The Easiest Way to Give Your Images a Fresh New Look

One area a lot of photographers can focus their quarantined free time is updating their portfolios. Unfortunately, taking new and fresh photos is probably not part of that process, but that doesn't mean you still can't find new images to add to your website or social media stream.

For many photographers, finding free time to update your work and revamp your marketing material can be a never-ending losing battle. While we are all trying to make lemonade out of lemons during this coronavirus situation, one thing that we do suddenly have an abundance of now is free time. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to dust off those never processed images and brush up on some new photo-editing techniques. 

Remember that awesome personal project you did four years ago and never got around to culling? How about that portrait session where you only published the single best image before you moved on to something else? Maybe you've taken dozens of headshots over the last couple of years but have never combined all those images into a lean and mean headshot portfolio. Now is the perfect time to go back through your catalog and revisit all those amazing, and well, not so amazing photoshoots you've neglected over the years. 

One of the things that eat away at my free time is editing photos. I'm pretty good at culling the crap from my shoots and leaving only the best images for consideration, but many times, I wind up throwing one image into Photoshop and working it to death only to realize that there are much better images sitting left untouched. This causes a negative feedback loop where I'm upset at myself for wasting all that time editing the image, which then causes me to just move on to the next project I have on my plate. Time and time again, I realize that my best work from some of my favorite photoshoots never actually gets properly edited and most of those images never see the light of day, let alone make it to my website. 

So, hear me out on this, because I know a lot of you may not have implemented this idea into your workflow. Over the last six months or so, I've been playing around in other pieces of software other than my typical Lightroom into Photoshop workflow. Most of these pieces of software work very much like Adobe's industry standards, but one of them breaks the mold more than any other. The piece of software is Skylum's Luminar software.

Luminar has been sort of a double-edged sword for me because, on the surface, it does struggle to do some of the more complex editing techniques I've learned how to master over the years in Photoshop. It can't do surgically precise skin dodging and burning, there is no way to do frequency separation, and layering multiple images and compositing say five images into one perfect image is also very difficult. However, what Luminar does do very well is allow me to automate my edits and quickly see what a single photo could look like as a final image without wasting a ton of time doing all my manual tricks in Photoshop. Over the last few months, I've noticed this to be a big time-saver, and in many cases, I'm skipping Photoshop entirely especially if I don't need a 100% perfect image for my portfolio or social media. If I have a client that needs perfect skin, I do still rely on Photoshop for those pristine pixel-peeping versions. 

As big of a fan as I am of Photoshop, I have to say, Luminar's AI sky replacement tool is by far the most exciting photography post-production tool I've probably ever seen. It works very, very well and saves me so much time. I've been changing skies in my photos here and there for over a decade, but when I met Mike Kelley and started producing his tutorial, "Where Art Meets Architecture," that's when I realized how important sky replacements are to so many architectural and real estate photographers. Mike has always told me how much a good sky can make or break an image, and when I started to think about it, I found that many of my favorite images were interesting but could be a lot more exciting with a perfectly masked in dramatic sky. Some of my favorite wedding images simply had a completely blown out sky, and I never even considered taking the time to add a sky to them at all. 

The best thing about Luminar is how easy it is to quickly adjust every aspect of an image without having to run a bunch of complicated actions or fine-tune a bunch of adjustment masks. Don't get me wrong, I still use those tools every single day, but I have found it a bit refreshing editing some of my images in Luminar, because it allows me to explore new post-production outcomes by breaking out the workflow I'm so ingrained in following. Normally, this would waste a lot of my time, but Luminar has made it so easy to quickly test and try rather radical effects like sun rays and fog that it opens me up a bit on the creative side. The best way I know how to explain it is if you are a guitarist and suddenly, you are handed a piano. It's a completely different instrument, but if you understand the concepts of music, playing with a new instrument can be incredibly rewarding and inspiring. I wish I had a similar analogy for sports but yeah, I'm not your sports guy. 

One of the newest features in Luminar 4.2 that was just released is called AI Augmented Sky. What this editing module does is use the same artificial intelligence algorithm that is built into the AI Sky Replacement tool, but instead of replacing the clouds, Augmented Sky lets you place other elements into your scene with near-perfect masking immediately. So let's say you have a beautiful landscape, but it's lacking some motion or wildlife: you can easily drop in a photo of birds to make it a little more interesting. If you are shooting an urban landscape, maybe you want to add some planes or helicopters. Perhaps you are a more abstract photographer and you want to combine textures or add a moon or planet to your scene. AI Augmented Sky can do that quickly without having to create a bunch of masks manually.

My fear is that this tool will become overused and photographers are going to add a bunch of ridiculous stuff to their images, but if you can show some restraint and utilize all the photography knowledge you already know like light direction, color theory, and perspective, I do think this will be a valuable tool for photographers looking to speed up their workflow and get quick results. 

At the end of the day, even if you aren't interested in learning a new piece of software like Skylum's Luminar, I hope that the underlying idea I'm proposing here rings true for you. Now is the time to reexamine your past work and maybe even some of your work currently published on your website, and see if you can find those hidden gems that never made it beyond your hard drive. Mess around with adding some backplates to an outside portrait, try enhancing some of your images with a sun flare or film burn here and there, maybe create a new headshot portfolio with a unique film look applied to every photo, or as I've done with these images of mine above, simply add a new sky to an image you might have passed off as not good enough. 

They say one of the best things you can do for your own work is to walk away from it for a day... or a year and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. For many of us around the world, the coronavirus quarantine gives us the perfect excuse to explore our work thus far and find those unreleased moments we completely overlooked initially. 

Exclusive Fstoppers Promotion

If you want to try this software for yourself, head over to Skylum's Luminar 4.2 website here. At the moment, they are offering some special deals on their own, but if you want to save even more, use the discount code "fstoppers" on the checkout page for an additional bonus. The nice thing about Luminar compared to other pieces of software is that it's a buy once and use forever payment model, so you aren't going to be paying hundreds of dollars every year just to keep your license active. If you are like me and rely on Adobe's software, Luminar comes with a plug-in for both Lightroom and Photoshop, which makes it easy to fit it into your own workflow easily without any major interruptions. 

Bonus deal: If you are interested in downloading over 200 license-free sky files, we are currently offering 30% off on Mike Kelley's Sky Library. This includes all the high-res raw files in a variety of different lighting and weather situations, but it also includes nine hours of instruction from Mike on how he manually replaces skies in Photoshop. It's not as easy as using Luminar's software, but if you want 100% control in some of the trickiest masking situations, these techniques are the best available. 

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9 Comments

Marc Wells's picture

I have been using Lumina, I love it, but recently, I feel using the sky replacement gives me a feeling of cheating, and now I don't use it. Today I was at a beach with my camera, it was cold but a beautiful day, the sky was flat, not a cloud, and I thought I just use Lumina shy replacement. It was at that very thought, the enthusiasm to shoot the waves battering groynes just left me feeling like I hadn't achieved what I set out to. It's too easy, I'd rather wait and get excited by an actual real sky, and to know that I captured it. We get some pretty awesome skies here, and when they appear I can't wait to get out there and shoot them.

Greg D's picture

I feel as photographers "and the people who view our work" get used to seeing images that are not based in reality, we are cutting our own throats, and diminishing our efforts. Until they become meaningless.
Simply adding and removing any elements you may like or not like, basically destroys all the efforts you put into your work in the first place.
Why not just cut, copy, and paste all you photos together from stock footage, you don`t even have to leave the house that way, or own a camera for that matter.
A great photograph is about the right place, and time. Captured by someone with enough skill and thought to capture a 1/500th of a second moment in history, a moment that will never be repeated.
That`s why we were all drawn to photography, its about the desire to capture the perfect moment in space and time, or tell a story. Sometimes its proper planning, others its just dumb luck.
Its not about simply copy and pasting some crap together for the masses.
Why not just start with the perfect sky photograph, then add all the other elements? when does it stop?
If we keep embracing artificial intelligence to fix poor photographs it will be the death of photography.
Just my 2 cents

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Every time I see yet another sky replacement tutorial, I think of Luminar and try to find « Sponsored » tag.

So, their PR/marketing department is really good. Now they are on top of my mind for « software made for sky replacement only ».

T Van's picture

You guys take all the time off you want.
I'm going through all my old projects and contacting clients to see if they'd like some fresh new looks from all the video and photos I have on file and I have boatloads of files from decades of shooting...
People are spending money...
Or you could keep doing random tutorials and working on your portfolio...

Patrick Hall's picture

You are finding companies with decent budgets in this environment? Every single big time professional is telling me all their jobs are completely placed on hold at the moment. There are a few licensing opportunities for coronavirus assets and news but most of the advertising jobs are frozen as well as the wedding and event jobs. Curious what your experience as been and where are you located?

T Van's picture

Work for a huge corporation at the local level. Yes certain clients are actually doing well and I think there are going to be a lot more after this Bailout Bill starts hitting businesses with millions of dollars in grants and loans. I'm not out shooting anything. Just reusing existing media, or for many it's all some sort of stock I've shot, or that they're provided for advertising. Like car dealerships.
I'm in the Southern part of the US. In a mid sized, but very well known destination to city.

T Van's picture

We actually had to turn down a shoot for a client. They found somebody else, one of our competitors shot it for them. Last week.

Gregory Mills's picture

I think photographers are going to have to start uploading their original unretouched raw file in addition to the finished image to proved that they are actually good photographers and are not just taking bad photos and fixing it in post. After awhile it will get to a point where we will see the same stock skies in every photo. This is going to be the new HDR where everyone pushes it too far and you see overly dramatic skies in every photo until people realize how unnatural it looks, they everyone collectively dials it back down and only uses it where appropriate.

Patrick Hall's picture

For commercial work and even weddings, I don't think the art buyer and client cares how you took it. This has been Lee and my view since we started Fstoppers. Sure, we are curious to know what the original file looked like but we are photographers. I don't think anyone paying for photography really cares what the original looked like as long as they know you are going to deliver the type of images you place in your portfolio.

That's not to say there isn't a place for absolutely real and authentic photography, there is for sure, but most people who pay you to make a living in this field do not care.