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Luminar 2018: My First Impressions

Macphun (Skylum Software) just dropped their latest version of their editing tool, Luminar 2018 and I decided to check it out. I’m not typically one to edit my work with tons of filters and actions, and those that I do use, I tend to use sparingly, so I wanted to see what Luminar 2018 had in store and how much finesse their tools had. Seeing as I just got back from an epic journey to South Africa, I had a lot of fun images to play with.


First Impressions: Pros

One of the major things I like about Luminar 2018 is its flexibility. It can work as standalone software where you can open individual (or batch) photos OR you can install it as a plug-in for Lightroom, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and even Aperture. One of the reasons this is great is because we all have different workflows. It’s nice to have a tool that has options!

Another thing I love about Luminar is that it allows you to utilize layers and blend modes just like you’d use in Photoshop. This is helpful for consistent methodology so people don’t have to “re-learn” how to essentially do the same thing but through the language of whatever plugin they’re using. Layers and blend modes are also super helpful for me in my personal style of not liking to “overdo” a filter and preferring subtle effects to overly obvious ones (which I realize is subjective and nuanced to individual perspectives).

Luminar 2018 also has a wide array of filters that when you open them, all seem to have lots of options to fine-tune the filter, which is awesome and again reinforces that you don’t have to have a heavy hand if you don’t want to.

Another really awesome feature of Luminar 2018 is the ability to access Photoshop and other third party filters while you’re within the app! This limits the number of times I’m saving out an image and processing it (a.k.a. a destructive editing process).

 

Here are some examples of processes I particularly enjoyed.

In this first photo at the Cape of Good Hope I encountered a blustery and hazy day thanks to a nearby forest fire.

Within Luminar I picked their Dehaze filter (which I feel maintains the contrast better than Lightroom’s native dehaze), added a polarizer to really bring out the depth in the blues, and then used the Adjustment Gradient filter which brilliantly allows you to easily set a line for the upper and lower parts of the image and adjust exposure, saturation, and contrast independently for each part.

All in all it took me about 30 seconds in a program I had never really used before making it score high on my scale for being easy and intuitive. I’m also very happy with the results not looking overly processed or overly “HDR’d”.

Another image I decided to process was this one of a teenage elephant at dawn. I shot this with my 16mm lens so you can imagine just how closely he passed over the road behind me (it was amazing!) but the low light lead to a dull and shadowy image. I wanted to see what Luminar could do for me in the way of bringing up shadows and details and creating something that matched the brilliance of what I experienced in the moment.

In the final image, although I used several filters and layers, the two biggest functions I give credit to Luminar 2018 are the Sun Rays Filter and the ability to edit in Photoshop within Luminar. The photoshop part was crucial for removing the road. I found the asphalt distracting to the perfect expression of interest and curiosity of this elephant. And then the sun rays filter. It helped me really achieve that look of dawn and I loved how intuitive it was. As you move/place the sun center around it knew when it was behind objects or in front of objects and you saw how the rays affected the rest of the image in real time. All the customization available (from warmth to length/amount of rays/penetration of rays, etc.) helped this sun be a nice gentle kiss rising over the mountain in the frame.

The amount of customization available for the Sun Ray filter is the key to its’ success.

 


First Impressions: Cons

Now, I’m not the type to review something and only ever talk about the good and mask any troubles. I don’t think that’s fair or honest and here at Photofocus, we like to provide you with fair and honest coverage of everything we review. Truthfully there are a few things I don’t like about the software.

One of the major things I don’t like about Luminar 2018 is its flexibility. Yeah. You read that right. It’s a direct contradiction to the first point I have on my Pro’s list of liking how flexible Luminar 2018 is. Like many things in this world, I find this feature both good and bad. While it’s awesome that it can fit lots of different workflows, I also find it leaves me confused on what the best workflow for me is. It’s so open-ended and as a person who likes things like lists, directions, and concrete steps to get from A to B, I find it puts me in territory that makes me sometimes second guess myself.

This flexibility extends into things like “should I just open the image and just start adding filters?” “Should I put filters on individual layers?” “How often should I be using the blend modes vs. just playing around with the fine tune options of each filter?” and so on and so forth. This is also known to other Type A personalities such as mine as “analysis paralysis”.

The most frustrating thing for me about this flexibility is that some of the functionality appears different depending on which way you’re using Luminar 2018. While it has third-party plug-in ability, I seem to only be able to have access to that function when I use it as a stand alone and not with Lightroom.

Menu in the stand alone functionality easily gives me the option to open in Photoshop.
The menu using it via Lightroom offers me nothing even close to the options in the stand alone.

 

The menu through stand-alone Luminar easily shows the Plugin menu and all the other third-party plug-ins I have installed.
Menu using Luminar through Lightroom clearly does not give me even the ability to add third party plug-ins.

This disparity of what’s available based on how I’m accessing the software even further leaves me with the conundrum of how to use the software as I think one of the unique features about it is that it allows for the third party plug-in and Photoshop use…but only if I were to completely change my workflow of over a decade where I organize and do all my main editing in Lightroom.


Conclusions:

For now, I’m going to continue to use the software on a specialized photo basis. I’d probably use it more if the same functionality was retained via Lightroom but I don’t see myself changing my entire workflow and methodology just to utilize the software at this point. I’m going to continue to search for answers about the disparity and submit to Macphun/Skylum to patch the functionality in future versions because it would open quite a lot of doors for photographers who do their main work out of Lightroom.

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