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Luminar The Ultimate Lightroom Plugin

Have you ever opened an image in Lightroom, one that you thought was pretty good, but then couldn’t figure out how to make it better? If so, you’re not alone.

Lightroom is a great application when you know what you want to do. But for those other times when you’re not quite sure, Luminar, a new image editor from Macphun, might be a better fit. Its extensive set of creative adjustments will help you find the art within your pictures. You’ll uncover things that you didn’t even know were there. And the best part is, these two apps can work together, with Lightroom acting as the host and Luminar as a plugin.

Luminar plugin interface

The Luminar Difference

What’s unique about Luminar compared to Lightroom is that it’s designed to lead you down a path to discovery. As you browse the different presets, your visual options go beyond color and tone. You’re able to explore mood and emotion as well.

How does this happen? There are two primary components in Luminar that facilitate this process. The first is an extensive set of filters, which can then be combined into presets. The result is one-click transformation of your images. It seems simple when you’re doing it, but many powerful algorithms are at play.

Luminar preset view

Once you find a preset that catches your eye, you can also control the amount, allowing you to adjust its intensity.

For a better understanding of how this works, here’s a closer look at these filters, and how they can be grouped into presets.

Filters: The Building Blocks of Creativity

Luminar’s filters appear similar to the adjustment sliders that you’re using in Lightroom, but with a bit of a twist. Many of them go beyond color and tonal corrections into areas that actually affect the mood of the image. So not only do the pictures look different; they feel different as well.

For example, take a look at some of these Luminar filters: Accent AI, Golden Hour, and Image Radiance. When you enable one or more of these for your image, the appearance changes in ways that you might not have seen before. You may even say to yourself, “I’ve always wanted to do that, but I just didn’t know how.”

Image before editing in Luminar

Image from Cuba before editing with Luminar filters.

Image after editing in Luminar

Image after just 30-seconds of work applying three filters in Luminar.

Currently, there are more than 40 adjustable filters in Luminar. Some are the basic tools that you need such as Sharpening and Remove Color Cast, and others are more magical, such as Soft Glow, The Orton Effect, and Dramatic. They all work together to help you tap your creativity as an artist.

Presets: Powerful Recipes Built with Filters

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “That sounds great, but I’m still moving sliders and guessing which ones to use.” And if this story ended with filters, you’d be right. But it doesn’t.

Filters are Luminar’s creative building blocks. By combining multiple filters into a one-click preset, you can quickly browse a variety of different looks just by clicking on the thumbnail for each one. Luminar ships with dozens of these presets, and hundreds more are available for download. You can even create your own.

Think of these presets as a recipe that uses exotic ingredients. To sample one, load an image into Luminar, browse the preset thumbnails, then click on one that looks appealing. All of the filters that comprise that preset will be instantly applied to your picture.

Here’s an example that illustrates the visual impact created with Presets.

no preset

The blue sky and water are attractive in this original image, but the bluish tones on the structure dull its impact.

Using the Just Wow preset in Luminar.

After browsing Luminar’s presets, it becomes clear how the overall composition can be improved by warming the tones on the structure and creating a complementary color scheme. This was handled quickly with the Just Wow preset. You might not have realized that’s what the image needed. But it’s easy to recognize once it’s displayed for you.

Integrating Luminar with Lightroom

Using Luminar is easy, and so is integrating it with Lightroom. If you’ve ever used a plugin before, you already know how this works.

From within Lightroom, you choose an image that you want to send to Luminar. Lightroom prepares the file and sends it off. Once it’s opened in Luminar, you experiment with the presets and filters until you’re happy with the photo. When you apply the changes, the image is returned to Lightroom and placed next to the original.

Here are the actual steps.

Send to Luminar

In Lightroom, go to File > Plug-in Extras > Transfer to Luminar. Lightroom will prepare the roundtrip file according to the parameters that you’ve established in Preferences > External Editing. You might want to choose Tiff for the format because of its lossless nature.

Choose adjustments in Luminar

In Luminar, have fun, then click the Apply button in the upper left corner when you’re ready to send the file back to Lightroom.

Click apply in Luminar

Luminar will process the image before returning it home.

Returns to Lightroom

If you checked the box, “Stack with Original” in the External Editing Preferences dialog, then the Luminar file will be placed in your catalog next to the original.

Advanced Techniques with Luminar

If you want to work on specific areas of an image instead of applying an effect to the entire photograph, you can accomplish this with brushes and layers.

Brushes are very easy to use. When you’ve added a filter to an image, let’s say Color Balance, it is applied globally by default. In other words, the entire image is affected.

If you’d rather just have it affect a specific area instead of the whole picture, click on the Brush icon in the right side toolbar and start painting. Now the effect is only used in the areas that you’ve brushed. Localized editing has never been easier.

Brushing on effects in Luminar

In order to adjust the young man’s clothing without affecting the other parts of the image, you can use the brush in Luminar to select his clothing, then use the Color Contrast filter to enhance it.

Clothing lightened in Luminar

Now his shirt and pants have a little more pop, and work better with the other elements of the photograph.

This process becomes more powerful when you add layers to the mix. Layers are overlays that you can turn on and off and adjust their opacity. So if you’ve spent a fair amount of time painting in an effect, but feel that it’s a bit too heavy handed, you don’t have to redo all that detail work. You can instead adjust the opacity or the blend mode for that layer to achieve the look you want.

You can even stack multiple layers with different approaches, then only enable the ones you like best for the finished image.

Sending the Photo Back to Lightroom

Regardless if you’ve used one filter or a dozen, everything gets flattened when the photo is returned to Lightroom. The same is true for the layers.

Thinking again in terms of a recipe, all the ingredients have been added, mixed, and are now baked in the Luminar oven. It’s time to enjoy your creation in Lightroom.

Back in Lightroom

Originals and Luminar edited images back in Lightroom.

In fact, you can keep working on it there. If for example, you decide that the picture needs further sharpening, that can be applied to the Luminar picture.

The nice thing about having the Luminar images back home in your Lightroom catalog is that you can maintain their organization, and add metadata to those shots. It’s the best of both worlds.

Using Luminar as a Standalone App

There is one constraint to tapping Luminar as a Lightroom plugin. The image is flattened upon its return to the host app. So you lose all of your layers.

Save command in Luminar

When using Luminar as a standalone app, you can use the Save command to preserve your work and return to it at a later date.

If you wanted to preserve those layers, an alternate workflow is to open the image in Luminar directly, using it as a standalone app. Then, instead of having to flatten the image, you can use the Save command and preserve the layers and the history as a .lmnr file. This allows you to go back and pick up right where you left off. Not a bad idea for long term projects.

Additionally, you can export a flattened version of the image out of Luminar and import it into Lightroom. This gives you a finished file, organized neatly in your catalog.

Windows and Mac Platforms

Currently Luminar is available on the Mac platform. There’s also a public beta underway for Windows users. The final Windows version and new Mac version should ship in the Fall of 2017.

The Bottom Line

Luminar is a delightful complement to Lightroom. After just a few weeks of use, you’ll likely notice an increase of four star images in your catalog. And some of them very well may feel different than what you’ve created before.

When your friends ask you how you achieved these beautiful effects in Lightroom, it’s up to you whether or not you reveal your secret.

Disclaimer: Macphun is a dPS advertising partner.

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Derrick Story
Derrick Story

is a professional photographer, writer, and teacher. He publishes a weekly photography podcast – The Digital Story – that you can subscribe to on iTunes, Google, and a variety of podcast apps. You can also tune in at his site. As an author, Derrick’s latest work is “The Apple Photos Book for Photographers,” published by Rocky Nook. You can find his training videos on lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning.

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