, which will work better with some portraits than others.
The last section in the editing tools panel is the “Professional” section. Here you’ll find some very useful tools, such as Optics – which you can use to apply distortion corrections, and remove chromatic aberrations. This is particularly handy when working with raw files, where the software doesn’t pick up any in-camera adjustments.
The information that shows up in this panel may change depending on the raw file (and the camera it’s been shot with). It’s also in this section that you’ll find some more advanced options, that you might be more familiar with if you’re used to using other software, such as Photoshop. So there’s Supercontrast (for adjusting Highlights, Midtones, Shadows etc), Color Harmony for changing Warmth, Colour Contrast and so on, Dodge and Burn and finally the Clone and Stamp tool.
When you have performed all the edits that you wish to on a particular image, you can save your editing combination as a Template. So, if you’ve got a look that you wish to recreate against other images – whether they already exist, or whether you’re yet to shoot them, you can quickly return to whatever that combination was. Luminar AI is a non-destructive editing tool, so if you move between images in your catalogue you can adjust and remove any edits you have made at a later date, with no impact on the original file.
Once you’re happy with how your image is looking, you can also choose to export it so you have a permanent version of the file. To do this, click on Export at the top of the Luminar window. From here, you can either save it to Disk, or send it via email/messages, or upload to SmugMug or 500px. When you select Save to Disk, you can give the file a name of your choice, add tags, and choose where to save it.
You can also add Sharpening, choose to resize it, choose the colour space (sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB) and choose the format (jpg, PNG, TIFF, jpg-2000, Photoshop or PDF), and finally choose the quality level (on a scale of 1-100). When you’re ready, click Export and the file will then be created. You can export several files at once if you prefer, by selecting multiple images in the Export window, and following the same process. Note that if you are exporting multiple files, it doesn’t give you the option to choose new file names.
Perhaps you already have software, such as Adobe Photoshop, but are interested in Skylum Luminar AI for its augmented reality tools such as replacing skies and making quick adjustments to portraits. If that’s the case, you can use Luminar AI as a plug in, rather than as standalone software.
If you haven’t already done that when you installed the software, you can do it at any time by clicking Luminar on your task bar (when using a Mac, Windows devices might vary slightly) and clicking Install Plugins. Whichever other software you’ve got installed will be shown in the next pop-up, so you just choose to install it onto whichever piece of software you want to use. You can also choose to uninstall it from here too.
In Photoshop, you’ll find the plugin under the Filters menu. Once launched you’ll have access to all the Templates and Editing tools, but you won’t see the same catalogue menu as you get in the full programme.
Skylum Luminar AI is incredibly impressive – if you like that kind of thing. The various tools and Templates work incredibly well in almost all situations.
If we take the example of Sky Replacement. Here, in almost every image we tried, the replacement sky looked pretty convincing – albeit not necessarily always realistic in the context. The subtler skies work better than the more dramatic ones, but it’s never-the-less a fun tool to experiment with. There’s some debate to be had about replacing skies to fake the impression of something that didn’t happen, but if you feel the need to do it, Skylum does it as well as you’re likely to achieve elsewhere.
The tools available for adjusting portraits are also quite impressive. Again, there’s arguably a question of ethics here, but subtle improvements that are not quite so dramatic are probably worth giving a go for just a hint of retouching. With the body slimming tool you can occasionally encounter problems if the person is standing in front of a fairly busy background – with odd lines and waves sometimes appearing, but otherwise, it does a good and fairly realistic job.
Several of the other creative effects, including the LUTs and the ready-made templates are perfect for those who like to make quite dramatic edits for the likes of Instagram, but don’t have the time or inclination (or both) to spend hours creating edits in software such as Photoshop.
The amount of tools that Skylum Luminar AI provides for the relatively low cost of the software is incredibly impressive.
It’s the ideal piece of software for those that want to spend as little time editing as possible, as all of its artificial intelligence tools step in to take the pain and inconvenience out of editing. The flip side of that is there isn’t too much in the way of super-advanced editing – but if you wanted to do that kind of in-depth editing, you’ll probably already have something like Photoshop.
The quality of the edits that Luminar AI makes is also very impressive, especially when it comes to things like Sky Replacement, which it seems to do with unbelievable accuracy almost all of the time. The results are pretty believable – especially when used with subtlety (for example, few are likely to believe that galaxy will be clearly visible above an average landscape). The portrait editing tools are also very good, and again, especially if used with a touch of sensitivity and subtlety can help you to refine your people shots.
Finally, lovers of things like Instagram filters will surely love all of the various Templates and creative tools that Luminar AI provides. The ability to make quick and simple edits at just the push of a button is a real bonus for those who prefer to be out there taking pictures than sitting in front of a computer editing.
The software is also very easy to use. No matter how experienced you are with photo editing software, it’s fairly self-explanatory, and should be straightforward enough for most users to get something from right from the get go. The ability to use it as a plugin for your existing software – such as Photoshop – is also a bonus for those who want some of the fun aspects of the software, but don’t perhaps want to rely on it as a one-stop solution.
All in all, while the kind of things that Luminar AI does won’t be to everybody’s tastes, for those that like this kind of tool, it’s extremely adept and it will no doubt have lots of fans.