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I’ve spent the past 2 weeks using a brand new photo editing tool called Luminar from the folks at Macphun.  It’s a brand new photo editing tool that approaches the task of editing in a new way.  The application offers customizable Workspaces that help guide you through image editing.  The tool is targeted at photographers of all levels, offering easy starting points for beginners but advanced features like layers, masking, blending modes, and brushes for the most demanding pros.


Who Can Use It?

Like all of Macphun’s software, this is a Mac-only tool.  At this point in time, you’ll need a Mac to run it.  The tool can be run as standalone software, or used as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, and Aperture.  It also works as an extension to significantly extend the editing features of Photos for Mac… adding back in pro level features that former aperture users have been missing.

In order to run the app, your Mac should have been made in this century (Core 2 Duo from late 2009 or newer is the bare minimum).  You’ll get best results with a newer Mac and newer OS X, but it will work on OS X 10.10.5 or newer.  A minimum of 4GB of RAM is needed, so older laptops and even Mac Minis will work, but the app responds well to more RAM and processor speed.

Luminar running as a Photoshop plug-in. The Polarizing filter is quite effective.
Luminar running as a Photoshop plug-in. The Polarizing filter is quite effective.

What’s it Do?

Luminar can work a few different ways (which is a good thing).  Pros who are looking for an extensive package to enhance and color grade their images can easily trigger the tool as a plug-in filter.  Photos for OS X users finally get powerful controls like Curves and Layers as well as easy to customize looks.  Plus those looking for an alternative to other applications on the market can even open raw photos directly.  Luminar doesn’t have a media browser or library tool, but it does take an application like Lightroom, Photos for OS X, or Aperture and significantly increase what those apps can do.


luminar3The heart of this tool is a powerful approach to image editing called workspaces.  While the application has more than 300 tools, filters, and features, I didn’t find it overwhelming to jump in and get started.  The application adapts to you as a photographer.  From the workspace menu you can start with a Default set of adjustments, or switch to a set of options well suited for Black & White, Landscape, Portrait, or Street photography.  You can also start with a Clear or blank list of adjustments or make your own workspaces (my favorite).

The application also includes many presets designed by pro photographers and of course you can make your own.  Unlike many tools where the presets are fairly baked in, Luminar exposes the full set of options and controls.  You can easily change how you work and what you do to an image.

The Best Parts

Luminar offers very solid editing controls.  I also found that its approach to adjustments was solid.  You’ll find all the standard necessities like Curves, Levels, Sharpening, Clarity and Vibrance, meaning that you can push an image quickly into the right look.  But there are also advanced controls too like an excellent Black and White conversion tool, a digital Polarizer to remove haze, and Structure.  Surprisingly are also a bunch of gems like an Orton effect for a rich warm glow that’s photo realistic, a Foliage enhancer that makes landscapes look fantastic, and a Polarizing filter to bring back details in the Sky.


  • Blending Modes. A welcome addition too is that each filter offers Blending modes.  This powerful option is usually in the realm of Photoshop, and it means that filters can be gently or dramatically blended with the original image.  You’ll find blending modes in each effect, 14 to choose from in fact, which means that the effects are significantly more powerful as each gives you a whole new approach.  This option is just a right-click away.  Just richt-click on the filter name and you’ll see Blending modes and other advanced controls.  While you’re there be sure to also explore options like per effect and per layer masking so you can apply and adjustment to just part of an image.
  • Object Removal. If you need to remove an object you’ll find an easy-to-use Eraser tool.  Just brush in an area or use a selection tool and then click Erase.  Luminar looks at neighboring pixels and can quickly remove an unwanted object or blemish.
  • Layer Support. With full support for Layers, you can even duplicate the original photo and make the change non-destructively on the copied layer.
  • Cloning. Need to put an object back in or move it?  You can also Clone and Stamp with precise controls.  The new pixels can be gently blended with soft edges or mixed in with opacity.  This is great for many types of photographer including landscape which may want to remove a stray person who wandered into the scene or a portrait photographer who needs to take out an unwanted blemish.


  • Pro Features. There are a few pro level features that are very welcome. As you work, the tool also keeps track of all your steps in a History panel.  This makes it easy to track what you’ve done to an image and quickly jump back to a specific point in time.  A responsive histogram also shows you your edits and can even warn for hot or cool pixels.  This is important if you want to ensure that the image highlights and shadows reproduce well when printing.

The Parts that Can Improve

Like any version 1 app, the tool will certainly get better over time.  I have been working with a pre-release beta application, so every few days new features were turned on.  There are also a few features to come that I can’t comment on. My challenges with the software were very small (especially since it’s a brand new app that’s still being finalized).

  • Advanced Color support.  While I can export to sRGB and the more professional Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB workspaces, I didn’t have precise control over a working color space as I edited and viewed the image.  Of course, neither does Lightroom or Photos, which simply (like Luminar) handles the color conversion when you export.  This does mean though that you’re taking a few things on assumption as you work with exposure and saturation levels.  It’s also not possible to do true CMYK or Grayscale images if that’s important for an advanced print workflow, so you’ll want to use Luminar as a plug-in for Photoshop (even an older version is fine there).
  • More Opacity Controls. While I absolutely love the per effect blending modes, having opacity controls per effect is a must.  Some effects DO have them, others do not.  But the ability to truly refine an effect’s strength via Opacity is a must in my book and needs to be added in.  There are work-arounds right now using layers, and this by no means is a dal breaker.  It’s just something that a power user would want and a natural additional to the per effect blending mode and masking support that’s already there.
  • Batch Processing.  Other Macphun products like Aurora HDR offer batch processing.  The ability to adjust multiple images using the same preset.  This is a great feature for portrait shooters who need to apply the same look to many images.  Sports shooters and other high-volume shooters really need this feature too.  Macphun has already stated on their website that this feature is forthcoming in December.
  • Layer Weirdness.  While the app allows you to mix in multiple layers, there is one major unexpected behavior.  Adding an existing image as a new layer automatically sizes it to your working canvas.  This is fine for textures that you want to blend in, but if you’re doing a photo composite or adding a logo watermark, the distortion is very annoying.  Luminar does have a transform feature so you can drag handles and resize the image so it “looks right” but its an extra step and something that should be addressed in a future release.  Also, saving an image as a PSD file doesn’t preserve the layers for editing in Adobe Photoshop which seems like an oversight.


The Bottom Line

Luminar is a welcome addition to my digital toolbox.  I find that I really like making my own recipes and that between customizable presets and workspaces I can shave a lot of time off stylizing my images.  The effects mostly fall under the natural, elegant, and photo-realistic categories (which is very welcome) but there are some useful effects to pop details, add glows, or a bit of digital drama (which works well too).

Those looking for a standalone image editor will be pleased as the application offers a whole lot for a $69 street price (currently $59 on preorder).  The application is easy-to use, but offers a deceptive amount of control and power.  If you just like to twiddle and tweak from presets you’ll be happy, but even a software guru like me found that my control-freak expectations were met or exceeded.  I’m confident this will be a useful tool for many photographers and fill a hole left by the demise of nik software.

Highly recommended for all photographers who have a Mac and are looking for more options to change to look of their photos or fix tough problems in an image with precise manual controls. The activation license allows for up to 5 machines, which means that a small team or a photographer with multiple workstations will be happy.

The application is expected to ship on November 17, 2016.  If you pre-order the software at $59 you’ll get a bonus book and video training.  Plus the software comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.  Meaning the pre-order is risk free.  If you’re more a hands-on type, trials will be available starting November 17, but the price goes up $10 and the bonuses are gone.