Am I qualified to write a Luminar AI review?
I’ve been using Skylum Luminar AI since November 2020, first as a beta tester and since its release as a photographer. I use it almost daily to edit my photos. I update the review every time Luminar AI is updated. I also used previous versions of Luminar, including Luminar 3 and 4.
The bottom line
Luminar AI is designed to bring photo editing closer to photographers who want to edit their photos but don’t have the knowledge or time to do it. AI-powered tools do the majority of the work for you just by moving a slider.
I dislike how masking works (compared to Lightroom), while some pros might also miss advanced image management options. For those who want to benefit from the creative tools Luminar AI brings to the table, I recommend using it as a plugin to Lightroom.
- AI tools are great for beginners
- Templates are like smart & automatic presets
- Standalone app and plugin for Lightroom/Photoshop & Mac Photos
- Faster than Luminar 4
- Image management is not the best
- No way to edit metadata
- Few export options & no layers
- Can’t transfer Luminar 3 or 4 catalogue
I recommend these buying options (if you’re not ready to buy, get the free trial):
The best Lightroom alternative.
What is Luminar AI?
Luminar AI is the first photo editing software based on artificial intelligence. Thanks to AI tools, which do all the work for you, it is an excellent choice for beginners. Professionals will also enjoy Luminar AI as an addition to Lightroom to improve their photo editing workflow.
Luminar AI is, at first glance, like any other photo editing program: you can add images, edit those images, and finally, you can export the photos. But when you look more closely, you’ll notice that unlike its competitors, namely Lightroom and ON1, Luminar AI is based around artificial intelligence (AI).
But what does AI even have to do with photo editing? I’ll answer that in a moment, but let’s see first what Alex Tsepko, the CEO of Skylum, said:
Luminar AI will help make image editing easier for everyone. We’ve removed the boring and difficult parts of photo editing without sacrificing creativity.Alex Tsepko, CEO of Skylum
And that’s true. Luminar AI does, in fact, simplify the editing process and brings it closer to beginners. However, in my experience, this doesn’t mean that pros won’t find value in it. Au contraire, you can (and should) use Luminar AI as a plugin for Lightroom, Photoshop, and macOS photos. This feature allows you to integrate its tools into your photo editing workflow.
Best Luminar AI Features
These are the four best Luminar AI features, in my opinion.
These helped better and faster edit my photos, but they also made the experience of photo editing a lot more enjoyable.
1. Clean workspace
When you first open Luminar AI, you’ll notice that it consists of 4 primary workspaces: Catalog, Templates, Edit, and Export. Importantly, if you’ve ever used other photo editors, you’ll immediately notice that Luminar AI’s interface is a lot more polished.
- Catalog is a collection of All Photos, Single Image Edits, Recently Added, Recently Edited, and Trash. You can also manually add Albums and Folders.
- Templates are AI-powered presets that automatically analyse the content of each photo and suggest the best edits for it.
- Edit is a collection of all editing tools grouped into 4 panels: Essentials, Creative, Portraits, and Professional.
- Export offers several saving options: Save to Disk, Mail, Messages, SmugMug, and 500px.
In the top left corner, you’ll find LUMINARAI. Clicking on it opens a menu with all the necessary menu options that are pretty much the same as in Luminar 4.
Adding images to Luminar AI is simple enough. You can either click on the + icon in the top bar or add one or several images (or even an entire folder) by simply dragging it into the Luminar AI window. Based on your computer’s specifications, you might be able to import multiple images within a couple of seconds.
The catalogue allows you to sort and filter all your images. Additionally, you can use filters to find any photo relatively quickly.
First, you can browse all your images simultaneously, but this is not very handy if you’ve got many of them. A better option is filtering them by single edits, recently added, or even sort them based on capture or edit time, file name, type, and size.
In the long run, Folders and Albums are going to keep your photos organised.
Folders are literally the folders on your hard drive that you can import into Luminar AI. Thus, any changes you make in them directly affect the actual folders on your hard drive and vice-versa.
Albums are virtual folders that you can create within the Luminar AI and have no effect on the files on your computer. This is a much better option if you don’t want to mess up your files.
2. Templates are automatic Presets
Templates are the most significant change you’ll see by upgrading from Luminar 4 to Luminar AI.
You can think of Templates as automatic AI-powered presets. Each time you use them, AI analyses objects, colours, and scenery in your photo and applies the best possible edit based on its analysis. But that’s not all. Every Template is adjusted for your photo individually, meaning that Luminar AI recommends the same Template for several photos, but it tweaks it for each one.
How to use Templates in Luminar AI?
Open an image and click on Templates in the top part of the window. In the right sidebar, Luminar AI will instantly offer a handful of already installed Templates for you. By selecting one of the collections, Easy Landscapes, in my example, Luminar AI will open a series of 6 Templates. You can click on them to instantly apply the edits. However, these edits are not permanent. You can click Edit in the top bar and adjust the Template to your liking.
I enjoyed using Templates because they allowed me to quickly try 10+ different edits, giving me a general idea of how I want to edit the photo. However, in the end, I always reset adjustments and performed all the edits myself, but that’s just a personal preference because I like editing.
To sum up, I think that Templates are super-useful for beginners who don’t have any photo editing experience and professionals who just want to quickly experiment with a couple of different styles to find the best one.
3. AI Tools for advanced photo edits
Edits workspace is where you will be able to make all your adjustments. If you started with a Template, this is where you tweak. If you’re starting fresh, use these tools to make adjustments.
Among the most impressive tools to me, and I’m sure you’ll love them too, are AccentAI, SkyAI, and Portrait tools. The latter, especially, is going to save hours of your time that you’d otherwise spend masking and “liquify-ing” in Photoshop.
I already commented on Sky Replacement in Luminar 4, and I loved how accurately this tool masked the sky into my shots. However, it didn’t take reflections into account, making the replacement in such images quite obvious. I was delighted to find out that the new SkyAI adds reflections to water and other reflective areas.
In the comparison below, I demonstrated how powerful is SkyAI. I managed to add a new sky to my image easily. The tool considered the roofs, bridge, and even the crane in the background. The cherry on top, Luminar AI, added sky reflection to the water, making the sky replacement unnoticeable.
In summary, SkyAI is a fantastic way to change the sky in your photos if you have no prior experience with photo editing. What is more, it does all that automatically. You just choose a background, and this tool will mask out the old sky, add a new one, and adjust the colours.
How to add skies in Luminar AI?
To add skies in Luminar AI, follow these steps:
- Open Luminar AI
- Click Edit in the top bar
- Go to Creative sections of tools
- Click on SkyAI
- Click on Sky Selection
- Scroll down until you see a plus icon and click on it
- Find your sky files and click open
As a landscape photographer, I use AtmosphereAI tool every time I add some more “wow factor” into my photos. This tool allows you to add fog, layered fog, haze, and mist into your photos.
Additionally, Luminar AI seems capable of recognising the depth of an image and the distance of objects, as it “knows” how to add fog behind the trees and other objects.
However, this feature doesn’t always work as intended. Woodland photographs, in particular, seem to confuse AtmosphereAI. Consequently, Luminar AI often masks in or out a tree that shouldn’t have been. I just hated when the tool failed to apply for where it should have, leaving you without any options to fix that.
AtmosphereAI, however, has three settings that allow you to adjust the applied fog, but none of them fixed the aforementioned issue. The depth slider controls the percentage of the photo covered in fog, while brightness makes the fog bright or dark.
Skylum team promised that drizzle and steam are coming soon.
BodyAI and FaceAI tools are designed to sculpt and refine portraits by making the body slimmer and improving faces.
I think that these two tools will be widely popular amongst Instagram models, influencers, and photographers working with models because they make creating a thin body and chiselled face ridiculously easy.
We’ve already seen similar tools in Luminar 4, AI Skin & Portrait Enhancer, and we absolutely loved them.
Alternatively, Photoshop can do the same, but it requires a lot more effort and experience. In Luminar AI, you just need to drag a slider – it’s that easy.
IrisAI is a rebranded tool that creates rich and expressive eyes – in Luminar 4, it was known as Eye Enhancer.
This tool changes the colour, shape, size, brightness and even improves the texture of the iris. Moreover, it also works on several people in a single photo.
Not all that useful feature but definitely an amusing one – you can apply owl’s or cat’s eyes to the subject.
With beautiful eyes being one of the most desirable qualities, this tool will be a game-changer for professional portraits and amateur selfies.
Bokeh AI is finally here (read my Luminar AI Bokeh AI review)! This brand new tool became available with the free Luminar AI update 4, which came out on July 27, 2021.
Portrait Bokeh AI recognises people and their poses in the pictures and selectively blur the background. In addition, it can do a lot more than just blurring the background. This tool uses artificial intelligence to create a depth map, which is then used to unsharpen objects correctly based on their distance from the person.
You can also change the depth of field, background temperature and brightness, and use brushes and sliders to adjust the selection.
CompositionAI is a brand new Luminar AI tool that automatically recognises elements in your photo and then crops the photos in the best possible way.
But does it actually work? Based on my tests, CompositionAI closely follows the rule of thirds.
While that’s quite an accomplishment, I can follow the rule of thirds independently, and I don’t need an AI for that. I would expect the AI to do more, such as find new compositions. Therefore, I still prefer to crop the photos on my own.
Additionally, just like Lightroom, Luminar AI can also automatically straighten the photos, but for some reason, CompositionAI doesn’t do that automatically.
As you can see in the screenshot above, CompositionAI automatically cropped the photo following the rule of thirds (it placed the hayrack in the top left intersection).
This tool adds detail and texture to your photos. The AI behind it recognizes objects and applies the texture accordingly. For example, it won’t apply any texture to people, but it will texture water, rocks, and grass.
AccentAI performs all the basic adjustments on its own by creating natural lighting and boosting colours. It works similarly to Lightroom’s “Auto Settings” feature; however, the artificial intelligence of Luminar AI identifies subjects in the photo and applies the settings accordingly.
As the name suggests, this tool enhances skies by giving them texture and colour. I never use this tool because although Luminar promises natural-looking results, they never look great.
Augmented Sky AI
This is the same tool that made us lift our eyebrows when it was first introduced with the Luminar 4.2 update. It allows you to add various elements to your images, such as mountains, clouds, birds, giraffes (??), hot air balloons, aurora, etc.
Color Harmony consists of several tools: Brilliance, Warmth, Color Contrast, Split Color Warmth, and Color Balance. These sliders are all aimed at improving and correcting colour tones in your photos.
Changes the colour scheme of a photo-based on Lookup Tables (LUTs).
It brings warm accents to photos, mimicking the light around sunrises and sunsets called the golden hour.
Adds a new sun and sunrays to the image, giving you control over their position, warmth, and overall look. Additionally, you can also set the penetration, the number of sun rays, and even the sun radius.
It gives you controls over contrast in highlights, mid-tones, and shadows, separately. This is particularly useful for high-contrast scenes, such as landscape.
4. Luminar AI as a plugin
Let’s not talk about Luminar AI as an alternative to Lightroom, but let’s focus on how you can use it with Lightroom to enhance your photo editing.
With each purchase of Luminar AI, you get both a standalone app and a plugin version that you can use together with the following apps:
- Lightroom Classic (starting from version 6)
- Photoshop (from version CS5)
- Photos for macOS
To install Luminar AI as a plugin, first, install it as a standalone app. Once installed, open it, click on LuminarAI in the top left corner, go to File and Install Plugins.
Luminar AI will automatically detect which of the three previously mentioned apps you have installed and your computer and will give you an option to connect with them.
If you successfully installed Luminar AI as a plugin, you’ll be able to open it from within Lightroom, Photoshop, and/or Photos for macOS.
Luminar AI isn’t trying to be an alternative to other photo editors. Still, it encourages creativity by offering its tools as a plugin to Lightroom or Photos, consequently giving you more creative options.
I believe that professionals will use Luminar AI as a plugin more often than as a standalone app.
Luminar AI is available as a one-time payment from Skylum. A single license costs $79. Two cost $99, and three licenses cost $119. Each Luminar AI license contains a standalone app and a plugin. Alongside Luminar AI, you can get Luminar X Membership for $59.
Additionally, owners of other Skylum software get a $5 discount.
If you’ve come this far into the Luminar AI review, you must wonder who the Luminar AI is for. Here are my recommendations:
Beginner photographers: I recommend Luminar AI if you would like to create stunning photographers without professional gear or by going to wonderful locations. Use Luminar AI tools that allow you to create incredible photos.
Intermediate/professional photographers: I recommend Luminar AI as a Lightroom/Photoshop plugin. You’ll be able to quickly export an image from Lightroom to Luminar AI to perform additional edits. This is how I use it.
The best Lightroom alternative.
I noticed that Skylum promises a 30-day money-back guarantee so that you can try Luminar AI risk-free. If you’re not 100% satisfied with your purchase, you can request a full refund by contacting support.
You can get a hefty $15 discount with this promo code, which stacks with other discounts. At the moment, this gives you a $40 discount on all Skylum products other than Luminar NEO.
Luminar AI offers a free trial for everyone who signs up. All you need to do is go to Skylum and the “Free Download” button. A download will start immediately. Then, set up the Luminar AI following the instructions and activate it for free.
You receive a special offer with each free download: 2 Luminar AI licenses for $79.99 discounted from $99.99, and 3 licenses for $99.99 discounted from $119.99.
How to get Luminar AI for free?
To get Luminar AI for free, follow these steps:
- Go to Skylum.com.
- Click the Free Download button. If you cannot see the button, click here.
- The download will start automatically.
- Open the downloaded file (LuminarAISetup.exe).
- Follow the instructions.
- Activate your free trial.
Luminar AI vs Luminar 4
Luminar AI and Luminar 4 are similar photo editing programs. Both programs have many AI tools that simplify photo editing, but Luminar AI implemented Templates, which are like automatic presets. Luminar 4 offers layer-based editing, while Luminar AI has no such feature.
The critical difference between Luminar AI vs Luminar 4 is the Templates. While many editing tools have also been upgraded and updated, Templates are a completely new feature that I have not previously seen in any Luminar version.
I liked layer-based editing in Luminar 4, which is now gone in Luminar AI. This means that there’s no way to apply a particular edit multiple times if a 100% slider is not enough – and that happens on occasion.
Is Luminar AI faster than Luminar 4?
To check who’s faster, Luminar AI or Luminar 4, I closed all other programs and measured how long it took from double-clicking the app icon to fully loaded – meaning I could use a tool.
Luminar AI takes longer to load (12.5 s) than Luminar 4 (6.2 s), but the overall editing experience is smoother and faster in Luminar AI than in Luminar 4. Switching between the tools and adjusting sliders works faster in Luminar AI than in Luminar 4. There is no significant difference in export speed between them.
|Load time||Luminar AI||Luminar 4|
|t1||17.3 s||9.9 s|
|t2||11.2 s||5.1 s|
|t3||11.5 s||5.5 s|
|t4||11.5 s||5.4 s|
|t5||11.2 s||5.1 s|
|Average||12.5 s||6.2 s|
I performed the tests on:
- Fully updated Windows PC
- AMD Ryzen 5 3500
- 16 GB RAM (4000 GHz)
- Nvidia GTX 1660Ti
- 850 EVO SSD (512 GB).
You may expect better results if you have a stronger PC and slower results if you have a weaker PC.
Is Luminar 4 the same as Luminar AI?
Although Skylum introduced Luminar AI as entirely new software and not a successor to Luminar 4, they share many features. If you’ve already used Luminar 4, Luminar AI won’t seem all that different because most tools remained the same.
There are a few exceptions. Most notably, Luminar AI is working with Templates, while Luminar 4 has no such feature. Additionally, Luminar 4 supports layers, whereas they have been removed from Luminar AI.
Is Luminar AI better than Lightroom?
Luminar AI is better than Lightroom for anyone looking to perform single-image edits focusing on simplicity and AI tools. Therefore, I think Luminar AI is better for beginners.
Lightroom is better than Luminar AI for photographers who need a tool to simultaneously organize all their photos while also providing an incredible palette of photo editing tools.
Usually, professional photographers, including wedding, portrait, and event photographers, benefit from Lightroom.
Luminar AI will run either on your desktop computer or laptop, as long as it meets the minimum requirements. However, for optimal experience, I recommend better than minimum system requirements.
The minimum and recommended Luminar AI system requirements:
|Hardware||MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, Mac Mini||Windows-based hardware PC with mouse or similar|
|CPU||Intel® Core™ i5||Intel® Core™ i5|
AMD Ryzen™ 5
|Graphics||/||Open GL 3.3 compatible|
|Memory||8 GB RAM||8 GB RAM|
|OS||macOS 10.13.6 or higher||Windows 10 64-bit ONLY.|
|Hard disk||10 GB of free space||10 GB of free space|
|Display||1280×768 px||1280×768 px|
A few additional notes:
- macOS 10.12 is not supported
- Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are not supported
- Use SSD for best performance
(For questions regarding computer specs, leave a comment down below or send me an email with your inquiry)
Luminar AI Alternatives
Luminar AI has flaws, such as lack of layered based editing, mediocre library tool, buggy masking, or unreliable AI tools. Here are the best alternatives for Luminar AI based on what they do better:
Lightroom (great library tool, better interface, and much better filters)
For me, Lightroom is the best Luminar AI alternative. What is more, I use Luminar AI with Lightroom, thanks to its plugin feature.
Lightroom has one of the best library tools available, which allows you to edit metadata, efficiently cull images, and mark them in several different ways. While Luminar AI comes close with Albums and Folders, it hugely lacks metadata editing, import and export options, and even the flagging/marking of the images is so-so.
Recently, Skylum revealed new software named Luminar Neo that fixes what we missed at Luminar AI. It brings improved performance, layer-based editing, background removal, spots and lines removal, and advanced blending modes.
In other words, Luminar Neo is Skylum’s version of Photoshop.
But the key difference is that Luminar Neo automatically performs all the edits thanks to artificial intelligence.
Photoshop (supports layers)
Luminar AI no longer supports layers (layer-based editing) compared to Luminar 4. Therefore, if you want layers, I recommend Photoshop.
Photoshop supports all the functions you find in Lightroom, but they are not as easy to use due to numerous Photoshop menus. If you’re looking for the best all-in-one photo editing software, Photoshop is for you.
I tried to answer as many questions as possible here.
Feel free to ask more in the comments.
Is Luminar AI the next version of Luminar 4?
Luminar AI is a brand new product and not an upgrade to Luminar 4. However, the programs are very much alike. For example, several tools remained the same, the workspace hasn’t changed, and many issues from Luminar 4 persisted in Luminar AI.
Do Luminar 4 owners get a discount?
Everyone who owns a previous version of Luminar or the latest version of Aurora HDR will get a discount. To unlock your special offer, you need to enter your activation code or registration email and click the Verify button.
Is Luminar AI compatible with macOS Big Sur?
Luminar AI is compatible with Big Sur (macOS 11). It will be officially validated once Apple releases a final version towards the end of the year.
On how many devices can I use Luminar AI?
You can use the Luminar AI on one device – Mac or Windows – as a standalone application and a plugin.
However, you can purchase a license to use it on two or more devices, which costs only an additional $20.
Is Luminar AI fast?
The development of Luminar AI was focused on speed, performance, and ease of use and now runs faster than Luminar 4. However, Luminar AI loading times are slower than Luminar 4.
Can I migrate Luminar 3/Luminar 4 catalog to Luminar AI?
Since Luminar AI is not just an upgrade but rather a brand-new program, you will not be able to move your catalogues.
Is it worth upgrading from Luminar 4 to Luminar AI?
It depends on your needs. If you love enhancing your photos with AI tools, or you’d love to get a helping hand from Templates, Luminar AI is worth it for you!
Can Luminar AI do HDR?
No, Luminar AI can’t merge HDR photos. For this purpose, Skylum offers Aurora HDR.
How much is Luminar AI?
Luminar AI costs $79 (79€, £69), but you can get it for free with a free trial or $15 cheaper with a discount code. 2 licenses for Luminar AI cost $99, and 3 licenses cost $119.
How to get Luminar AI?
You can get Luminar AI for free by opting for a free trial. Once it expires, you may purchase a Luminar AI license for $79 ($64 with a discount code).
Is Luminar AI a one-off payment?
Luminar AI is only available as a one-off payment, meaning that you pay a one-time fee and own it forever.
Is Luminar AI worth it?
Luminar AI is a great choice for beginners who want to edit photos without any fuss. However, pros will miss advanced image management.
Is Luminar AI better than Photoshop?
Luminar AI and Photoshop are two completely different photo editing apps. Luminar AI is better for photo editing, while Photoshop is better for photo manipulation.
Luminar AI Updates
Since Luminar AI was released in December 2020, Skylum has released two updates for Luminar AI, fixing bugs and improving the AI tools.
To update Luminar AI on Mac, click on the Luminar AI logo in the top menu bar and then Check for Updates. On Windows, go to Help > Check for Updates.
Here’s the summary of all Luminar AI updates. To see all changes, go to my Luminar AI changelog.
Update 1.4. (July 27)
Read more about Update 1.4. in detail.
- Added Portrait Bokeh AI tool (read more about it)
- Improved SkyAI functionality – horizons can now be manually moved around
- Textures now have previews
Update 1.3. (May 27, 2021)
- Improved SkyAI tool
- New support for Apple hardware and image formats
- Improvements to other tools
Update 1.2. (March 2021)
- Added reflections to SkyAI, improved scene relighting, easier sky orientation and selection
- Updated Texture overlay
- Improved Templates
- New cameras support
Update 1.1. (Jan 2021)
- Updated Edit panel layout
- Improved Import
- Enhance AI opens by default
- Improved Templates
- Redesigned Toning tool
- Added helpful tips
- Improved translations
- Several bugfixes
Luminar AI Review | Conclusion
In conclusion, I recommend Luminar AI to anyone looking for powerful yet simple photo editing software. Templates are a nice way to quickly edit your photos if you’re a beginner or lazy photographer.
For me, the best Luminar AI feature is the plugin option of Lightroom, as this is how I use it virtually every day. I perform the basic edits in Lightroom first, and then I open the image in Luminar AI.
I was not too fond of the lack of layer-based editing and the inability to tweak AI tools (I’m looking at you, AtmosphereAI) when they don’t do a great job on their own. You have no way of fixing their mistakes.
The best Lightroom alternative.
For more Luminar AI alternatives, check my Best Photo Editors list.