First Look, Macphun Luminar

One of the most common complaints I hear from new digital photographers is how image editing and raw processing software is so difficult to use. Counter-intuitive concepts and tools like histograms, curves, levels, layers, selections, blend modes and more often leave them confused, even angry.

Macphun’s Luminar raw-processing and image-editing software essentially has three different user interfaces. This is the simplest. Consider this the beginner’s option.
This is the next, the Presets interface. Consider this Luminar’s intermediate form.
Then there is the more advanced option that allows you to dig down deep.

I don’t blame them. It took me years to get to the point where I felt comfortable enough in Photoshop and its Lightroom spin-off to be really productive and get the results I had visualized when making the exposure in the first place.

I have never come close to mastering Photoshop’s more designer-oriented capabilities but then I would rather leave that up to the experts. Best to stick with what I need to know and do every day, process my photographs in a mostly realist, and sometimes anti-realist pictorialist, manner.

Mind you, that hard-won knowledge of Photoshop’s more abstract concepts continues to come in handy when using other raw processing and image editing software, and I am grateful for that. It means I don’t have qualms about trying something new in image editing, because I know something of the technical underpinnings and can usually understand what is going in beneath the surface.

So when Macphun’s Luminar software was first announced, I was keen to try it out and was very kindly sent access to the beta versions. The concepts seen in those early versions were amazing, and now that we are in Luminar’s post-launch phase, the software continues to impress. I have barely scratched the surface with it but I am looking for opportunities to push it as far as it will go.

Three Luminars in One

As the images above show, Luminar has three different user interfaces serving three different user bases. In traditional terms, they are beginner, intermediate and advanced. These are simplifications but they’re useful enough.

Beginner is perfect for those who don’t need processing beyond noise reduction, cropping, spot removal and retouching, cloning for clean-up and transform.  Of the lower five tools in the screenshot at far right, Transform is the one I use the least as its main function seems to be stretching or compressing image height or width.

I need to crop, resize and export screenshots of software user interfaces for these Cam Tech articles and Luminar has become my software of choice for its elegant user interface and simplicity. I switch the presets and advanced functionality off via the two UI buttons at upper right (screenshot below), choose the crop tool, then export via the button at upper left (below), the box with an arrow pointing up-screen.

ss_luminar_upperleftExport functionality was a little glitchy in Luminar’s beta and first release versions, but as of version 1.0.2 (2757), the one I am using right now, it seems to be working perfectly.

The top four tools between the two user interface buttons and the are move, masking brush, gradient mask and radial mask mode and they more properly belong to the advanced user interface. More on that later.

Presets, Presets and More Presets

The Presets pop-up showing the default preset collection, three free presets sets and one preset set I purchased, Jim Nix’s Wanderlust.

Luminar’s intermediate or more correctly presets interface is analogous to the truckloads of presets found in most mobile app photography and image editing apps.

Not every preset included with any mobile app or computer application will work with all the photographs you wish to process. Be judicious in your choices.

Macphun certainly has with the default image it includes with Luminar, a travel picture of the famous Italian fishing village of Portofino that inspired British architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis to build Portmeirion on the coast of north Wales.

Immediately you download Luminar trial version, I encourage you to activate the default image, click on the Presets UI button then run through the default collection of presets starting from Basic.

The three free sets depicted at right, the Hector Martinez Pack, the Jim Nix Pack and the pack by Scott Wyden Kyvowitz, can be downloaded at the Luminar Presets page. That page may see paid-for premium preset collections appearing in the near future once other professional photographers discover Luminar’s many charms and virtues.

Luminar’s learning tools include filter annotations showing before and afters along with explanations.

For now, though, travel photographer Jim Nix of Nomadic Pursuits has released the very first paid preset pack and at US$5.00 Wanderlust and its 25 presets is a bargain. Mr Nix recently released a 25-strong preset pack for Macphun’s other new image-processing product, the HDR-oriented Aurora HDR 2017, and I recommend that software and the Aurora preset pack too, again at the same bargain price of US$5.00.

Presets, a Shortcut to Learning and Creating

The images in the gallery below have been processed with presets from Jim Nix’ Wanderlust pack and illustrate how using the intermediate aka preset user interface can be a gateway to quickly learning how to use the advanced UI, its many filter choices and slider controls. So far Luminar does not permit numeric input, clicking on a number at the far right of a slider and inserting a number as is currently available in Aurora HDR 2017, but I suspect it will gain it soon.

Luminar is a younger product than Aurora but both draw on a long heritage of image processing software innovation. Macphun first hit the headlines or at least my consciousness as maker of Intensify, which reveals “the hidden beauty of the photos you take”.

Further photograph-editing products followed, each with its own specific focus, including Tonality, Snapheal, FX Photo Studio, Focus and Noiseless, all now bundled together as Creative Kit 2016. Luminar and Aurora share DNA and many image-editing features with the Creative Kit applications while adding their own unique functions and filters.

Creative Kit DNA

Two Creative Kit features I am keen to see find their way into luminar are Tonality’s film emulation and split-toning based on the photochemistry of the analog era.

The adverse effect of photochemicals on human beings and the environment badly affected my own health and career and I am not in the least saddened that the analog era gave way to the digital age. Nonetheless analog photography taught us so much and one big lesson was how the monochrome and colour films, and printing toning techniques, gave us the means to express emotions while conveying information.

I was lucky enough to have used a fair number of different colour transparency and negative films, black-and-white negative and reversal films, Polaroid instant filmpacks, alternative and non-silver printing processes and, of course, those beautiful chemical toning and developer treatment methods that produced one, two or three colours in a single monochrome print.

The current version of Luminar includes a two-colour split-toning function and the Color Balance filter allows you to choose different colours for shadows, midtones and highlights in monochrome or colour photographs.

Emulations from the Analog Era, Please!

I really want to see Luminar gain extensive film, printing and toning emulation features for colour and monochrome films. I can’t speak for other photographers but I process digital images in one of three ways depending on how I want to express what I saw and felt when I made the exposure.

One method uses a minimal set of controls to leverage the characteristics of the camera’s sensor. The second seeks to emulate and extend one of the vast array of analog films that I carry in my head as if they are digital presets. The third is more open-ended and is essentially a case of anything goes, to convert photographs into illustrations, featured images and headers for online publication.

Right now Luminar excels at the latter with its vast array of filters that can be chosen and stacked into custom workspaces and Luminar also works well in a rather minimalist manner. I want to see Macphun pursue the film emulation path, going well beyond Tonality’s monochrome-only presets.

Other Features I’d Like to See in Luminar

The Macphun team is constantly working on improving current Luminar features and on adding completely new functions, the most significant of which is media management and its close companions metadata, tagging and rating. I am sure plenty of other additions to Luminar are in the works, some of which may be in my list below.

Many Aurora HDR 2017 licensees already use Luminar as the second application in their workflow after merging their HDR brackets and adding extensive image edits, but I am hoping that these essential features will be coming to Luminar soon:

  • Camera sensor and lens profiles and corrections – if Serif can do the unexpected and add these to Affinity Photo 1.5.1, including for Fujifilm X-Trans sensor cameras like the X-Pro2 and X-T2, then Macphun can as well.
  • Manual optical correction – an essential intermediary and supplementary stage to automatic corrections.
  • Perspective correction – vertical and horizontal keystoning correction, a must now that view cameras with their extensive tilt, shift and swing functions no longer figure in most photographers’ lives but we still need access to that functionality in software. Otherwise I strongly recommend DxO ViewPoint 3.