In praise of Skylum’s Luminar

So I’ve been going on a lot more photowalks recently which is more difficult due to the fact that it;’s January in Chicago and I can only muster being outside to take photos for about 30-45 minutes before I feel like I might freeze in my tracks.  Yesterday, I took the Sony A1 out for a spin downtown and experienced that again.  It was not incredibly cold, but it was blustery and cut my photo walk a little short.

The Sony A1 is an incredible camera. 50 megapixels, 8K video, the works. It literally is a camera that can do everything, and the level of details you get out of its sensor is stunning. Yesterday though, it was ugly in Chicago.  Cold, gray, slightly foggy, barren. It was kind of a miserable day to get street photos and architecture shots.

This is where the title comes into play.  We’re all very well familiar with Lightroom.  I love Lightroom for very specific reasons. It does a tremendous job at cleaning up your images, especially for interiors, architecture, landscapes, etc.  Y%esterday though was so ugly I don’t think Lightroom could really salvage the photos I took.  It did, however, give me a starting point to create images that I probably overprocessed, but I still find absolutely stunning due to how I created them.

Let’s start with this photo of the iconic Merchandise Mart.

[ohio_text text_typo=”null”]This photo was taken with the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 G-Master Lens.  Truly a wonderful piece of glass, but as we can see when shooting from street level it’s very distorted.  This is where Lightroom shines.  The first step was in the fact that I had actually taken 5 bracket photos, so I created an HDR image within Lightroom, and then used it’s phenomenal lens correction utilities to straighten out the image and crop in, like so…[/ohio_text]
[ohio_text text_typo=”null”]I mean this doesn’t even really look like I shot it at street level.  Lightroom is so good at straightening out your lines and making your photos look like you took them with an entirely different lens and perspective.  Truly remarkable work.  However, as you can probably tell it’s what we in the industry like to call “garbage weather”.  You see what I mean by cold and gray.  That’s literally the color palette going on here.

And that’s where Luminar comes into play.  For those unaware, Luminar is a photo editing software created by Skylum. It uses Artificial Intelligence to analyze your photo and make changes using some drop-down selections and some sliders that can be done in seconds that would normally take hours in Photoshop.  Looking a this photo, the first thing anyone would want to do is a sky replacement.  Easily done, however, the issue with doing sky replacements in Photoshop is once the sky is in there, the remainder of the photo is still lit by the cold gray reality of this brisk Chicago Thursday in the dead of winter.  So then you’ll need to tweak your photo to match which requires a lot of trial and error, masking, feathering, yada yada yada.

With Luminar, it takes seconds.  This is the image I came up with in about 5 minutes of tinkering with the settings in Luminar…[/ohio_text]

[ohio_text text_typo=”null”]It’s hard to believe that this is the same image.  Using Luminar I adjusted the “Golden Hour” slider which used it’s AI to artificially light everything in the photo to mimic golden hour lighting.  I then used the AI Sky Enhancement sliders to bring out the sky which was non-existent in the original photo.  In order to get it visible I had to adjust the sliders to max, but doing so created artifacting in the image which, sadly, meant I couldn’t salvage the sky.  It looked okay zoomed out, but when looking at it in full, you could see bad artifacting and banding.[/ohio_text]
[ohio_text text_typo=”null”]This looks okay, but when zoomed in the sky is very splotchy.  It was so gray that in order to bring out the colors in the sky, it really needed to push the AI to its limits and degrade the image to do so.  So the next step?  Sky replacement!  In Photoshop you’d need to have photos of skies you want to insert, you’d need to mask your photo so you can place the sky behind it, tweak the edges so it looks natural, all that nonsense.  Not here.  Luminar has a few dozen pre-fabricated skies built into Luminar you can just pick and then tweak the settings on.  I opted for one of their sunset options.  And if you get tired of the ones there, the Luminar community has uploaded their own skies that you can purchase and download and implement on your own.  It’s so simple and easy.

You can also use this feature to create really stunning creative projects.  Want to show the galaxy in the daytime?  No problem. Want to take Chicago out of this world?  Sure.  Wanna make it look like there’s a storm-a-brewing in the Emerald City?  Why not.[/ohio_text]

[ohio_text text_typo=”null”]All these were made with a few clicks.  It’s that easy.  But the real kicker for me, is the subtle changes the AI uses that enhances the remainder of the image when these fake scenes are placed in your image.  If you watch the slider, you can see, subtly, the light reflecting off the Merchandise Mart shifting to match the lighting the sky replacements are creating.  It’s effortless, gradual, and accurate and that would take a very long time to do/master in Photoshop.

In my photography portfolio you’ll see a gallery for the Tradebe Fleet Photoshoot.  I was hired to photograph a fleet of new trucks for Tradebe and the day they brought in to shoot was exactly like it was yesterday in Chicago: cold, gray, and ugly.  I had to do sky replacements for each photo.  You’ll notice the sky is pretty much the same exact sky in every photo almost.  I used some paintbrush shapes to add a few clouds here and there to mix it up, but there’s tons of clouds along the treeline because it was so hard to blend them together that the clouds would mask the imperfections.  Creating those images took me several days.

If I had Luminar it would’ve taken me maybe 20-30 minutes. This program truly is astonishing with what it is capable of doing. Now, does my finished image look natural?  Maybe not 100%.  Is it overprocessed?  Probably, I get a little carried away when given a sandbox of new toys to play with.  But does the finished product look polished, professional, and clean?  I think so. I think it looks pretty damn good.

Please click the image below and open it up in a new window to see the full size of the image so you can view the level of detail that not only Luminar brought out, but the level of detail you will also get in the Sony A1’s 50-megapixel sensor.  It’s truly stunning.[/ohio_text]

©Logan Bowes 2022