Why Luminar AI Will Change Photo Editing for the Better
Luminar AI is the photo editing software for all—accessible, affordable, and effective at making professionals out of amateurs.
After months of teasing their newest AI-assisted software, Skylum has finally released Luminar AI, a feature-packed follow-up to Luminar 4 that’s available for macOS and Windows. The latest photo editing software keeps Luminar 4’s best features while adding more advanced portrait and landscape photography features. At $79—that’s a one-time fee—for a single license, Luminar AI does far more than I expected. And though it’s easy to pick up and use, there are still advanced features for those with the know-how.
Adobe enthusiasts don’t have to disrupt their editing workflow, as Luminar AI can also work as a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom. For filmmakers and YouTubers, Luminar is a great tool to use when creating thumbnails, which has become an art in itself. While Luminar AI doesn’t have any text features for creating titles, using it as a plug-in for Lightroom or Photoshop is perfect. You can use the Luminar AI plug-in to quickly edit the image and use the tools in your photo editor to create a title. After spending hours editing a video, this is an easy way filmmakers and YouTubers can save time.
Although professionals may come to embrace AI photo editing, Luminar AI removes a lot of the barriers that come with photo editing—expensive editing software and advanced skill—making it easier for just about anybody to pick up the basics and create memorable images without years of experience.
I was a fan of Luminar 4, and Luminar AI picks up where the other left off. It adds just enough features to make it a stand-out, without overwhelming new users. While templates offer a set-and-forget alternative to editing, Luminar AI is robust enough for professionals, making it a suitable option for beginners, as well as photographers with years of photo editing experience. Software such as Photoshop and Lightroom may be the gold standard for professionals, but Luminar AI lowers the barrier to entry for anyone interested in the craft.
For Beginners: Templates
Luminar AI is split in two. The Template tab applies custom looks to your image. And then there’s the Edit tab, where you can get into the more granular aspects of photo editing. For beginners, or those who need a quick edit, Luminar AI’s templates are a good option. Luminar has dozens of templates nested under collections, which are themselves nested within categories. It sounds convoluted, but it’s not. For example, there are four template collections under the portrait category—the Easy Portraits collection has five simple portrait templates.
There are dozens of templates to choose from, but I could see how users who will rely on this software may tire of using the same templates. An assets store sells template collections, skies—for the Sky Replacement AI feature—and other assets to remedy this. The collections sell for around $20, but there’s also a subscription service that gives subscribers new templates and other assets each month, as well as a 15% discount to the Luminar Marketplace.
Templates may seem like Instagram filters, but they’re far more advanced. Instead of applying a quick LUT, the template runs the image through the gamut, using AI to tweak the photo until it looks right. Luminar AI makes finding the right template easy, as it suggests collections on the top-right of the software. If a particular template is too strong, there’s a handy slider on the bottom-right corner of the Template tab that can soften the effects. Those who want a quick edit can use the slider to adjust on the fly, but anything more requires going into the Edit tab.
Users who have little-to-no experience with image editing software can rely on templates, which does produce some nice images. However, learning to work in the Edit tab is the only way to get the most out of the software. The most effective way to use this software, in my opinion, is to apply a template to an image first, then editing it until it’s right. Without using the Edit tab, users will miss out on Luminar AI’s most groundbreaking features.
In my experience, applying templates has been incredibly fast compared to Luminar 4, allowing me to quickly click through as many templates as I want before settling on the right one. After using both Luminar 4 and Luminar AI on the same computer, the latter seems the less resource-hungry of the two and the fastest.
Slide Right for More AI
The Edit tab is where the magic happens—where you can find out how the sausage is made. Users who have dealt with Luminar 4 will be at home in Luminar AI’s Edit tab, and those with image editing experience won’t be too lost either. The edit menu isn’t as robust as Lightroom, but it has a curves editor for color, which I know many are fond of.
To see your progress, you can click the eyeball icon at the top-right side of the software, which shows you the original unedited image. The before and after feature, located left of the eyeball, splits the image in two to show you what it looked like before and after the edits. If you’re afraid you’ve gone too far with an edit, both of these features are useful.
Luminar AI’s Edit tab is well-designed, properly nesting menus and settings in a way that makes sense. After a few uses, navigating the UI feels like second-nature. There are four tool tabs vertically placed on the right side of the screen in the Edit tab. Each tool tab is marked with an icon on the right side of the software.
The Essential tab is, well, the most essential, and it’s the one you’ll want to use in every image. The Creative tab is home to all the landscape features and other settings such as Mood, which applies LUTs and Film Grain. The Portrait tool tab has the least number of features, but they’re the most effective and innovative for portrait photography. Finally, the Professional tool tab has settings like Dodge and Burn and Clone and Stamp, as well as Supercontrast and Color Harmony.
If you’ve applied a template before editing, you’ll notice little white dots next to each setting that’s been applied. Though it’s a small thing, it’s great because you can precisely visualize what the template did and adjust it yourself. As you apply your edits, you’ll also see the same white dots next to the settings you’ve used—this is a great reminder of what you’ve done so far, in case you want to roll back a previous setting.
The Best Features in Luminar AI
I won’t go into great detail about every setting in Luminar AI, but I do want to highlight the ones that stand out the most, especially those that use AI to enhance the images. Below are my favorites from each tool tab and brief explanations about each one.
This is my new favorite tool by far and one that I’ll use on every image in the future. Because I’m not a trained photographer, I lack the “eye” of those who do it for a living, so my pictures often look uninspired. Composition AI pulls from its library of quality photos and adjusts your image’s composition, crop, and perspective to perfectly frame your image. To activate it, select the Composition AI menu and click on the rectangular Composition AI button—Luminar AI does the rest. You can still adjust all those settings after using Composition AI, so take it as a suggestion.
This menu contains two settings—Accent AI and Sky Enhancer AI—which takes the busy work out of editing an image’s lighting. Instead of tweaking the contrast, highlights, shadows, and saturation, Accent AI’s slider does it all. All you have to do is move the slider to the right. It’s simple and effective.
Sky Enhancer AI does the same, except for skies instead of the whole image. Sky Enhancer AI is smart enough to know the difference between the sky and a body of water, enhancing the sky’s overall look and color. For those shooting landscape photography, this is an essential feature that makes the sky pop without looking fake.
Structure AI is the most subtle of the AI settings in the Essentials tools tab, but it’s no less useful. The two settings, Amount and Boost, work to sharpen or flatten the detail in an image. Moving the Amount slider to the left flattens the detail, making the image seem almost blurry or hazy, while moving it to the left sharpens detail. Adjusting Boost is supposed to enhance detail and add an HDR-like look, according to Luminar, but I felt it not to be as useful.
In all of the marketing materials for Luminar AI, Sky AI is the setting most used to show how advanced the software is. Sky AI is available in Luminar 4 as well, and it works in the same way, though Skylum claims that Luminar AI is 30% faster at implementing this setting than Luminar 4. I do agree that it feels faster.
Sky AI replaces the sky in your image with one from the software. Replacing the sky looks natural, and I think it can fool most people, so I recommend using it. I may not use it for every outdoor shot, but it’s great to have as a backup. Other settings adjust the position of the horizon and horizon blending to make it look even more natural. Also, you can add your skies or buy them from Skylum.
Augmented Sky AI
This feature, which adds objects to the background of an image, is one of the coolest in Luminar AI. It has a wow factor, but it’s mostly useless. It adds a curated set of objects to the background, which is cool, especially for those not savvy in the ways of Photoshop, but it looks fake. No matter which object I place or how I adjust it, it always looks obvious and artificial.
If you want to make a silly image for your friends, go for it, but it doesn’t look professional at all, and I surely wouldn’t submit a photo with this feature to a client. The software deserves some credit for pulling this off, but it’s not yet at a stage where it’s useable for professionals. That being said, I’ll definitely add mountains to every outdoor picture I take as a prank.
I can see why this would be useful for landscape photography, but most users won’t give it much mileage. Atmosphere AI adds fog, mist, or haze to the image’s foreground to provide it with a more dramatic look, and it can look great with the right image. You can adjust the density and depth of the chosen effect with sliders. Atmosphere AI could be fantastic with the right outdoor image, but it may be too circumstantial for many.
Those familiar with video editing software will have likely heard about LUTs, and this feature applies a LUT to your image. LUTs change the image’s color, giving your image a custom color look that you can apply to other images to remain consistent. Luminar AI already has many LUTs to choose from, but you can select your own. The Amount setting adjusts the effect of the LUT.
There’s not much to say about this other than aesthetic. Like vinyl crackle in lo-fi hip-hop songs, film grain adds a layer of nostalgia to your image. Some like it. Some don’t. If you’re part of the former group, you can change the film grain’s amount, size, and roughness. I like it, but I try to use it judiciously. Using it too much feels like a crutch.
As the name states, Face AI deals with a subject’s face, and the results are quite effective. Face AI’s menu is one of the biggest, and it adjusts face lighting, the eyes, and the mouth. There are tons of settings to play with here. Slim Face slims down a subject’s face (shocker!), and while it may be useful for some, I’m not sold on it. Using it on myself is fine, though I probably wouldn’t. Using it on someone else feels like you’re changing what they look like in an unnatural way. Image editing is supposed to enhance someone’s existing features, not completely change how they look.
In the Eyes section, you can whiten the eyes, enlarge them, and remove red-eye and dark circles. You can even replace the subject’s eyes with other eyes—even cat or owl eyes, for some reason. The Mouth section isn’t as impactful, but it can whiten teeth. Overall, Face AI makes an impact, but its abundance of settings can be confusing at first. The Face Light feature is the best of the bunch, and I recommend using it in every image with a person’s face.
Instead of airbrushing someone’s face, Skin AI does it for you. Just adjust the Amount slider to smooth the skin, being careful not to go too far as the skin can start to look waxy. The Shine Removal slider gets rid of unwanted shine on the skin. Finally, the Skin Defects Removal AI checkbox does what it says it does. I tried using it in an image, and it did remove some blemishes, but it also left behind some image artifacts that looked weird. Use it as needed, but inspect the image before moving on.
Similar to the Slim Face feature, this setting slims down a subject’s body and abdomen. It does feel weird to make a person skinnier, especially if they didn’t ask for it. I doubt I’ll give it much use, but if you or your client wants a more flattering look, this is the setting to adjust.
According to the manual for Luminar AI, the Supercontrast tool “precisely adjusts tonal contrast with six distinct controls, spanning highlights, midtones, and shadows, allowing for finely-tuned results.” This setting gives you more control over contrast, and it can make an image pop.
Similar to what Supercontrast does for contrast, Color Harmony gives you more control over color. This is the best feature for adjusting the color and one that I’m likely to visit with every image I edit on Luminar AI. The Brilliance slider makes everything pop, and you can easily adjust the overall feel of the image by using the Warmth slider.
Why It’s Game-Changing
When it comes to expertise behind a camera, I’m more of a videographer than a photographer. I’m not great at composing great stills, and I struggle to find the right balance when editing images. Luminar 4 fixed that for me, and Luminar AI takes it a step further. The software does feel faster than its predecessor, and it doesn’t take up as much computer resources. All that is good, but that’s not what’s groundbreaking. What’s truly groundbreaking is that Luminar AI democratizes the craft of photo editing to the point where anybody with a digital camera can edit amazing shots.
You Don’t Need to Be a Pro
I’ve seen several opinion articles that argue AI will ruin photography because it will homogenize photography, eliminating the craft’s creativity and uniqueness. But, I don’t believe that. I don’t think great images belong only to those with the best gear and the most skill, especially when most people carry smartphones with cameras. While professionals have the resources to produce high-quality images consistently, everyone should have access to tools that allow for better photos.
Although Luminar AI gets the brunt of the attack because of its heavy reliance on AI, even Adobe has recently introduced AI features, Adobe Sensei AI, to Photoshop. Some phones, such as the Google Pixel, use AI for its camera—turning on Night Sky mode magically renders low-light images as if they’re fully lit. Whether we want it or not, the future of photography includes AI, so it’s best to embrace it. There will still be room for professionals who prefer to shoot and edit more traditionally, but those who use AI will supplement their skills, raising the quality of work across the board.
Image Editing for All
As someone who occasionally flirts with photography, I’m not an expert in Photoshop, and while Lightroom is great, the monthly subscription isn’t. I much prefer to pay once for a piece of software that I’ll occasionally use, helping me get the most out of my images, albeit with an assist from the AI features. I’m not entering a National Geographic contest, so I just need something simple for editing images for articles, social media, or for personal projects. I think Luminar AI does just that, but it’s still robust enough to grow with and expand.
For beginners, Luminar AI provides a slimmed-down editing experience where users can hone their skills. Luminar AI’s uncomplicated approach to image editing is egalitarian, a simple software that welcomes all and ostensibly makes professional-looking work out of amateur photography. For anybody getting their first DSLR or mirrorless camera, Luminar AI is a must-have piece of software.
Discover even more editing tips and techniques (as well as a few freebies):