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How to Easily Make Images ‘Pop’ with these Luminar 4 Tips

Luminar 4 tips. Sunset behind muntains with cloud reflection on water.

Luminar 4 has become a popular photo-editor since it’s release, partly due to it’s groundbreaking AI tools used to replace skies, introduce elements or give an overall ‘pop’ to your image. However, these Luminar 4 tips go beyond the AI tools and teach you how to quickly make your images look more impressive.

In this article, I want to show you how we can transform this rather ordinary sunset panorama into something more visually pleasing that’s sure to grab people’s attention.

Luminar 4
The original raw file we’re going to work on

To avoid making this too complicated, I’m going to avoid using layers and masks and instead show you a series of very basic tips that you can immediately implement into your workflow.

Let’s get started and dive into these Luminar 4 tips:

1. Use AI only when needed

While Luminar 4 has become widely known due to its Artificial Intelligence tools such as the AI Sky Replacement Tool and AI Augmented Reality Tool, you should avoid using them for every image.

These types of composite tools are a very personal choice (there are many opinions on both sides of the discussion, but I don’t want to delve into that now), but there’s no secret that it’s an easy way to make a boring photo interesting.

If you’ve got a boring blue sky, you can easily replace it with a more colorful or dramatic one. This can be fun and useful at times, but I strongly recommend that you avoid replacing the sky or introducing elements to it all the time.

Most images simply don’t need to be worked on in such a way. Most of the time, it ends up looking more distracting than attractive.

Luminar 4 Tips
Use the AI Augmented Reality Tool only when needed – it won’t always look good

For example, using the AI Augmented Reality Tool to introduce a flock of birds or a rainbow in the image we’re working on in this article makes no sense. It looks misplaced.

Reserve these tools for particular images only.

2. Don’t forget about the basic adjustments

Playing with the various AI tools, adding sun rays, or dramatic effects can be fun, but don’t forget about the basic raw adjustments; these are crucial for the image and will set the basis for further development.

The basic adjustments I’m talking about can be found in the Light Tools inside the Essentials Category. More specifically, I’m talking about the following sliders:

  • Temperature
  • Tint
  • Exposure
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Whites
  • Blacks

To enhance the warm sunset feel and give the image a little more contrast, I increased the Temperature and Tint, darkened the Exposure (as a result of the next adjustments), darkened the Highlights and increased the Shadows, Whites and Blacks.

Luminar 4 Lights Tool
After applying basic adjustments

By applying these few basic adjustments, we’ve introduced some more details in the shadows, increased the contrast, and warmed the image slightly.

3. Correct mistakes using AI Enhance and AI Structure

Now, I said that you should only use AI tools when they’re absolutely needed, but the AI Enhance and AI Structure tools are the exceptions. Unlike the other tools, they don’t add or replace anything. Instead, they use Artificial Intelligence to ‘correct’ the image.

I’ve always been a skeptic of these types of automatic tools (I still have nightmares about the good ol’ Photomatix days), but these two have proved me wrong. AI can have a place in photo editing.

Don’t get me wrong – pulling too much in these sliders is going to make the image look overly edited. But applied at a lower amount, they can add a lot to it.

Luminar 4 AI Enhance
After applying AI Enhance and AI Structure

For this example, I applied them with the following settings:

  • AI Accent (AI Enhance): +9
  • AI Sky Enhancer (AI Enhance): +20
  • AI Structure Amount: +19

As you can see, these adjustments have made the sky and image ‘pop’ a little more than previously. The nice part about these tools is that they don’t add any unwanted noise or grain to the image.

4. Add a vignette

A vignette is commonly used to shift the focus of an image towards its more interesting parts by darkening the surroundings.

This is a particularly useful tool when the borders of an image are bright. That’s not quite the case in this image, but I do find that darkening the outer areas can help emphasize the setting sun.

Luminar 4 Vignette
Adding a vignette darkens the corners and puts the emphasis on more important aspects

I recommend using the Vignette tool with some caution too. Don’t go to the extreme, as that will quickly make the vignette too obvious and distracting.

It’s also a good idea to use the ‘Choose Subject’ button to set the midpoint of the vignette, it won’t always be in the middle! For example, if you’ve got a person standing to the left of the image and they’re the main subject, that should be the middle point.

5. Add a glow (but be careful!)

Techniques such as the Orton Effect is loved by landscape photographers, and it’s a technique that’s been around since the 1980s (created by Michael Orton). This technique can easily be replicated in Luminar 4. In fact, it can be found two places.

The Orton Effect tool is found in the Portrait Tools Category. By placing it here, Skylum has made it clear that this particular effect is mostly meant for portraits.

For other genres of photography, you can use the Glow Tool found in the Creative Tools Category. This tool introduces a nice soft glow to the image that can help give that much desired ‘dreamy’ atmosphere.

Luminar 4 Glow Tool
The image after using the Glow Tool

BUT don’t go all-out and apply this technique at a high amount. That’s going to look more distracting than appealing and will make the image look amateurish.

Instead, apply this at a low amount. If you’re feeling brave and have some knowledge about Luminar 4, this is a technique that’s best added through a mask.

6. Midtone contrast is your friend!

For years I’ve been using Luminosity Masks in Photoshop to introduce Midtones Contrast. However, in Luminar 4, it’s done with a simple slider found inside the Advanced Contrast tool in the Professional Category.

The problem with adding contrast to the entire image is that you essentially brighten the brightest parts and darken the darkest. This quickly results in clipping of the shadows and highlights.

Luminar 4 Tips
Applying the Midtones contrast is more efficient than adding contrast globally

By introducing contrast to the midtones only (i.e. any pixel that’s neither bright nor dark), you avoid this problem and get a much more desirable result.

This is one of my most important Luminar 4 Tips that will make your image pop. Go try it for yourself!

7. Adjust the focus by using the Adjustable Gradient Tool

The final tip I’m going to share in this article is one that’s not necessary for this particular image. It’s something that’s going to do wonders in the majority of your images. Use the Adjustable Gradient Tool to shift the focus in your image.

Very often, I find the foreground or sky to be too distracting in images. There’s no reason why a foreground should be as bright and sharp as the main subject of the image. Remember, our eyes naturally gravitate towards the brightest parts, which is where you want the main subject to be.

The Adjustable Gradient Tool is an easy solution that even complete Luminar beginners can take advantage of (there are more advanced methods that are superior, but I’ll save that for another time).

You can switch between the Top and Bottom gradient and choose the gradient’s orientation in order to better fit your image. It’s possible to add adjustments to both the top and bottom at the same time.

Luminar 4 Tips
I used the Adjustable Gradient to darken the foreground and shift the focus upwards

For this example, I only applied adjustments to the Bottom as I wanted to remove some details in the rocks visible in the lower part of the image. All I did was increase the Exposure, Highlights and Vibrance.

This tool is also used to darken/recover a bright sky. For those scenarios, simply choose Top and increase the Exposure or Shadows.

Conclusion

The truth is, you don’t need to spend hours upon hours editing your images to make them look impressive. Applying a few simple adjustments can often be enough to give that extra pop.

In the 7 Luminar 4 tips shared above, we’ve managed to take an ordinary sunset image and make it slightly more appealing:

Luminar 4 Tips
Original Image
Luminar 4 Tips
Final Image

I hope that you found these Luminar 4 tips useful and that you can apply these techniques and tools into your workflow. I would love to see the images you’ve edited, so make sure to leave them in the comments below!

Make sure to have a look at my popular eBook ‘A Photographer’s Guide to Luminar 4′ if you’d like to learn how you can take full advantage of all the organizing and processing tools and create professional-looking images with this popular photo editor. There, you’ll learn everything you need to know about organizing and editing, as well as receive several step-by-step workflows you can use for yourself.

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Christian Hoiberg
Christian Hoiberg

is a full-time landscape photographer based in the scenic Lofoten Islands who helps aspiring photographers develop the skills needed to capture beautiful and impactful images. Visit his website to get a free download of his eBook 30 Tips to Improve Your Landscape Photography.