Being able to work with layers is a huge advantage Luminar 4 has over similar photo-editors.
Not only does this make it possible to create several professional-looking techniques that wouldn’t otherwise be possible but it also means you can develop a non-destructive workflow; a workflow where you can alter previous adjustments without affecting others.
But what are layers? How do you use them in Luminar 4 and why are they so important to understand?
Let’s take a closer look.
What are Layers in Luminar 4?
Working with layers is something that I recommend everyone who’s serious about their post-processing learn to do. This has previously been an option restricted to more advanced software such as Adobe Photoshop but that’s no longer the case.
Simply put, layers are images or adjustments that are stacked on top of each other. Adding a layer on top of another will make the top layer the visible one, as it’s on top of the hierarchy.
Let’s say that you’ve got three layers: the bottom layer is filled with blue, the middle layer with red and the top with green. What color does this make the image? If you answered green, that’s correct. Why? Because it’s the top layer.
If you erase part of the top layer, however, it will reveal the layer beneath in that specific area. In the scenario above, the erased part will now be red.
In Luminar 4 there are three types of layers: Image Layer, Stamped Layer and Adjustment Layers. Both the first layers conceal any other layer beneath when added to the top. That means it’s not possible to go back and make an adjustment on an earlier layer.
These layers do have their strengths but it’s the Adjustment Layers that are particularly important to understand and what we’re going to focus on.
Adjustment Layers for a Non-Destructive Workflow
So we know that Image Layers and Stamped Layers conceal all layers beneath them. How is Adjustment Layers any different?
The main benefit is that they are transparent until you apply an adjustment to them and, depending on the adjustment, they don’t conceal adjustments made on other layers. That means changes made to layers further down on the hierarchy become visible.
This is known as a non-destructive workflow.
Let’s say that you create two adjustment layers: the bottom one is used to alter the colors and the top one for applying additional sharpness using the AI Structure Tool. Even though the sharpening layer is on top, changes later made to the color layer are still visible.
Keep in mind that creating an Adjustment Layer doesn’t alter the image in any way. It’s not until you apply an adjustment (for example AI Structure) that you’re going to see an affect on the image.
Recommended Reading: My Best Luminar 4 Post-Processing Tips
It’s this type of layer that you’ll want to work with in 99% of your post-processing workflow.
How to Make a New Layer
If it’s your first time hearing about layers it might seem a little complicated but I promise you that it’s not as difficult as it sounds. It won’t take long before you’re adding layers without even thinking about it.
The good news is that making a new layer is easy and only takes three or fewer clicks:
- Navigate to the Layers Tools Category
- Click the ‘+’ icon next to the Layers text
This opens a small dropdown list with three options: Add New Adjustment Layer, Add New Image Layer and Create New Stamped Layer. Select the layer type you want to create and it will be added on top of your other layers.
- Adjustment Layers are transparent and allows for a non-destructive workflow
- Image Layers lets you open a new photo from your computer and place it on top of the current. This conceals any underlying layers
- Stamped Layers ‘captures’ the edited image and places it on top in a similar way as Image Layers. Also this conceals any underlying layers
While two of these layer types conceal the layers beneath, it is possible to change the blending mode and the layer opacity to give creative and interesting looks to your images. The main use of Image Layers in Luminar 4 is to add texture or overlays.
How to Use Layers in Luminar 4
Now to the final and most important question: how do you use layers in Luminar 4?
The truth is that there isn’t one correct way to use them. Some choose to apply all adjustments on a simple layer while others create a new one for each adjustment. However, I do believe there are some practices that you’ll benefit from learning and implementing.
It’s possible to do all of your post-processing in one single layer. This is by far the easiest and quickest solution but it’s restricting your possibilities and can ultimately be damaging for the final result. Yet, this is the method most of us follow in the beginning. After all, it’s the easiest way!
A much better and more flexible approach is to only apply a handful of adjustments to each Adjustment Layer. A good strategy is to rename each layer and use them only for specific adjustments.
For example, name one layer ‘Contrast’ and add all adjustments related to the image’s contrast to it. The next layer can be named ‘Colors’ and is where you apply all adjustments related to the tonality.
Following this workflow is going to give you extra control over the individual adjustments. Another big benefit is that you can adjust both the Amount (opacity) and the Layer Mask of each individual layer, making it possible to further fine-tune adjustments and apply them only to specific areas of your image.
Layers might seem scary to begin with but they are one of the most powerful features found in Luminar 4. Using them correctly provides you with extra control and flexibility that can help take your photo editing skills to the next level.
It’s a good idea to begin creating individual Adjustment Layers for the specific type of adjustments you’re going to make. I.e. create one layer for contrast adjustments, one for color adjustments and another for sharpening.
AI adjustments or creative adjustments such as sky replacements or sun stars should be added on their own layer.
Yes, it’s possible to apply adjustments to only the original layer but this restricts you in many ways and will have a negative impact on the final image.
I challenge you to attempt to use layers the next time you’re processing an image in Luminar 4. I promise that the day will come when you’re going to be grateful you learned how to use them.
Note: If you’re not yet a Luminar 4 user, use the promo code CAPTURELANDSCAPES to get a $10 discount.