Luminar AI: Portrait Bokeh AI

Written by Matic Broz Updated on October 22, 2021

Luminar AI: Portrait Bokeh AI

The long-awaited Luminar AI feature has finally arrived…

Bokeh AI is here. And you can use it by downloading the latest free Luminar AI update (update 4). If you don’t own Luminar AI, get your copy at a discounted price.

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Here’s my review of the Luminar AI Bokeh tool. If you’re new here, I recommend you first read my Luminar AI review.

Beautiful bokeh is normally the domain of expensive and high-quality lenses. Bokeh is crucial in some genres of photography, such as portrait, macro, and food photography. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that these lenses, especially prime, produce attractive bokeh.

However, if your lenses don’t give you good bokeh or take a photo with a narrow aperture, Bokeh AI by Luminar AI can solve your problem.

Bokeh AI was already teased back when Luminar AI first came out in December 2020. With Luminar AI Update 4 (released July 27, 2021), you can finally get this feature.

How To Use Bokeh AI?

As soon as you update your Luminar AI to the latest Update 4 version, you can start using Portrait Bokeh AI.

Open Luminar AI and navigate to the Edit module. In the Portrait section of the tools, you will find the Portrait Bokeh AI tab.

Bokeh AI in Luminar
Bokeh AI in Luminar

This brand new tool nicely complements other excellent portrait tools (Face AI, Skin AI, Body AI).

By clicking the Portrait BokehAI, you open its menu (also referred to as “hero”).

Bokeh AI Hero
Bokeh AI Hero

When you open it for the first time for that image, it will take a couple of seconds to process it (the Luminar AI logo in the top left will be glowing). During this time, Bokeh AI creates a depth map for that image. However, it only needs to do so once. If you come back to the same images later, it will instantaneously load the depth map. And you’ll be able to get to work immediately.

Now, let’s break down this tool as it has quite some features that you need to understand to take full advantage of its power.

Amount

The amount slider controls the strength of the bokeh effect. In other words, moving the slider to the right blurs the background in your images. Conversely, moving it to the left “unblurs” the background.

Pay attention to the amount of detail in the background in the image below. When I pushed the slider all the way to the right (100), the background became beautifully blurred.

Bokeh AI amount comparison
Bokeh AI comparison: Amount 0 vs Amount 100

Crucially, Luminar AI automatically masked out the main subject (in this case, me). However, a trained eye can notice a few pixels thick halo above my shoulders. It may be attributed to the inaccuracy of the tool. Luckily, Brush Control fixes this issue.

Brush Control

Whilst artificial intelligence does one hell of a job automatically masking out the subjects; it sometimes makes an “oopsie”. Particularly difficult are areas with a lot of scattered details, such as hair.

You can quite easily fix these issues with built-in brushes. You can choose between:

  • Focus – adds area in focus.
  • Defocus – adds area that is not in focus (adds bokeh).
  • Restore – restores to the original state, regardless of whether it was in focus or not.

You can change the brush size with Radius and fine-tune the brushing with Softness and Opacity. To make it easier, Luminar AI highlights the unblurred area when you hover over your image with the Bokeh AI panel open.

Like this:

Bokeh AI Brush use
Hover over the image to highlight the masked area

Background

Perhaps you noticed a small tab named Background in the first image of the Bokeh AI panel. You can click on it to expand it, revealing a bunch of additional sliders.

Luminar AI Bokeh Hero Extended
Luminar AI Bokeh panel – Extended

While the Amount slider and Brush Control allow you to keep adjust the strength and the extent of the bokeh effect, Background tweaks the blurred area.

  • Brightness – brightens or darkens the blurred area. Strategically using the Brightness slider is a great way to separate the object from the background. You can utilise it as a precise vignete.
  • Highlights Glow – accentuates highlights in the blurred area. It can be effectively used to emphasize light sources, sun glow, and spotlights.
  • Warmth – turns the background blue or yellow. The Warmth slider works exactly the same as the Temperature slider in the Essentials > Light panel, except it changes only the background instead of the entire image. I recommend, you use it together with the Brightness slider. If you turn you make the background darker, move the Warmth slider towards the blue tones. Conversely, when you brighten the background, try adding some warm tones by moving the Warmth slider towards the yellow tones.
  • Depth Correction – controls the blur strength. In other words, this slider mimics changing the aperture. For example, if you took a photo at f/8 and set the Portrait Bokeh AI Amount slider to 100, then the Depth Correction 0 will give you around f/2.8-f/4. Turning it down all the way to -100 looks like f/1.4-f/1.8, and setting it to +100 removes blur and setting it back to f/8.
  • Edges Correction – shifts the edge of the mask. Use this slider to tweak the mask.

How does Portrait Bokeh AI work?

When you first open Portrait Bokeh AI in an image, it takes a couple of seconds to do 3D depth mapping. It means that AI automatically recognises a person/people in the image, and calculates the depth of objects in it. Keep in mind that Luminar AI saves the depth map of each image, so it will only have to do the calculation the first time you use it. All the subsequent times it will work instantaneously.

How do I control the depth of field with Bokeh AI?

Luminar AI depth correction

Portrait Bokeh AI allows you to adjust the depth of field with the Depth Correction slider that you can find in the Background subpanel. It’s natively set to 0, which reduces the depth of field but a couple of f-stops. Pushing it all the way to -100, mimics the effect of aperture f/1.4-f/1.8. You can also push it all the way to +100, which removes any blur.

Use Bokeh AI Together With …

Granted, Bokeh AI is a powerful tool for your portraits photos. But to make the most out of it, you should use it together with other Luminar AI tools. Luminar AI was designed so that you don’t need a rigorous workflow. You can always switch it up, go back, and even reset all the changes. However, I still developed a workflow that speeds up my photo editing and guarantees the best results.

Here’s an example workflow I use for my portraits:

0. Composition AI

Before I started with the actual photo editing, I cropped the photo with a 4:5 ratio and let the Composition AI do its thing. Most of the time, it follows the rule of thirds, which is good enough.

Luminar AI: Portrait Bokeh AI 1

1. Enhance AI (fix exposure)

Enhance AI is a great starting point for any photo. It helps you get the exposure just right without fiddling around endlessly with Light sliders. Enhance AI intelligently fixes highlights and shadows while retaining all the contrast. In fact, it creates a kind of HDR image.

I usually set this slider to between 50 and 100 and then tweak the exposure to perfection with the slider in the Light panel.

2. Portrait Bokeh AI

Next, I turn to the “tool of the hour”, Bokeh AI. I always start by setting it to 100, so I can better see the changes I apply. In the end, I usually reduce it to between 25 and 75.

When you first open the Bokeh AI panel for any image, Luminar AI takes a couple of seconds to calculate the depth map. Just let it crunch the numbers.

Next, I check the mask is applied. If necessary, I grab a brush and add some details. Usually, hair or torn clothing poses the most trouble for the tool. Here comes the important part. To mask in the hair without creating sharp, unnatural-looking edges, I reduce the brush Opacity to around 30. You don’t need to brush in the hair to make it look natural.

Bokeh AI Masking in example
I brushed in some hair with the Focus brush with Opacity 30.

While you can be very accurate here, you don’t have to be. This is an extreme zoom in, and when you zoom out, you can barely see a difference. But it makes some.

Finally, I adjust the Background settings. For this image, I wanted the woman to stand out as a warm subject on a cold background, but I wanted highlights to pop.

Here are the settings I used:

Bokeh AI example settings
Example settings of Bokeh AI Background for this image

3. Face AI, Skin AI

Generally, I use Face AI to add some Face Light and improve eyes with Iris Flare and Eye Enhancer. Then, I open Skin AI to remove skin imperfections. However, in this example, the woman is already made up, so her skin shows no imperfections. In addition, she’s too far away for eye enhancement to make sense.

Nonetheless, these are two excellent tools to improve your portraits. There is also Body AI that shrinks faces and abdomens. While I do no use this tool myself, I do not condone its use.

4. High Key

High Key photography uses unusually bright tones to reduce contrast and blow out the black tones. High Key tool in Luminar AI allows you to do just that.

I use it for my portrait and landscape photos, where I want to create a kind of airy look. I use it together with a Gradient Mask to create a gradient vignette, which helps convey the light source.

High key example
Example of my High Key settings

5. Glow, Mystical

Use Glow and Mystical tools to get a soft, dreamy look. These two go very well together since Glow (I choose Orton Effect) affects highlights, and Mystical predominantly affects the darker tones.

It depends on you to find the best values. But if you want a realistic photo, try not to go over Amount 50.

6. Vignette

Photographers use vignettes to help lead viewers’ eyes into the frame. Luminar AI has a lovely vignette tool that doesn’t just centre the vignette. You can choose the subject in your photo, and the vignette is automatically applied around it.

7. Supercontrast

Using tools like Glow and High Key can easily lead to overexposed highlights. Unless you want to lose some detail in highlights, Supercontrast in the Professional section allows you to recover it. It might take you a while to master this tool, but I’m confident that you’ll enjoy using it.

For this photo, I set the Highlights Contrast to 23 and Highlights Balance to 7.

8. Textures

Textures are an amazing way to spice up your portraits. In all fairness, I didn’t use them until recently. And now, I regularly add them to my portrait shots. In addition, Update 4 of Luminar AI brought some quality-of-use changes to Textures.

To use them, choose Local Masking in the top right corner instead of Tools. Click on +Add and choose Texture.

Luminar AI Choose Local Masking
Click on the brush icon to open Local Masking.

Adding a new texture is fairly straightforward. Click on Texture Selection and choose a texture you like. You can also add your own or buy more from the Skylum store.

Luminar AI: Portrait Bokeh AI 2
Luminar AI Textures panel

I like using flares to give some atmosphere to portrait shots and make them look vintage.

Bokeh AI Result

Admittedly, I’m pleased with the final result. Bokeh AI is an excellent solution for images that require a shallow depth of field. Even if you don’t own a fast lens (for instance, f/1.8 or faster), the most recent Luminar AI update allows you to achieve great results.

Bokeh AI After
Fully edited portrait photo using Portrait Bokeh AI

However, I wish the Skylum team would address a couple of issues in future updates.

What I Didn’t Like About Bokeh AI

Don’t get me wrong; I still like this tool and have been using it constantly since I’ve got my hands on it. But I have a couple of ideas about how Skylum could improve it.

1. Halo around persons

For some reason, Portrait Bokeh AI sometimes produces a halo around the edges of a person. As you can see in the image below, there is a couple of pixels wide blurred area. It is far more blurred than the background.

Bokeh AI edge not accurate

What is more, the tool accurately masked the background. The blurred area is correctly the part of a background, but it’s not properly blended.

Let me emphasise that I only noticed this effect on a couple of images. The vast majority worked as intended. And even when it happened, it wasn’t deal-breaking.

2. Works only on people

For now, Portrait Bokeh AI only works when Luminar AI recognises people in images. There’s no way around it because it works by building a depth map around people it finds.

But, as a Skylum employee informed me, support for pets (dogs and cats) might be coming soon. However, the date of a new update is unknown.

I also hoped that Luminar AI would support macro photographers by working on macro objects. Sadly, while I cannot confirm it, I’m fairly certain that won’t be possible any time soon.

3. Doesn’t blur foreground

Bokeh is created when you use a wide aperture, such as f/2.8 or wider. This creates a shallow depth of field, meaning that only the area in focus is sharp, while the foreground and background are blurred.

Portrait Bokeh AI blurs the background to create bokeh. However, it does not blur the foreground, which makes the image look unrealistic. Luckily, I found a simple workaround.

You can artificially blur the foreground using Structure AI or Details. Set it to a negative value and apply a Gradient Mask in the foreground. This will create a realistic blur that matches the bokeh.

4. Doesn’t create bokeh shapes

While Skylum developers might add it in a future update, Bokeh AI currently does not produce any shapes. It just blurs. Real lenses create bokeh shaped like polygons, based on the number of aperture blades they have. In addition, I believe that creative photographers would enjoy bokeh shaped like hearts, circles, stars, and more.

Final Thoughts on Bokeh AI

Skylum’s latest update of Luminar AI has made great-looking bokeh accessible to everyone. With the Portrait Bokeh AI being a part of Luminar AI’s suite of tools, you don’t need fast and expensive prime lenses to take great portrait photos. Not to mention that on a sunny day, you cannot use the widest aperture without using ND filters or overexposing your photos.

When I first got my hands on the new Luminar AI tool, I immediately went back and re-edited a bunch of portrait photos. The results were excellent, although I had to use brushes in a few cases.

If you enjoy taking portrait photos but don’t have the budget for the right gear, I recommend the latest Luminar AI update.

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