Luminar AI review from a hobbyist photographer’s eyes


Artificial intelligence is becoming more and more integrated into image editing. And the first editing software that comes to mind when you mention AI is Luminar AI (announced here). I was honestly curious to test it out ever since it came to market. So I did, and I thought it would be great to share my impressions.

I would describe myself as an experienced hobbyist. I’m not a pro photographer, but I have some experience and have been doing it for a long time. I’m going to write this review for the average Joe photographer. Mostly because I think Luminar AI is more suitable for “everyday shooters.” That said,  even if you’re a professional, feel free to check out how it performs and decide if it would be something you’d incorporate into your workflow.

Overview

Luminar AI, as the name suggests, is an AI-based photo editing tool. It was first introduced in late 2020, and the first significant update arrived earlier this year. So far, it has had four updates in total, adding some new features or improving the old ones. It’s intended for professional and amateur photographers alike, with the primary goal of smoothing out the editing workflow. However, I find it more suitable for amateurs, but more on that later.

Key features

The folks at Skylum are the proudest of Luminar AI’s Sky Replacement tool. It first appeared in Luminar 4 back in 2019, so I’m not surprised to see it in Luminar AI as well.

There are also some automatized portrait photography editing tools, and they include:

  • Body AI and Face AI for portrait editing.
  • Iris AI for eye enhancement.
  • Skin AI for removing blemishes and imperfections.
  • Portrait Bokeh, which is the newest addition at the time of writing this

If you shoot landscapes (as I do), Luminar AI has some landscape editing tools as well:

  • Atmosphere AI and Sky Enhancer to add depth and detail to the skies.
  • Sky AI for automatic sky replacement
  • Golden Hour for adding warm tones and Sunrays for enhancing the sun.

There are other things you can do. For example, structure AI adds detail and texture to a scene. Composition AI is intended for perfect crops and fixing crooked horizons. You can also enhance exposure and color with Accent AI.

Luminar also provides Templates for each image you want to edit. When you open a photo, you can navigate through “For This Photo” editing templates suggested specifically for that image, depending on what’s in it. Of course, you can leave the edit as is, tone it down, or enhance your image further.

Like any other editing software, Luminar AI has a bunch of other features, too. But for the sake of this review, I chose the most prominent groups of features: I tested some of the AI portrait enhancement, AI landscape enhancement, and the famous AI Sky Replacement and Templates. Oh, as I mentioned, I won’t approach the review as a pro, and I’ve included a few mandatory ridiculous phone selfies as well.

So, let’s start with portraits.

AI portrait enhancement

I tried out Luminar AI and its Body AI, Face AI, Skin AI, and eye and lips enhancements. You can control each of these enhancements with a set of sliders. Luminar AI lets you crank them all the way up or adjust them to your liking. I’ll show you all three versions. You can click any of the photos for a higher resolution view.

  • No enhancements
  • Enhancements toned down to create a decent image
  • Enhancements applied to the max.

Body AI

Body AI reshapes your model’s figure. I can’t say I’m happy that there’s a need for features like this and that you can change someone’s shape with a click of a button. But that’s a whole other topic I’ll write about some other time.

Anyways, I tried it out on a photo of me taken by my boyfriend and a photo of him taken by me. Just for some gender symmetry. I’m relatively short and chubby, whereas he’s two meters tall and slim, so you can see how Luminar AI reshapes different bodies. Both are already beautiful in their own way, if I may add.

If you’re reshaping the whole body, you can move the slider to the right and make it smaller, or to the left and make it larger. You can also adjust the abdomen – but only make it smaller. Here are a few examples:

As I mentioned, I’m not thrilled with changing anyone’s body shape in post, including mine. But I must mention that this tool works pretty well in terms of image quality. You don’t get smudges or weird artifacts in the edited area. On the minus side, if you crank it up, it looks ultimately unrealistic, as you can see in the examples.

Face AI

Face AI is another reshaping tool, only this time it’s, obviously, for the face. It only lets you make your face appear thinner. You can also add some face-light, and once again, only add it, not reduce the one already in the photo.

Just like the previous tool, this one also won’t give you any weird artifacts, smudges, and such. But once again, when it’s cranked all the way up, it just looks ridiculous. Still, if you don’t overdo it, it seems realistic.

Skin AI

This is a part of portrait editing I’m cool with in most cases. As long as you remove something that’s going to disappear anyway, like pimples, stray hairs, and the like, I think that’s more than okay. I wouldn’t touch molds or anything that’s permanently there, but that’s just me. Anyway, I tried it with a few close-ups, and I was especially interested in how the Skin AI tools will deal with my massive eye bags. Here ya go:

I also tried a couple of stock photos that show acne. Unfortunately, in the first one, the AI editing was quite underwhelming, and in the other… Yikes. See for yourself.

Apparently, even AI can’t deal with my eye bags. But the good thing is that it didn’t remove any of my molds, and even my piercing scar was left intact. So, in my opinion, it looks okay even when cranked up to the max. Not my cup of tea, though, but it pretty much resembles the over-edited images I’ve seen on Instagram pages of make-up companies.

On the other hand, AI still needs learning when it comes to removing the so-called “imperfections.” It either doesn’t remove enough acne and redness or does a pretty terrible job. It all depends on the photo you work with. I can’t say that I’m getting consistent results.

Eyes and lips enhancements

There’s a bunch of eyes and lips enhancements in Luminar AI:

I played with them a little, and here are a couple of screenshots so you can see the settings and the results.

Here’s what it looks like when it’s all cranked all the way up, just for fun. And for nightmares.

As far as these features go, the enhancements can look quite neat if you don’t overdo them. However, if you do, they will look like selfies of people in their mid-forties who desperately want to be in their twenties again. And if you overdo the eye enlargement, the person in your photo will suddenly look like an alien.

Still, if you edit the eyes in your portraits like many portrait photographers do, you could find this bunch of tools rather useful as long as you use them in moderation.

Portrait Bokeh

Portrait Bokeh was introduced to Luminar AI users in July 2021, so it’s still pretty new. As I was wrapping up this review around that time, I had to install the update and check it out. I was very curious about this feature, but I’m pretty disappointed with the results.

What’s good about Portrait Bokeh is that it’s pretty good at masking out the subject. In fact, it’s almost flawless, even in photos with complex backgrounds. Also, you can refine the selection and focus or defocus areas with a brush in case you’re not pleased with the automated selection.

Original image

Blurred image + flawlessly selected subject

On the minus side, this artificial bokeh looks very… artificial. Take a look (click the images for a larger view):

Even when I tone it down:

Another bad thing is that the tool doesn’t recognize the depth in the image. It’s great at recognizing people and masking them out. However, if they’re one behind another, the algorithm seems confused with the blur it applies. Check it out:

Go home Portrait Bokeh; you’re drunk.

All in all, Skylum has a lot more to work on this tool, at least judging from the photos I used to try it out.

AI landscape enhancement

Okay, now we get to something that’s a bit more of my field. I have way more landscape photos than portraits, and I’m much better at editing them.

Luminar AI doesn’t have a special category of tools for landscapes as it does for portraits. However, under the “Essentials,” “Creative,” and “Professional” tab, you’ll find some settings that are meant mainly for landscape photos. So, these are the ones I’ll test:

  • Landscape
  • Sky AI
  • Augmented Sky
  • Atmosphere
  • Sunrays

Landscape

There are three main sliders under the Landscape panel: Dehaze, Golden Hour, and Foliage Enhancer. Additionally, you can also change the color of the leaves. So, I tried some of them with these images, and I’ll share the results and some screenshots so you can see the changes I applied. They can look good, but it all depends on the type of photo you use and how many changes you apply. Just don’t crank them all the way up!

Sky AI

Here’s the tool I was most curious about. Sky AI is the official name of Luminar’s sky replacement tool, and there are a bunch of options to help you do it just right. After selecting the sky photo, you can adjust horizon blending and position, relight the scene, add a mask… All sorts of things. I’m pretty amazed at how fast this is all going on, and I tried it in a few different images, with different skies.

 

Can I turn day into night? Let’s see!

Here’s what the AI did on its own:

And here’s the best I could get with some tweaks… Still not great.

Augmented Sky

This is a tool that lets you add all sorts of random things to the existing (or augmented sky) in your image: hot air balloons, clouds, moon, airplanes, mountains… Even a giraffe (?).

You can change the opacity and position of these objects, as well as their warmth, light, focus, and mask. Here are the two photos I edited, followed by the manually tweaked edits and fully-AI ones:

And here’s a giraffe because… why not. 🙂

Depending on what you’re adding to the sky, this tool can be pretty good or tragically bad. For example, adding small objects like birds or lightning can look nice even if you rely only on AI. And If you add a mountain or a rainbow, it looks just ridiculous.

Atmosphere

The Atmosphere tool lets you add mist, fog, layered fog or haze, and adjust their amount, depth, and lightness. You can increase or decrease everything with sliders, and there are no AI-based “suggestions” that you can tweak. So, here are some of my attempts of adding different kinds of fog to images:

Here’s the original photo for comparison:

And again, the original:

I must admit that I’m not particularly impressed with this tool. I think the fog doesn’t look realistic in most cases, but that could be because I know what the original images look like, so I keep noticing the fog I added. What do you think about it? Please take a look at the photos above and let me know, and let’s move to another interesting feature: Sunrays.

Sunrays

As the name suggests, this feature lets you add sun rays to an image. First, you need to set the sun’s position, and then you can adjust the overall look, amount, length, warmth of the sunrays, and more. Again, it’s totally up to you to adjust everything, so here’s my example (the photo isn’t mine):

I must admit I had fun with this tool. In my opinion, it does quite a good job, and you can get realistic results.

My overall impressions of these landscape enhancement tools are pretty mixed. Some of them are great, and the others… not so much. The Sky Replacement tool is the most popular one, and the most talked about, and it can look quite good in some photos and if you tweak the settings. AI alone is not that good in most cases, but that’s why it’s good to have sliders and masks that let you tweak all the changes until you’re pleased with them.

Templates

Last but not least, I tested Templates. If you don’t know what they are, “Instagram filters on steroids” is the first description that comes to mind. At least that’s what it looks like at first.

When you open a photo, Luminar AI will offer you the template it thinks is the best for the given image. But you can go on and choose the group of Templates that you like and select any filter from the group. Then, once you apply it, you can adjust it with a slider to make it more or less prominent.

Some filters only edit your photo in terms of saturation, contrast, colors, and such, while others also use AI-powered features like Sky Replacement:

Other than just applying more or less of each template, you can edit each of them in more detail. This feature is not noticeable straight away, but it’s nestled right next to the slider:

Considering the option to change every bit of every Template, I’d say a better description of them would be “Presets on steroids,” considering that they use AI-powered tools as well.

As far as my verdict goes, I’m pretty satisfied with some of them, even without adjusting their strength. This goes especially for black and white Templates. Some others need to be toned down a bit to look good, but all in all – I think you’ll find something you’ll like here. You can also create your own, save those you like best, import Templates from previous versions of Luminar, or buy new Templates. There’s definitely something for everyone in case you use readymade LUTs, filters, and presets.

Other remarks

Since I hadn’t used Luminar AI before writing this review, I was afraid it would take me ages to learn how to work in it. However, I was wrong. It’s very intuitive, and I found my way around it in no time, which is a major plus in my book! On the other hand, if the software is too confusing and unintuitive, I’ll likely give up before I even try to master it.

Another plus is that it’s very fast and responsive.

Even though it’s AI-based, you get quite a lot of control over your edits. In fact, there’s way more control than I expected, which is once again a plus.

Who is it for?

For me, Luminar AI is not something I’d use as go-to editing software. It could be the habit of using Photoshop and Lightroom for a gazillion years now. Or maybe it’s the fact that I don’t really like “faking” my photos with sky replacement and stuff like that. But I still would use it for quick edits when I need to pimp up my embroidery photos for Instagram a bit. Although, in that case, I’d probably benefit more from a Luminar AI mobile app. At least until Instagram makes it possible to post from a browser.

I see Luminar AI as a perfect tool for photographers who are just getting into photo editing. Photoshop can seem awfully overwhelming and unintuitive at first, which is not the case with Luminar AI. Also, I think it would be great for people who own small businesses and take photos to promote their products. Many aren’t professional or hobbyist photographers and don’t know much about Photoshop and editing in general. So, in their case, Luminar AI would be a great way to fix their photos a bit without spending too much time on them. After all, it’s what Luminar AI is all about – making the editing process simpler and faster.

Conclusion

I think it’s safe to say that the overall impression of Luminar AI is positive, with some negative remarks. It’s fast, intuitive, and it has plenty of features that are often updated. Thankfully, it lets you adjust and tweak most of the modifications you make, so you don’t entirely rely on AI. And when you make those tweaks, you can get pretty good results with most of the tested features. But remember, don’t use AI adjustments only or crank them all the way up. In that case, you’ll basically get Instagram filters on steroids.





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