Digging into Skylum’s newest version of Luminar, the first question I had to answer is, “What can it do that will save me time, make my images look better, and not take forever to learn?” Once you open the program up, you find a tremendous amount of options for processing. But, it is an easy to learn program that I have found can help you make quick adjustments to get great results. These tips and techniques will help you sift through the options and features, so you can develop (pun intended) your own workflow, not just for your landscapes, but any type of photography.
Tips and Techniques for Processing in Luminar
Plan it Out!
Having an idea of how you want the image to come out before you start processing it will usually produce the best results. Take a few minutes and look at the image, considering what things in the digital darkroom will make it have more impact, tell the story more clearly, or create a deeper connection with the viewer. A habit I picked up from doing photo composites and original digital art is to sketch out your ideas at the start. Open up an extra copy of the image and sketch over it, identifying the light sources, colors, exposure changes, and other ideas to transform and finish it.
I know my scribbles can be a little tough to read, but they act as a reminder for me of areas to work on in an image. Here is the translation for this particular one, moving from the lower left, clockwise:
- Boost the overall contrast a little.
- Increase color temperature difference between cool on the outside edge to warm in the middle.
- Add warm light to center, with slight haze/fog effect.
- Lighten road slightly.
- Emphasize complimentary color between road and woods.
Change Your Preview Background to a Medium Gray
This is a tip I shared in an earlier article on Aurora HDR, and it holds just as true in Luminar. Editing on a pure black background can alter your perception of an image’s color and contrast. Using a neutral gray background can help you notice if your colors or contrast seem a little off. Also, consider that most social media sites have a light background, processing against a black background may give you an unrealistic idea of what the final image looks like to those audiences.
To change this, right-click anywhere on the Luminar desktop, and select the color you want. The “Gray” or “Light Gray” options seem to work best to keep your color perception right.
Pick a Preset
Yes, a preset. I sense disbelief and scoffing…
You: “A preset?! I want control! It’s like sticking your camera on P mode!”
Me: “Nope, it is just presetting your workspace for what you want to do. Really, use presets, come to the dark side…”
A preset loads certain filters to your selected layer, with a few automatic selections on some sliders. But, none of it is permanent! If you don’t like the results just reset any sliders with a double-click, turn off the filter’s visibility by clicking its respective toggle, or pick a whole new preset. Starting with a preset will save you time, getting you closer to your intended outcome with less effort. Pick one close to what you want to achieve, and go from there. My usual favorite for landscapes and other nature is the “Mild Image Enhancer”.
Work in Layers
The power of layers is the ability to further isolate and blend in effects. Use a layer for each part of the image you want to adjust according to your “plan”, or for areas where a different mask or blending mode is needed to achieve a certain effect. This will give you more control over the final look of your image, as you can change the opacity or blending for each layer individually
General vs Specific Adjustments
When you work through your processing sometimes you need to make adjustments to the whole image, sometimes you make adjustments to just small parts. Think of it like you are painting a wall in your home. You use a big paint roller to cover large areas quickly, with a uniform coat of paint. You use a small paintbrush to pick out details and clean up your work. Adjustments in Luminar are made in much the same way. You can use a filter to apply a coat of paint to the whole image that affects every portion of it, or you can use layers, blending modes, and masks to work on specific parts of the image.
Save Your Steps!
If you like what you did, save yourself some work for next time and save it as a preset. Presets only save adjustments from the current layer you are on, without any masks. If you use a complex series of blends and layers, you can always save multiple presets, or take screenshots of your process. The button to do so is a little hidden, look at the bottom right-hand side of the screen for a small button that says “Save Filters as Preset”, click this, then name it and save. Next time you want to use these settings, they will be stored under the “Custom” category of presets.
Let’s Process Something! My Workflow for a Landscape Image
First, a disclaimer. Every image is unique, what works on one isn’t necessarily going to work on another, each imagine needs something different done to it.
Second, think of photography like this; Images are created in the imagination, captured in the camera, and completed in the darkroom. Don’t let “manipulation” or “processing” or “digital darkroom” be “no-no words” in your photography vocabulary. They are not bad things when used in the right way. Mastering the digital darkroom is a way to open up your creative possibilities and realize the vision you imagined for each shot. A good digital workflow can transform a drab low contrast photo to a mood altering masterpiece of light, lines, and form!
This is why the planning part is so important in my opinion. If you can’t figure out what to do with an image, the problem may be in the composition, something you are not going to fix here. Taking a moment to think about the image gives you the steps for how to complete it, which is how I’ve organized the workflow below.
Basic Image Corrections
- In Luminar, select a preset, here I have selected the “Mild Image Enhancer”.
- Make any needed adjustments to exposure. In this particular image, the light is a little flat since it is heavily filtered by the trees. Per “the plan” I want to emphasize the light down the road, and improve the contrast and exposure. This is done by making positive (slide to the right) adjustments to Shadows and Contrast, and negative (slide to the left) adjustments to Highlights, Whites, and Blacks. When an image is a little flat like this, opening up the Shadows while deepening the Blacks will often produce an improvement to contrast, without causing a loss of detail in the shadow areas.
Add Luminosity and Color Curves
Curves layers are one of the most misunderstood, yet more powerful adjustments you can make. Our images are all made up of pixels, which each have values for color and luminosity. With Curves adjustments, we can remap the pixels’ values for these, changing them to be brighter or darker, or changing their color.
Because the Curves adjustment can affect both color and luminance, I prefer to work on one of these at a time. This way if I want to shift the image to have brighter highlights, I don’t also shift its colors.
- Create a new adjustment layer, then click the “Add Filter” button and select “Curves”.
- Change the layer blend mode to Luminosity, now the Curves adjustment will only affect the luminance of the image, not the color.
- Click on the straight line, and drag your cursor up or down to make changes. Here I added a classic “S Curve”, which brightens the highlights and deepens the shadows, increasing the contrast of the photo. Because we are using the Luminosity blend, the color still stays true with this adjustment.
Because each pixel also has Red, Green, and Blue values, curves can also be used to remap colors. On the Curves panel, you will see circles which correspond to each color, with the white one being the tone curve. Click any circle to adjust the curve for only that color. Dragging up will move the color more towards the pure form of it, dragging down will shift the color towards its complementary color. For example dragging up on the red curve will make the reds more red, but dragging down will make them more cyan. Green is paired with magenta, and blue is paired with yellow. Because you can also select where along the curve you drag, you can choose to adjust only certain tonal ranges of the color, like deep blues or bright greens.
- Create a new adjustment layer, then click the “Add Filter” button and select “Curves”.
- Change the layer blend mode to “Color,” now the “Curves” adjustment will only affect the color of the image, not the luminance.
- For this image I adjusted the red highlights to increase the saturation of the road, adding a downward curve on the blue to pull this color out of the leaves, which replaces the blues with yellows. The result is the road looks more like the red clay it was made of, and the trees’ leaves no longer have a bluish cast caused by the different temperature light there than on the road.
With my basic adjustments and two curves layers in place, you can see the change in both tone and color throughout the image is already pretty dramatic
Focusing the Light
Next up on the to-do list for this image is to focus the viewer’s attention down the road. One way to do this is by adjusting the light in this area so it is brighter and warmer compared to the rest of the images. We are naturally drawn to contrast, and our eye is already following the road. We are going to give the viewer just a little more of a push to look where we want them to by increasing the contrast between this area and the rest of the image in terms of both color and light.
- Start by, you guessed it, creating a new adjustment layer. Change your layer’s blend mode to “Screen”, which will lighten the layers below this one.
- Add the “Fog” filter to this layer. In the filter’s panel, select “Dark Fog” with an amount of 50-60. This will create a uniform bright gray “fog” over the image. Light fog was too bright for my taste, and this amount allows you to blend this layer in with those below it.
- Add the “Golden Hour” filter to this layer. This is a quick way to warm up your image, you can also use other filters like HSL (Hugh Saturation Level) or color temperature to more specifically change the color. Select an amount of around 60 and saturation of around 20, this will turn the fog a warm golden color.
- If you like what you see, great, otherwise slide the filter amount down until you do.
- Since we only want to apply this effect to the light at the end of the tunnel, this layer needs to be masked to that area. I started with a radial mask, adding and removing any extra areas manually using the mask brush.
Add a Little Punch with a Soft Light BW Layer
Having added the foggy warm light above, one of the side effects is a loss of contrast in that area. That is okay through most of the image, but I don’t like the way it made the darker branches look, they seem too hazy. Sure, it’s a small detail, but much of post processing is learning to notice and fix these little things that will bug you about your image later.
A technique often used in portrait photography to get an “edgier” look is to add a Black and White layer set to the “Soft Light” blend mode. The “Soft Light” blend mode both lightens and darkens an image, shifting tonal values away from middle gray towards black or white. The “Overlay” blend mode is the more commonly used, and more dramatic version, where “Soft Light” is a gentler blend that can improve contrast throughout the image. By using a black and white filter on this layer, we are again separating color from contrast, leaving the warm tones alone that we just added.
- Before you leave the warm light layer, go into the settings for that layer’s mask by clicking on the small gear icon, and then click “Copy”. This will copy the mask to your clipboard. We will use this same mask to make sure the B&W layer only affects the same areas as this one.
- You know the drill, add a new adjustment layer, this time set it to a “Soft Light” blend mode.
- Click on the small gear icon, and click “Paste”, this will recreate the mask we used on the layer below.
- Add the B&W Conversion filter to this layer. I found boosting the red and yellow luminance, and deepening the blacks and shadows did just what I wanted.
At this point you could keep going and try all sorts of different filters, like adding a brighter glow at the end of the tunnel, or sun beams shooting down the road. As you can see, there are a tremendous number of options for processing not just your landscapes, but any type of photography. So many options can become overwhelming, but if you focus on the core concepts of understanding layers, blends, and masks you will find Luminar is a powerful but easy to use program for your landscape photos and other digital darkroom work.
- Canon 5D Mark IV
- Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2,8 Di VC USD Lens
- Gitzo GT4543LS Tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head
Like this article? Follow this link to read more of my photo tips and techniques. Jason’s Articles at Photofocus
You can find out more about Jason, including his photo workshops, at HahnNaturePhotography.com.