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One of the main strengths of Luminar by Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is how it makes a suite of professional-style editing tools available to even the most casual of photographers. It does it all with a user interface that is clean, simple, and easy to understand. In contrast to some other editing programs on the market, Luminar’s full suite of powerful tools is available through a simple approach based on applying Filters and Presets, along with more advanced options such as layers and masking.
Instead of hiding these under myriad menus and obscure tiny buttons, Luminar presents you with easy-to-understand options when choosing your edits and includes real-time previews of what your edits will look like. And much of this starts with the simple act of selecting a Preset.
Before getting too deep into how to use and share one-click Presets, it’s important to understand some basic terminology related to Luminar’s use of Presets and Filters.
When you load an image into Luminar’s editing interface you are presented with two main options to edit your images: Add Filter or Apply Preset.
Filters are individual editing tools that let you perform basic adjustments such as color temperature, exposure, and white/black levels. Luminar also contains more advanced filters like color balance, texture overlay, HSL, and the Accent AI filter that uses artificial intelligence to adjust a range of parameters all with a single slider. Filters can be applied across an entire image, brushed in selectively, and used in combination with layers in a manner similar to Adobe Photoshop’s editing workflow.
Due to the sheer number of filters available the options can seem overwhelming even to seasoned editors. This is where Presets come in handy, and where the brilliant simplicity of Luminar really starts to shine.
A Preset is a collection of filters specifically chosen by the developers of Luminar to produce a certain type of effect on the whole image when combined. At the bottom of the Luminar interface, you will see a row of Presets with names like Soft & Airy, Sky Enhancer, and Vivid which are good starting points when editing a variety of image types. Click the Categories button to see the filters organized as specific collections that can be useful depending on the specific types of images you are editing.
If all this talk of Presets has you feeling overwhelmed before you even start, just take a breath and know that it’s a lot simpler than it might seem especially when you actually open Luminar and start to use it. You don’t even have to use Presets at all but I have found them to be a great starting point when editing my images. It’s a nice compromise between me performing all manner of meticulous edits by hand and having Luminar do all the work for me.
Presets occupy a comfortable middle ground that allows you to have one-click access to a set of edits that will enhance your images in a heartbeat. At the same time, they still allow you to retain as much control over the individual editing parameters as you would like.
To show how Presets work I’m going to walk you through an example step by step beginning with this image of some autumn leaves. This is the RAW file straight out of my camera with no edits applied.
When you load an image into Luminar you will see it take up most of the screen except for a portion at the bottom and the right. The former is where you can select a Preset and the latter is used for applying and editing Filters.
Forget about Filters for now and just focus on the Preset options at the bottom of the screen. Each one has a name that describes the type of effect it will have on your photo. Best of all, each Preset has a mini preview of what it will actually do if you apply it to your image.
This is one of my favorite features of Luminar, and it’s almost worth the price of the program all by itself because you can quickly scan through the many options available and choose one to instantly transform your photo with the click of a button.
As an added bonus you can even adjust the degree to which Luminar applies a Preset by clicking on one and then dragging the slider to the left. That way if you like the effect that a Preset has on your image but find it to be a bit overdone, just lower the value a bit with the slider. You also have the option of clicking the star icon in the corner of any Preset which saves it to a list of favorites.
The following image is an example of what one click on the “Warm Sunset” Preset did to transform the original picture of some dull green and yellow leaves.
Not too shabby, right? As a comparison, I loaded the same RAW file into Lightroom and was able to get similar results but it took a lot more time and required changing values on a dozen different sliders.
Such is the beauty of Luminar’s approach. The developers have done much of the heavy lifting so that you don’t have to, while still giving you full access to all the editing options within each of the Presets. So if you really want to do a dive deep and adjust your images on a granular level, you can.
Note: You can also add a texture overlay and save that in a custom preset as well.
If all the screenshots and arrows in this article have your head spinning, here’s a refresher of the basic Luminar workflow:
However, if you would like to dive into some of the finer details of using Presets, Luminar lets you see exactly what each one does and also tweak the parameters to your liking. You can save your edits as new Presets, and even create your own Presets from scratch.
For example, the Warm Sunset Preset that I applied to the image of the leaves is really just a collection of Filters with specific adjustment values already applied. The following screenshot shows the specific filters that Warm Sunset uses, as well as the numerical values that have been dialed in by the Luminar developers.
When you click on a Preset you will see all of its Filters show up on the right side of your screen, and you are free to change any of the values you want or even add new Filters to the mix. It’s an endlessly customizable editing solution that can go a long way towards giving you the professional results you have always wanted without the hassle and steep learning curve inherent in some other photo editing programs.
Even though there are dozens of Presets already built-in to Luminar, you can create your own by choosing any combination of filters, editing them to the values you want, and choosing “Save Filter Preset…” from the Filters menu.
I often find myself adding a little clarity along with some post-crop vignetting to my images (and for nature shots a bit of vividness too) so I pulled those Filters, dialed in the values for each one, and then saved it as a Preset called “Clarignette” (my attempt at making a new word).
Custom Presets can be accessed by clicking the Categories button just above the row of Presets and choosing “User Presets.” Any Presets that you create or customize can also be shared with other users which makes this a great way to use custom Presets on multiple computers or in any type of collaborative editing environment. Choose “File > Show Presets Folder…” to see the folder on your computer where your custom Presets reside. Each one is saved as an “.lmp” file that you can copy to the Custom Preset folder on another computer or send to a friend.
One final ace up Luminar’s sleeve is its ability to let you combine filters using layers, in precisely the same way Photoshop and other image editing programs handle a layer-based non-destructive workflow.
Instead of applying a Preset directly to the image you are working with, you can click the “+ Overlay Preset” button in the lower-right corner of the Luminar workspace which adds a layer onto which your Preset edits are applied. This is exactly the same as an Adjustment Layer in Photoshop. Your Preset edits can now be applied, controlled, and adjusted independently of the image itself. Masking tools can then be used on each layer to control which parts of the image are affected by the Preset.
Note: You can also apply a mask to any of the Filters applied directly to your image as well.
This layer-based Preset implementation is another illustration of how Luminar takes a powerful-but-simple approach to editing. It’s not that Luminar is quantifiably better or worse than other editing programs because such an evaluation depends greatly on the individual needs, workflow, and style of the photographer. However, for users who are relatively new to photo editing and want a program that offers a simple, clean, intuitive approach with a feature-set deep enough to grow with them over time, it’s hard to beat Luminar.
Anyone who has used Instagram or other social media apps to apply image edits with the click of a Filter or Preset button will feel right at home with Luminar. As those individuals demand greater control and flexibility as they improve their skills, Luminar is right there beside them ready to meet the challenge. I really do like Luminar’s approach to editing with Presets and Filters and I think it’s a nice way to bridge the gap between amateur and professional photo editing. It’s simple enough for casual users but has a deep feature-set to cater to more demanding photographers too.
Disclaimer: Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is a dPS advertising partner.