There have been many questions about the best alternatives to Adobe products and Luminar is one that’s often mentioned. It’s been on the market for several years now but with the recent upgrade to Luminar 3, they’ve really stepped onto the map and started to gain a lot of attention.
I’ve been experimenting with it for a while now and understand why it’s considered a good Lightroom alternative. Let’s jump into the software and look at how you can liven up your photographs with Luminar 3:
#1 Make the plan of attack
The start of my workflow, regardless of the software I’m using, is to apply basic RAW adjustments. These lay the groundwork for the final few steps that follow. In fact, quite often I barely do much more.
Basic adjustments include working on the contrast, color balance, texture, balance and saturation. In other words, we are simply adjusting elements that are already there. Let’s take a look at the unedited image we’re going to work on:
I like the atmosphere of the image but it’s not doing a good job representing what I actually witnessed on that particular evening on the Faroe Islands. The cold color balance used when capturing it results in a cold mood but in reality, the clouds had a warmer glow, which I want to reintroduce. The image also lacks both contrast and an obvious focal point, two more elements to work with.
#2 Arrange the workspace and apply RAW adjustments
Quick and Awesome is the automatically selected workspace when editing an image in Luminar. Their innovative AI filters do a decent job but I prefer to manually work on my images rather than applying a filter and calling it a day. That means that before moving on, I change the workspace from Quick and Awesome to Professional. (This is done by clicking on ‘Quick and Awesome’ and selecting ‘Professional’ from the dropdown menu)
The Professional workspace includes nearly all the adjustments we’ll use. These collapsible tabs are found beneath the ‘Professional’ title. We’ll start from the top and work our way down. Notice that we’re not using all the adjustments.
Step 1: RAW Develop
I’ve mentioned that the cold white balance does not properly represent what I witnessed this evening and my vision for the image is much warmer than the current. I’ll start by increasing the Temperature and Tint sliders to +9289 and +11, leading to a strong orange color cast.
Next, I’m increasing the Highlights and Whites to +22 and +78, while reducing the Shadows to -43. This introduces a stronger contrast and already we’re starting to get some life back into the image.
Step 2: Add clarity with AI adjustments
I said I didn’t want to just apply an AI filter and call it a day but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to use it at all. The Accent AI Filter 2.0 and AI Sky Enhancer filters do a good job introducing clarity and a slight contrast to the image. However, be careful when using them; pulling the slider too far is not going to look good…
In addition to the two AI filters, I introduced a small amount of Dehaze to give slightly more clarity to the image. I’m adding this mainly to get a definition between the clouds and to emphasize the dramatic atmosphere.
Step 3: Adding midtone contrast
I find the contrast to be an important factor in most images but I rarely like to apply it globally, especially when it’s done through tools such as Curves or Levels. Instead, my go-to method for adding contrast (beyond using the Whites and Blacks sliders) has been to apply it through a midtones Luminosity Mask in Photoshop.
It’s even easier in Luminar 3; you can apply it with the use of one single slider inside the Advanced Contrast adjustment filter:
Simply put, increasing contrast means brightening the highlights and darkening the shadows. The problem of doing this is that you’re likely to brighten the highlights too much (resulting in clipping) and vice versa. That’s why I always add contrast to the midtones instead. By doing this you avoid clipping as you’re not brightening or darkening the already brightest or darkest areas but only those in-between.
Notice that for this exact reason, I’ve left the ‘Highlights’ and ‘Shadows’ sliders untouched.
Step 4: Hues, saturation & vignette
The final steps of the raw development workflow are to make some slight adjustments to the hue and saturation and to add a vignette.
All of these tools should look familiar if you’re used to working with Adobe Lightroom. The HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) tab is more or less identical and the results are quite similar. For this image I’ve increased the orange saturation and made slight adjustments to the orange, red and blue hue.
For the vignette, I dropped the amount to -32 and increased the feather to 56 in order to make it smoother and less dominating.
#3 Use Adjustment Layers and filters
Up to this point, you might have noticed that Luminar 3 is similar to Lightroom and you’re most likely familiar with most the sliders we’ve used so far. It’s now that we’re done with the RAW Development that the bigger differences start to appear.
In Luminar 3, you’re able to add Layers and modify their opacity and blending mode. This is something you might be familiar with from Photoshop. (I recommend reading our guide ‘Introduction to Layers and Masks’ if you’ve never worked with them before)
There’s no shortage of filters to use on your Adjustment Layers in Luminar 3. Effects such as the Orton Effect or Gradient Tools are easily applied and you can control where they’re added by using, for example, a brush.
Luminar also has a series of more creative filters, such as sunrays, that you can add to your images. While this is something I normally don’t do, I was surprised by how realistic they look!
Step 1: Add more life with Brilliance / Warmth
The image is getting close to what I envisioned in the first step of this workflow but there are still a couple steps left before I’ll consider it finished.
Color wise it’s looking quite OK but I still want a little more warmth; I still find the color to be a little flat. I’ve used a Brilliance/Warmth filter to solve this:
The filter is added by clicking the ‘+’ icon next to the LAYERS text and choosing ‘Add New Adjustment Layer’ from the dropdown menu. With the new layer created, click on the ‘Add Filter’ button and locate ‘Brilliance/Warmth’ from the new window. It’s automatically added to the Adjustment Layer’s workspace when clicked on.
Step 2: Applying the final filters
I recommend applying all of the filters used in this step on individual Adjustment Layers but to keep it simple I’ve chosen to add them on one.
As mentioned, there’s an abundance of filters to choose between in Luminar but you don’t need to know them all. The most important for this image are the Orton Effect, Adjustable Gradient and Whites / Blacks. If you’re curious about the others, you can hover over them to reveal an information box about that filter.
Following the same steps as before, I’m opening a new filter for each of the effects just mentioned. Since I’m not creating a new Adjustment Layer in-between, they’re all visible in the same workspace.
I haven’t made any big adjustments but added a slight Orton Effect with +9 Amount, +15 Softness and +15 Contrast. For the Adjustable Gradient I used the Set Orientation option to place the gradient on top and stretch it long to soften the effect. I then reduced the Exposure to -62 in order to darken the top part of the image to create a better balance.
Whites / Blacks is the final filter I’ve used and by increasing the whites I’ve given an extra ‘pop’ to the image. Make sure that you keep an eye with the histogram to make sure you’re not clipping any highlights.
Step 3: Remove Dust Spots
The final step of my workflow is to remove any dust spots that have become visible after all the adjustments. I strongly recommend making this the first step, especially if you’ve got many of them.
I created a new Stamped Layer (selected from the new layers drop-down list) and chose the Clone/Stamp tool found under the Tools menu in the top bar. Follow the on-screen instructions and the image will be spot free in no time!
I’ve always been satisfied with Adobe products and have been using them for more than 10 years so I’m a natural skeptic when new software hits the market. I’ve tried many and have always gone straight back to Lightroom but I’ll admit that Luminar 3 is surprisingly good.
The team is constantly working on improvement and you can think of it as a Lightroom replacement that also has several advanced Photoshop features. It’s also a one-time purchase software, which I know many of you prefer over a monthly subscription model.
All-in-all, I’m happy with Luminar and can strongly recommend to anyone looking for a Lightroom replacement to try it.
Note: Luminar has reached out and we’ve put together a unique bundle only for you: Get Luminar 3 + the Signature Looks Bundle for only $69 by using the discount code CAPTURELANDSCAPES at checkout. That’s a whopping $50 discount!