Artificial Intelligence. One-click sky replacements. Smart adjustments. That’s just some keywords to describe what you can expect from the new and completely rebuilt Luminar 4.
The market is saturated with photo-editors these days and it seems like everyone is trying to make a Lightroom alternative. That’s not what Skylum is aiming to do with their Luminar software. Instead, they are carving their own way by using Artificial Intelligence to simplify your post-processing workflow and ultimately cut down the time spent on an image while still achieving professional-looking results.
In this Luminar 4 review, we’re going to look at how those tools will cut down your time spent editing and see whether or whether not it’s worth the investment.
Spoiler: I’ve been blown away with its performance and have been proved wrong with my original opinion but it’s not for everyone. I’ll get back to that at the end of this review.
Photo editing with Artificial Intelligence
I’ll admit that I was skeptical when first learning about the new Luminar 4 and how they’ve added several tools using Artificial Intelligence (AI). By experience, automation and photo-editing rarely go well together.
Luminar 4 proved me wrong. Very wrong.
AI editing has been available in previous Luminar versions but despite doing what they promised, they didn’t blow my mind. That’s not the case anymore. Automation is here to stay.
AI Sky Replacement
The most anticipated feature of Luminar 4 is the brand new AI Sky Replacement. This tool has proved to me that automation and post-processing might work after all.
This definitely isn’t a tool for everyone. Sky replacement and photo manipulation to that extent is a touchy subject and there are many strong opinions about it. Personally, replacing skies is a bit outside of my comfort zone and not something I typically do.
As outdoor photographers, we rely heavily on the weather conditions and unfortunately, they don’t always play on our side. Revisiting that specific area might not be an option so replacing the sky might be your go-to alternative to have something to show from your travels.
Replacing the sky is annoyingly easy using the AI mode. Yes, it actually annoys me how easy this is; mostly because I know how time-consuming it would be to do manually.
In addition to replacing the sky, I made a few minor tweaks to the image above using a similar approach as I’ll share in a video later in this review. It took me roughly 2 minutes from start-to-finish.
How to use the AI Sky Replacement Tool
Replacing the sky in Luminar 4 is rather straight forward. In fact, it’s so simple that all you need to do is select the sky you want from the drop-down list, and voila! It’s done.
Here’s a quick preview of how you can replace the sky in a matter of seconds:
To recap what you can see in the video above, here’s how you can use the AI Sky Replacement Tool:
- Choose the image you want and open it in the Edit Module (top right bar)
- Select the Creative tab from the right-side panel
- Select your preferred sky from the drop-down menu
Note that the sky replacement won’t be perfect every time and might require some tweaking with the other sliders. I’ve found that it works best when there’s a big contrast between landscape and sky but let’s take a look at a slightly more complex scene:
The image above is not the easiest to make a proper mask for. It’s not impossible but it would take a lot of time to create a mask around the branches and along the tree line on top of the hill if I was to do it manually in Photoshop.
Using the AI Sky Replacement Tool it took less than 30 seconds. I simply chose the sky I wanted and made two quick adjustments to the Close Gaps and Relight Scene sliders to make the blend seamless.
Another neat function with the AI Sky Replacement Tool is the option to add your own skies. I have a feeling that we’re going to see a lot of the skies already available so adding your own is going to be a big step in creating a more unique image.
The only limitation with the Sky Replacement Tool is that it’s not able to replace the sky in reflections; either it’s in the water or on a building.
Another new and noteworthy feature of Luminar 4 is AI Structure; it automatically identifies objects in your photographs and improves details and clarity intelligently rather than globally. It can be considered a more intelligent clarity slider.
Those who know my post-processing are aware that I’m in general skeptical to sliders such as Lightroom’s Clarity, Texture and Dehaze. These tend to introduce a lot of unnecessary noise and decrease the overall image quality. After running multiple tests of AI Structure I’m surprised to see that it doesn’t introduce noise or damage file.
Another common artifact when using global sharpening tools is haloing. Yet again, this seems to be something the team behind Luminar has worked hard to avoid as it’s not an issue with AI Structure. Even when pushing the sliders further than I normally would.
I still recommend being careful when working with these types of sliders, though. It might not add unnecessary artifacts but the image quickly becomes grossly overly sharpened and unpleasant to look at.
More features and updates
AI Sky Replacement and AI Structure are the most noteworthy new features for landscape photographers using Luminar 4 but the new AI Skin Enhancer is an interesting tool for portrait photographers.
I’m not going to go too much into the details about the Skin Enhancer and Portrait Enhancer but I recommend taking a look at the trailer on this site if you need more information. Keep in mind that you can use layers and mask to apply these adjustments to only certain parts of your subjects, which can work particularly well if you’ve got more than one person in the frame.
Most of the remaining features have been present in earlier Luminar versions, though several of them have been updated and improved.
Users that have experience with earlier versions of Luminar might need a little time to get used to the new and updated interface. At first glance, it might seem like several features have been removed but don’t be fooled; these are now better organized in an easy-to-use layout.
All tools and sliders are placed within 4 main tabs that are found on the right side as icons: Essentials, Creative, Portrait and Pro, making it less time-consuming to find the adjustment you’re looking for.
The possibility of using layers is something that I find extremely valuable as it allows for a non-destructive post-processing workflow. Your layers panel is found on the top-right icon next to the histogram. You can add new layers by clicking the + icon. This makes it possible to use masks to only apply adjustments to the specific areas you want.
Example Luminar 4 workflow for landscape photography
I’ve put together a quick preview of an example workflow that shows how quickly you can turn a dull and flat image into something eyecatching and interesting.
When it comes to post-processing, it’s very unlikely that you’re only going to rely on one simple slider or tool. Most photographers combine several different adjustments that together result in a visually pleasing image.
Can Luminar 4 replace Lightroom and Photoshop?
Before publishing this review I created a post on our Facebook page asking for your Luminar 4 questions. Bryn Perrett asked if there’s any point in purchasing Luminar 4 if you already own Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and if Luminar can be used as a plug-in for either.
This is a very good question and one I’ve been pondering on myself during the testing. Here’s what I think:
Luminar 4 is an incredible photo editor for those who want to simplify their post-processing workflow and rely on AI / automated adjustments. If you’re curious about sky replacements or adding visual elements such as sunrays, Luminar 4 is definitely worth the extra investment. It’s also a great software to start with if you’ve yet to start processing your images, as the learning curve is much better than with most other products.
If you, on the other hand, prefer to have full manual control over your processing workflow and avoid using any auto-editing buttons or sliders, then no; you’re better off continuing to use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
Is Luminar 4 for you?
I started answering this question in the paragraph above but there’s still some more to it. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while you know that I never recommend products/services that I haven’t tested and genuinely believe can make a difference for you.
I believe this is a software that can do wonders for many people. But not for everyone.
Luminar 4 is a good fit if you:
- Want to improve your post-processing but find Photoshop too complex to learn
- Want to simplify your post-processing workflow by taking advantage of AI
- Are brand new to image editing and don’t know how to get started
- Don’t want to spend hours editing images
- Want to edit in a non-destructive workflow
- Want to easily apply creative looks
- Process many images at once and want to give them a similar look by copying and pasting settings
Luminar 4 is not a good fit for you if you:
- Find Photoshop easy to work with and like having full manual control over your workflow
- Don’t mind spending time working on an image
- Don’t like techniques such as Sky Replacement
- Have long experience with Photoshop and have developed an efficient workflow
Like I said at the beginning of this review, I was skeptical when I heard about the “groundbreaking” AI tools. I’ve tried one too many photo editors but none of them have won me over yet. I keep going back to my Adobe software but Luminar 4 is the first photo editor I’ve tried that has won me over and I’ll gladly admit that my initial skepticism was wrong.
While I’m overall positively surprised, there are two things I’d like to see improved in future updates or versions:
- The Library Module is still a bit behind what you get with Adobe Lightroom
- The AI Sky Replacement is unable to add the new sky to reflections
Luminar 4 is a great software for those who want to simplify their processing workflow while still getting professional-looking results. The use of layers and non-automated adjustments also makes this a good tool for those who want to maintain somewhat manual control over the processing.
You can easily make many of these adjustments in both Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as other editors but I don’t think there’s any other software that can match Luminar’s AI technology. Replacing a sky or applying selective sharpening can be done in other software too but it requires both more time and knowledge to get similar results.
After putting Luminar 4 through various tests and using it to process my images the past weeks I can highly recommend this for anyone who’s curious to make a change or looking for a software to get started with.
You can get $10 off the original price by using the promo code CAPTURELANDSCAPES. Seeing that it’s a one-time payment of $79 (and not a monthly subscription) I’d say it’s well worth the investment.