From Lightroom to Luminar

Like many others I’m trying out Luminar 2018 as a possible alternative to Lightroom. Adobe has eliminated the stand-alone product, currently at version 6.x, which is the one I use. For now it’s not a problem, the software works and I will continue to use it as my file manager (catalog), but as the software ages or I upgrade cameras, trouble will come knocking. Their assumption is that high speed internet exists everywhere and I hate to break it to Adobe, but it doesn’t. For me it probably never will since there aren’t enough people around to make it pay for anyone to lay the cable. Unless Adobe wants to cough up for infrastructure or they have some magical internet fairies, a cloud solution is a no-go for me.

Plus I find $120 a year a bit usurious, but that’s just me.

Bah. I’ll get off it.

For the past 2 days I’ve been playing around with Luminar for the first time. There are lots of reviews, comparison and evaluation articles already out there and so I’m going to confine this piece to a specific aspect of working with the program. I have ideas for future Luminar posts and will try to keep things focused and useful for folks just getting started.

My biggest impression is that it’s easy to get carried away with presets and filters; piling one on top of another until the original image loses all subtlety and finesse. Case in point this lovely sunset at Big Sur –

Sleep Paralysis a la Luminar

Here’s a list of what edits went into that shot –

  1. Mild Image Enhancer (default settings)
  2. Image Radiance filter +20 w/shadows at +66 and saturation at +13
  3. Denoise
  4. Curves taken up slightly to lighten the photo overall
  5. Color Contrast filter +21, hue 236, brightness +29 and contrast 0

All well and good while you’re immersed in editing, but have a gander at what I published first –

Sleep Paralysis (original)

Big difference.

Part of the problem is that the farther back in time I’ve taken a picture, the harder it is to remember what it was really like (this photo is from January 2014). That can lead to some creative changes that free you from being too literal (and I’ll write another post about that soon), but in this case it led to an over-saturated image that doesn’t sing. It seems muddy and mired.

And for now, without an image or file manager, you can only work on one shot at a time. There is no context and no ability to compare one image with others like it either in their raw states or finished. Sure you can see the unprocessed shot in a before and after panel, but it isn’t enough. Like a frog that is slowly boiled in its own bath, you can drown in edits that look fine one at a time and don’t seem to be adding up to a big change, but in the end they kill your shot.

The source of that problem in my view is how Luminar’s tools and edit inputs are labeled – as filters with little to no explanation as to how they work and on what aspect of the image they work. Like Lightroom and other photo editors the number and ways a photo can be changed are limited. For example clarity works on a certain aspect of contrast and is labeled quite clearly in LR, but clarity is baked into many Luminar presets and you may not realize it (many of the Drama presets have heavy hands at the clarity slider, while many of the Outdoors presets have light ones). Luminance, saturation and hue in the HSL panel can also pop up in things like Brilliance and Polarizer (both Luminar filters). Because you may not know you’re affecting a certain property of your picture, you could in fact be altering it the same way under multiple guises. This leads to a dog pile of edits that creep up on you until you’ve taken the photo over the edge to ridiculous.

Here’s a more restrained version of the same photo, also created from Luminar –

Sleep Paralysis a la Luminar limited

To my eyes that is much better. All I did was add the Mild Image Enhancer to default settings, cropped to 3 by 2 aspect and hit it with some noise reduction. That’s all it needs and in some ways this is the beauty of Luminar. In reality all they’ve done is create presets like many Lightroom users have done. This dials in edits that give a particular effect; it’s a sum total, but in both programs those edits are changeable. If the preset works for what you want, it’s a quick way to get the very best for your picture. If it’s only a basic starting point; then you can get into the weeds of inputs, variations, sliders and effects. Those sliders and brushes are still only labeled with the filter name though, not precisely what they are doing to the image, not every time. In LR when you adjust hue, clarity, or say, grain, you generally do it once and move on. In Luminar you may be adjusting the same aspect over and over. Going too far is very easy.

Of course it is all personal preference and it may be mitigated with layers which I’m unfamiliar with and will tackle soon. Using the software without them might mean I have to be very careful with my original vision for my pictures and not get carried away.

That isn’t to say I’m going to be literal all the time. One of the most fun aspects of playing with Luminar is that it allows me to re-imagine my prior work. To break out of my expectations for the picture when I took it. Expect more posts exploring those.

I’m thinking of making it a series – Finishing Fridays? Technical Tuesdays? Anyway they will all be grouped into my Coaching/Tips/How to category and I’ll probably add a page at the top so you can find them all. Way to be organized, right?

Oh and I have a growing Wish List for Luminar, too. That’s coming soon, too. Woo hoo!

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6 thoughts on “From Lightroom to Luminar

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  1. Ah.. I hadn’t heard of Luminar. I also think $120/yr is absurd, so I don’t do CC. I still have an ancient version of LR, tho I rarely use it. I will post a link to your posts on a local photography group page.

  2. Hi- Excellent post. . I’m a LR user but added Luminar when I thought Nik was going to go away (which I love and now it is saved) I like Luminar for its ease of presets but you are absolutely right, it often looks overcooked. I do like the AI filter as a start. Good luck with your Luminar journey. You results are terrific.

    1. I’m glad you liked it, Jane. A while back I heard that Google is just letting the Nik stuff gather dust and it’s already pretty out of date, but that might have changed. I also read that a part of the team that developed those apps is behind Luminar. Funny how that goes.
      I have two more posts ready to go for Finishing Fridays and I keep playing with it. It’s surprisingly fun.

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