Artificial Intelligence in Luminar 4

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon6 Comments

Who Is Dima Sytnik?

Dima is the co-founder and CTO of Skylum.  He is a passionate photographer with a software engineering background.  He spent many years developing games for both desktop computers and phones before starting the company that was originally named MacPhun and is now called Skylum.  Dima sat down with me to talk about Luminar, the photo processing software that is releasing a new version on November 18th, 2019.

What Is Luminar?

Luminar is post processing software produced by a company called Sklyum (formerly called Macphun) that helps photographers adjust their photos in unique ways.  Luminar has been developed from the ground up to utilize the latest technology and enable photographers to achieve professional quality results in very new ways.

You won’t find the usual sliders in Luminar that you find in nearly every post-processing program here in 2019.  Some of them are there because they really need to be, like an exposure slider, but the majority of the features in Luminar offer complicated editing processes in a single our small group of sliders that are much easier to use.  There is a heavy emphasis on utilizing artificial intelligence to make the sliders available to photographers much more intelligent than competing software.

Skylum really believes the future of photo processing involves harnessing the power of technology in our computers and the significant advancements being made in the areas of artificial intelligence.  Making photo processing really fun is a goal Sklyum has with their Luminar product and artificial intelligence that allows photographers to accomplish professional quality adjustments and enhancements with minimal time makes that happen.

Luminar can be used as a stand-alone program to adjust photos similar to how photographers use Lightroom, or it can be used in addition to Lightroom where you round-trip to Luminar like you can round-trip into Photoshop.  Skylum wants Luminar to be a program that photographers can us to focus on their goals with their images and not have to spend so much time learning how to use the software.

How Are Skylum AI Features Developed?

AI is such a buzzword here in 2019.  If you want to start a company you can double your evaluation with investors if you include artificial intelligence in the business case.  AI is a severely overused term. In many cases AI is nothing more than a marketing term and there isn’t real artificial intelligence involved.

That is not the case with Luminar.  Skylum is working very hard to develop a product that will be fun and extremely useful to all photographers.  With each iteration of the software it is getting smarter and smarter. Dima and his team are working very closely with professional photographers and retouchers to develop the AI engine in the software and train it to automatically do the things human photographers spend hours to accomplish manually.

The photographers have shared the before and after images, walked Skylum through how they got those results, and all of that information was fed into the neural networks so that the AI could learn from them.  The AI then edited photos and the edits were shown to these photographers so that they could give feedback on how well it is working or what needs to be changed because it wasn’t producing quality and professional results.  This has helped Skylum to really tune the AI features in the software to produce professional level results with minimal effort, in many cases it is as simple as a slider to two.

Another thing that is different between Luminar and other post processing software that offer AI features is that all of the AI is done locally on your computer.  Nothing is sent off to the cloud for processing. As you edit your photos in Luminar the AI engines are in the software installed on your computer and it actively analyzes and works with the pixels in your photos without sharing those pixels outside of your computer.

What Kind of Computer Best Runs Luminar?

Luminar needs a fast processor (CPU) and as much memory (RAM) as you can give it.  With Luminar 3 (and with Luminar 4 coming in November 2019 – see below) graphics cards (GPU) isn’t really be used as the AI is processing your pixels.  Skylum has the goal of harnessing the power of the GPU and improving the performance of Luminar in the future, but it is still bleeding edge technology today and isn’t stable enough – especially across platforms – for it to be used for now.

Luminar is not very different from the computer hardware needs of Lightroom and Photoshop.  If you need some help in figuring out how to get a computer that will run all of them really well check out my photographer buying guides for iMac, Macbook Pro, Mac Mini, and PC.  Check out this article for budget recommendations.

What AI Features Are In Luminar 3?

I have some experience using Luminar version 3 and there are some AI-based features there that are really fun.  Luminar calls these features “filters” in version 3 and the effect that is produced with the AI features is different from photo to photo because the pixels are different from photo to photo.

Accent AI Filter In Luminar 3

The accent AI filter in Luminar 3 analyzes the pixels in your image and with a single slider intelligently adjusts them in a way that would require adjusting numerous independent sliders in other software.  The “auto” button on the Basic panel in Lightroom has become much smarter over the past few updates from Adobe, doing a decent job of giving you a good starting point for where to set the exposure, contrast, shadows, highlights, whites, and blacks sliders.  This is what Accent AI does but in an even more intelligent way thanks to AI.

AI Sky Enhancer Filter In Luminar 3

As the name implies this enhances the sky in photos.  Because there is truly and AI engine analyzing the pixels of your image Luminar 3 is able to very accurately determine the areas of your photo that are sky vs the other elements that may be there.  You don’t have to have a flat horizon for this slider to work. Bring on the mountains and trees because the AI Sky Enhancer Filter is going to dance right around them and just bring out the sky without halos or other strange artifacts.

Sunrays Filter in Luminar 3

OK, so the AI engine isn’t actually involved here, but it is actually my favorite filter in Luminar 3 so I had to talk about it.  It is a very smart filter. When you apply it to your photo you can place the “sun” anywhere you want and have it add light rays in a very realistic way.  You can control the size, depth, quantity and color of those light rays. It is worth the price of the software just to see how this works and enable you to add light rays to your photos when it didn’t quite work out to get them when you took the shot.

What Changes From Luminar 3 to Luminar 4?

The most exciting changes from Luminar 3 to Luminar 4 are the AI features that Skylum is so excited to get into the hands of photographers throughout the world.  But there are other changes that Skylum believes are critically important between Luminar 3 and Luminar 4.

Improved User Interface

The UI has been redone in a pretty significant way.  Feedback from professional photographers about how the UI has led to quite a few updates that will make the workflow feel more natural and save photographers time.  Instead of working with filters to apply your adjustments and enhancements photographers will now use tools. Some filters were merged together into a single tool to make the adjustment easier.  Some filters were split apart to provide photographers more control. The changes have had very positive reviews from the photographers who have worked with Skylum on Luminar 4.

Performance and Stability

With every version of Luminar performance and stability are a major focus.  Photographers won’t use a tool that is slow and crashes frequently. Improvements have been made here with Luminar 4, especially the capabilities and performance of the Skylum AI engine itself which has progressed to be version 2.0 for the first time with Luminar 4.  Skylum is far from done with what they know they can do to improve performance.


Skylum 4 now supports something similar to presets or profiles in other post processing programs.  The ability to apply LUTs (look up tables), texture overlays, glow, fog, film grains, etc. There are sliders to help get just the right look applied to your photo.

More AI Tools Coming in 2020 to Luminar 4!

Within the next year Skylum plans to add at least two new and extremely powerful AI tools to Luminar 4 for free to customers.  Skylum wants to lead the industry here and move faster. They don’t want to have photographers wait for an annual update cycle and they are going to get more exciting tools to automatically adjust their photos with a very professional result.

What AI Features Are Coming in Luminar 4?

As Skylum has developed Luminar photographers have challenged them by saying they wanted specific tools in the software like they have seen and used in other photo processing software.  Tools like smart brush for example. Skylum would ask the photographer what it is they would do with this smart brush and they would say they would use it to enhance the sky in the photos, not really comprehending that the AI can figure out where and how to apply the effect far better and faster than the photographer could with a “smart brush”.

It is that kind of work that Skylum is putting into every release of Luminar.  It is how the AI features were built in Luminar 3 and it is getting significantly smarter and better in Luminar 4.  Luminar 3 had version one of the Skylum AI engine but over the past two years the engine has matured so much it is now at version two with Luminar 4.  Sklyum wants to save photographers time while allowing them to get truly professional quality results.

AI Skin Enhancer

AI Skin Enhancer is a tool that allows photographers to get a result similar to what is done through the pretty complicated and time consuming processes known as “frequency separation”.  If you are familiar with frequency separation you know how it can really improve the look of the skin without making it look fake and plastic. There is more to AI Skin Enhancer because all of the skin in the photo is detected and enhanced, but it leaves it looking real with pores without requiring the photographer to use a brush and create masks.

Portrait Enhancer

Skylum had to get input from many professional portrait retouchers to see what it was they were specifically doing with the faces in portraits to train the AI to do the same thing.  There was a lot of trial and error involved in developing the AI to do a good job with Portrait Enhancer and end up with truly professional results. Similar to how a professional retoucher would use tools like liquify in Photoshop to make small adjustments people ask them to do, photographers will get the same result here without having to tell Luminar where the faces are in the photo.

Even better, Portrait Enhancer can be applied to multiple photos at once.  You can fine-tune the adjustment you want done in one photo and have it replicated to all of the places that face shows up in the rest of the photos from your shoot!

AI Sky Replacement

This is completely different from Sky Enhancement in Luminar 3.  Sky Enhancer in Luminar 3 used AI to make the sky in your photo look the very best it can.  AI Sky Replacement in Luminar 4 takes it to a whole new level. You can replace the sky with the sky in another photo and then change the light in the foreground to match that sky.  We have spent years working on the AI here so that photographers can achieve a natural result.

AI Sky Replacement in Luminar 4 automates luminosity masking techniques photographers may do manually to blend exposures between multiple photos.  There is more to the AI involved here, but the process is similar.

There are a few example skies included with AI Sky Replacementin Luminar 4 but photographers will be able to use photos of skies they have taken themselves as well if they follow a few guides.  The sky photo needs to have a flat and clear horizon. There can’t be wires or mountains or trees in the photo.

AI Structure

AI Structure in Luminar 4 takes the clarity or structure sliders photographers may have used in other tools to a whole new level.  Those sliders in other tools very quickly have an overcooked feel. Photographers usually can’t take those sliders up to the max without having the effect being completely unnatural.

The AI here analyzes all of the pixels in the scene and automatically understands where it is the structure needs to be enhanced and where it should not.  It focuses most on the details in the shadows to add local contrast without adding noise or halost. You can really use push the slider a long ways before the result doesn’t look natural.  A little like using luminosity masking to only apply the adjustments where it looks good and natural automatically.

Luminar 4 Pre-Order Deals and Skylum Coupon Code

The core value Skylum has with Luminar is to make their customers happy.  They really want photographers to have fun when they process their images. Skylum is so excited to bring Luminar 4 to the market because the feedback they have had is that it does a better job of having photographers be happy with what they can accomplish.

Luminar 4 will be released on November 18th 2019.  If you don’t own Luminar 3 already, two special pre-orders deals that end on November 18th for Luminar 4 just opened up:

  • Luminar 4 (regularly $89) + Inspirational Looks photo styles pack (regularly $49) for a total of $79 – saving $59.
  • Luminar 4 (regularly $89) + Inspirational Looks photo styles pack (regularly $49) + instant access to Luminar 3 (regularly $69) for a total of $99 – saving $108.

If you already own Luminar 3 then you can upgrade to Luminar 4 and get the Inspirational Looks photo styles pack for $69

You may also be interested in Skylum’s Aurora HDR application that makes exposure blending bracketed shots (landscape and real estate) super simple.  If you use coupon code “MASTER” you get $10 off over at



  1. I listened intently. You asked all the right questions. He was hard to follow/understand so I’m glad the transcript was supplied – I referred to it to answer some questions I had. Thank you!

    1. Author


      Thanks so much for listening. We always try to make the show notes help provide companion content so that the information is consumable in whatever format best helps photographers. Glad to hear it helped you out here.

  2. Thanks for another educational & informative podcast, sharing a product I wasn’t familiar with. However, this time I felt like the product was possibly sponsoring this episode or affiliated with MPP. Is that correct or are you just that enthusiastic about endorsing it?

    1. Author


      Thanks so much for listening. I guess I didn’t do a great job of making it clear. This was NOT a sponsored episode. Luminar is not a perfect product by any means but I really do love the AI filters in Luminar 3 and the inexpensive perpetual licensing model makes it an easy tool to have available when you need it.

  3. I just bought the Luminar package. Since I already own Luminar 3 I received a special upgrade price and the MASTER discount code didn’t give me an additional discount…

  4. It was so refreshing to hear about something other than Lightroom. Don’t know if I will ever buy Luminar but it was really useful to hear about the product. Hope you will do more episodes like this in the future.

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