Luminar 4 review: AI brings huge creative possibilities to affordable image editor

Affordable image editor powered by artificial intelligence.

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Skylum Software

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At a Glance

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have made a huge impact on software in recent years, but nowhere more prominently than digital photography. Any image editing app worth its salt has implemented at least a little of this technology to manipulate pixels in ways we could only have imagined a decade ago.

A cross between longtime favorite Adobe Lightroom and more powerful sibling Photoshop, Luminar 4 is a Mac image editor which relies heavily on AI technology to accomplish previously complicated tasks with ease. The result is an application designed for photographers who want to quickly enhance photos without a steep learning curve or the fiddling that typically comes with it.

Nowhere is this more evident than Luminar 4’s new AI Sky Replacement, which turns a bland, boring skyline into something more dramatic with a single click of the mouse. There are nearly 30 high-quality replacement skies included, with the option to purchase more or import your own for a more customized appearance.

luminar 4 ai sky replacement before after 1 IDG

By far the most impressive new feature in Luminar 4, AI Sky Replacement breathes new life into grey skies by replacing it with 30 built-in options, or any photo you already have.

While impressive enough that Luminar performs such magic with zero user input—no selection area or masking is required, even for complicated foreground details like trees and hair—the software automatically “relights” the image as much as possible to match color and lighting of the new sky. In my tests, the default AI goes a wee bit overboard applying a different mood, but this can easily be dialed back. You can also tweak positioning of the horizon, along with how it blends into the foreground for more realistic results.

To be sure, this kind of heavy-handed AI manipulation will not appeal to everyone, but I had a lot of fun experimenting and breathing new life into photos that needed an extra kick. Combined with previous tools like one-click Looks, Erase, Landscape Enhancer, Denoise, and Details Enhancer, the creative possibilities are nearly endless.

AI everywhere

Artificial intelligence also powers a handful of other new features in Luminar 4, namely AI Skin Enhancer, Portrait Enhancer, and AI Structure. The first pair of tools aim to realistically enhance human faces, while the third identifies important parts of an image to make them more prominent.

AI Skin Enhancer does a remarkable job removing unwanted blemishes (such as acne) from a subject’s face while leaving intact desired attributes like freckles. All that’s required is ticking the AI Skin Defects Removal option, then adjusting the Amount slider until the desired results are achieved. For the most part, this is one of the more subtle methods we’ve seen to reduce wrinkles without skin looking unnatural or downright fake, but it’s easy to lose other details like the folds of an ear when turned up too high.

luminar 4 portrait enhancer Skylum Software

Portrait Enhancer delivers an AI-powered photo studio for making your subject look their best after a shot has been taken.

Similarly, Portrait Enhancer is the equivalent of an AI-powered photo studio, allowing users to independently add extra light to a subject’s face, remove dark circles, whiten eyes or teeth, and enhance lips or eyebrows, all without making a selection. While AI Structure is a great way to add clarity rather than overall sharpness, the controls are a little basic for advanced users. Last but not least, Sunrays adds realistic-looking beams of light for dramatically improving outdoor images.

That’s just the tip of Luminar 4’s creative potential, which is all neatly integrated into an uncomplicated, intuitive user interface. Tools are grouped by Essentials, Creative, Portrait, and Professional categories and consolidated into a panel along the right side so they’re easy to find, with one-click presets always available along the bottom.

luminar 4 library IDG

The standalone version of Luminar 4 includes a built-in library, but its barebones features pale in comparison to the likes of Adobe Lightroom.

Like Lightroom, images opened in Luminar get added to a Library where changes are automatically saved non-destructively. This is convenient for picking up where you left off after quitting the app, but we found this implementation weaker than Adobe’s own, especially for large libraries. (There’s currently no way to search image metadata, for example.) Thankfully, Luminar also runs as directly within Photoshop, PS Elements, Lightroom Classic, and Apple Photos, allowing users to completely bypass the standalone version’s catalog if they wish.

Bottom line

Artificial intelligence is the heart and soul of several incredible new Luminar 4 features, including the eye-popping standout AI Sky Replacement which demonstrates the full potential of what the technology has to offer.

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At a Glance
  • Powered by artificial intelligence, Luminar 4 is an affordable image editor for Mac that combines the best of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop with a more intuitive interface and powerful tools that require minimal effort from the user.

    Pros

    • Intuitive, easy-to-use image editing
    • Breakthrough AI Sky Replacement feature
    • Works standalone or within Apple Photos, Photoshop, et al

    Cons

    • Library features pale in comparison to Lightroom
    • AI Structure controls not granular enough
    • Occasionally sluggish performance
  
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