How To Photograph Real Estate and Vacation Rentals

Luminar 4 Is Coming Soon: Here Is Fstoppers' Advance Review

There has been much talk about the upcoming version of Luminar 4 from Skylum software. I've tested an early beta release and found the new features, particularly sky replacement, rather incredible. Others will be more interested in the new AI Portrait tools, to which I also gave some attention. The bottom line is that Luminar 4 goes beyond any manual method of sky replacement for speed and accuracy. The portrait tools also work more quickly and easily than any software I've seen, including apps dedicated to portrait retouching. 

What You Get

Luminar 4 is a natural evolution from Luminar 3, which is the current version. We began to see some AI features in version 3, like an Accent AI filter and AI sky enhancement, but Luminar 4 goes much further. Skylum's goal with Luminar 4 was to completely change the way photographers approach photo editing, offering several tools utilizing extensive machine-learning and a new streamlined interface to make photo editing more accessible than ever before. 

In Luminar 4, even the language has changed a bit. Filters are now called “tools,” making for a simpler understanding of the software. These have now been organized into six tabs for their intended purpose, making it easy for users to locate and understand what they do. In older versions, filters popped up over your image. Now they have their place to the right of the screen.

Major Parts of the GUI

Tools: Basic tools to work with, including crop, transform, and erase.
Essentials: Everything necessary for basic color and tone correction.
Creative: Photo-processing tools that allow photographers to take their photos beyond basic editing, including AI Sky Replacement.
Portrait: Tools oriented for processing portraits, including AI Skin Enhancer and Portrait Enhancer.
Pro: Sophisticated tools for professional photo processing. That includes gradient tools, split toning, dodge and burn, and advanced contrast and color controls.

Sky Replacement

Sky replacement is the headline feature of Luminar 4. It takes what is now a tedious process of replacing skies with masks and makes it at minimum one click, at maximum, an adjustment of a slider to more fully render the mask. Most of the time, in my experience, one click will do the trick. Using Photoshop, ON1, or even a dedicated sky replacement app like Landscape Pro can be a very time-consuming experience. I think this is the sky replacement technology people dream about, and some people will buy the app for this feature alone. It comes with a small collection of skies for you to use, but even better, it lets you select from your own collection. The sky replacement feature doesn't do everything. While it can cast an appropriate color cast of the sky on your landscape, it can't reflect your new sky in bodies of water. There are ways you can accomplish that effect, but it's not one click. Landscape Pro has water reflections as a feature, and it is incredibly useful, but you have to manually define where the water is. At any rate, here's a quick sky replacement I did in Luminar 4 with an image I had taken at Sedona, Arizona.

AI Portrait Tool

This is two tools really that unfold into a great deal more. First is a Skin Enhancer. Open your portrait, then adjust the slider to smooth skin and reduce blemishes. The Portrait Enhancer holds a lot of power, including whitening teeth, brightening eyes, adjusting lips, face slimming, red eye removal, and eye circle remover. Unlike many portrait applications, you didn't have to define the parts of the face to work on; the AI just figures it out.

Here's a before, followed by the after:

Other Features

Most of what's left are the already good features that came from previous versions of Luminar. There is an AI Structure tool I have found useful and a new Landscape Enhance feature I found less useful. The main thing to note is the redesign of the GUI is a success and very logical, but previous users of Luminar will need a little bit to get adjusted to it. At first glance, it seems like a lot of things have been taken away, but in fact, the organization is different. You can still paint on effects in localized areas, and many of the tools have an enhanced tab that gives you even more control. For example, in the AI Sky Replacement tool, there is a handy checkbox to flip the sky, so you can more realistically line up shadows with your replaced sky.

Further Thoughts

There will always be a debate about photographers being automated or "AI'ed" out of existence. I don't think that is really the the case here. Luminar 4 can make some really dreary tasks immensely faster. That allows me time to be more productive or to spend more time on other aspects of tuning my image instead of worrying about getting my masks right. Other than AI Sky Replacement and the AI Portrait tools, there are not what I would deem breakthrough tools in this release. But the AI tools all work well. AI Sky Enhancement, for example, will improve your existing sky if you don't want to replace it. Most photographers will combine multiple tools in any image, and the end result is almost always going to be greater than the sum of the tools used individually.  

One surprising thing I noticed with Luminar 4 was that I could do my entire workflow with landscape photos without ever having to go to Lightroom or Photoshop. I could start with a raw image, adjust the lighting and shadows, highlights, and curves just as I would in the Adobe universe, Lightroom in particular. Sky replacement isn't available from the Adobe Suite, nor are there are automated tools for portraits. At the end of my session, after sharpening and some dust spot removal, I could export to a 16 bit TIFF, and all was right with the world.

Personally, I would not abandon Adobe just yet. I do use their lens correction tools and a few other things that aren't available in Luminar, but Luminar 4 is very close to having a complete workflow for some photographers. 

If you use Luminar 4 as a standalone application, you are stuck with the Luminar Library feature. There's no way to turn it off, and while Luminar is trying to offer a full featured Library/Archive product, they really are not competitive. They aren't the only software company that has tried to compete on this front and fallen short. I'm hoping there will be a Luminar 4 Flex, similar to the current Luminar Flex, which gives you all the Luminar tools, but skips the Library. 

On the other hand, you can use Luminar 4 as a Photoshop or Lightroom Classic plug-in and not worry about the library, but then you're back to the Adobe universe again. 

Almost every raw file I gave to Luminar 4 was greatly improved. Yes, some of the same improvement could be made with Lightroom or Photoshop, but not all.

Summing Up

Luminar 4 is a breakthrough tool because of its clever use of AI that brings real results that are still under the photographers control. The one-click sky replacement is absolutely stunning. We can debate sky replacement aesthetically, and people do intellectually and morally. I think it has a place in fine art photography, but it should be used sparingly and with your own skies, and Luminar 4 lets you use your personal sky library. This will be really popular with real estate photographers, who are often not on a location with the best weather.

Skylum provided me with the Golden Master version of Luminar 4. I found it slower than I'd like on my MacBook Pro and my Mac Pro, but I'm told that between now and the November 18 public release, it will speed up. I'm using the Mac version under Catalina. I've heard the Windows version is also slower than desired as well. 

I found Luminar 4 to be a big step forward for Luminar, and I expect it's going to be a major hit with photographers at all levels of experience. It won't replace the Adobe suite yet, but Luminar 4 can do some things Photoshop and Lightroom can't do, nor can any third party plug ins. For many, that makes it a must-buy.

What I Like

  • Amazing AI abilities for sky replacement and portrait editing. Breathtaking, really.
  • Redesigned GUI is fast to use and well organized.
  • Works as a plug-in for Adobe products, as well as Apple Photos and the late, lamented Aperture.
  • Layers and brushes all work well, along with things I use in Lightroom like clarity and dehaze.

Things I Don't Like

  • If you don't use the Library, and I don't, it just gets in the way.
  • No water reflections in AI Sky Replacement.
  • A lens correction library would be really useful.
  • This pre-release version is pretty slow to respond to commands.

Mixed-computer households can share the same product key for Mac and PC, which can be activated on two devices.

Pre-orders include a bonus one-year plan to SmugMug (worth $180) and cost $79//€79/£72 for a new purchase and $69/€69/£64 for an upgrade. When released on November 18, the price will jump to $89/€89/£81 new and $69/€69/£64 for an upgrade.  

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Peter Stewart's picture

Is that header image of the house an example of Luminar 4's sky replacement? Even at this lower resolution there seem to be some very noticeable masking issues.
Either way, looking forward to testing out the new release, I'm just very skeptical how well the effect holds up at closer scrutiny, as all the sample before/afters I've seen so far are lower resolution for the web.

Mel Martin's picture

Hi Peter.
Thanks for the comment/question. The Sky Replacement control has a 'gaps' slider that can adjust the mask perfectly. I did all my images in the article quickly as a new user would. The Sky Replacement isn't always perfect.. I've had a couple of troublesome (out of hundreds of tried) but it is the best solution I've seen for sky replacement to date.


Peter Stewart's picture

Thanks Mel.

Header image aside, still very excited to see what this new version is capable of. More new tools at our disposal should always be welcomed!

Deleted Account's picture

Thanks for taking the time to write something about it. Good little read with my coffee. Beats being preached to with some convoluted self promotion video.

This software seems to get balance of love and hate every time it pops up on any of the 'news' sites. Personally I'm curious and will give the plugin version a go, just for shits'n'giggles. Looks like some features might be useful accompaniments for my workflow.

Dave Morris's picture

That "balance of love and hate" comes merely from the obvious fact that Luminar is not newsworthy. It's just bad. You can see how bad it is even from the lo-res samples with your naked eye. But it gets press coverage simply because someone is choosing to spend their investors' money this way and keep robbing us of our time.

Deleted Account's picture

You really seem to have suffered some trauma caused by this software. :D

Angela Andrieux's picture

Hi Dave - If you've had trouble with Luminar, please reach out to our support team at and we'll be glad to help you resolve any issues.

Jake Diaz's picture

I bet you are the type that gets invited a lot to parties.

Dave Morris's picture

I've never seen a real person using Luminar. Apart from the ambassadors, who must have been paid generously for the irreversible damage to their brain, visual taste and common sense which this software causes.

Anthony CHAPITEAU's picture

I guess you know brain damage well, since you shot yourself in the head

Jake Diaz's picture

Skylum Luminar is a fantastic product. The software needs time for people to win their trust. I don't understand your negativity for more options.

Riley McArdle's picture

I'm glad you bring up the lack of a standalone version without libraries. I use Luminar Flex for just this reason. The library feature just gets in my way and the library version doesn't let you save your adjustments to a .lmnr file. Without that feature, your adjustments are stuck in the library instead of being able to be stored and backed up next to your original photos.

I'm also glad you bring up performance.

Hopefully reviews like yours that bring up these issues will get Skylum to listen since they don't seem to be listening to their users.

Alex Tsepko's picture

To Mel Martin Thanks for the review. It’s always a pleasant surprise to discover your stories about Skylum. All comments are noted and sent to the product team.
To Peter Stewart, Deleted User, Riley McArdle I’m happy to give you an in-person demo of that feature via Skype or Google Hangouts. Ping me if you’re interested at
To Dave Morris I’d like to learn more about your experience with Luminar and fix the issues. Of course, if you’re open to have a dialogue. Email me at or let me know how to connect with you.

Alex (CEO Skylum)

Riley McArdle's picture

Does Luminar 4 standalone let you save your adjustments to a .lmnr file? If not, I'll have to stick with Luminar Flex which I use standalone, not as a plugin, and still has this feature.

Alex Tsepko's picture

Of course

Riley McArdle's picture

I wouldn't say "of course" because Luminar 3 standalone didn't let you save .lmnr files and when I asked support about it they said it wasn't planned. I'm glad Luminar 4 does have it though.

Alex Tsepko's picture

Luminar 3 saves them inside the library. But you’ll be able to use Luminar 4 as a stand-alone editor as well.

Riley McArdle's picture

You said "of course" but, I just downloaded the Luminar 4 trial and, as I suspected, there is no way to save a .lmnr file. I need to be able to save each of my single image edits to a single file outside of a catalog. I don't understand why this feature was removed. I guess I'll be sticking with Luminar Flex.

Rajan Dutta's picture

Hi Alex,

I've been provided a Golden Master Version of Luminar 4 to test out and write a review for. So far so good, it has it's glitches which I'm sure would be sorted out in the final release but one thing that keeps on bugging me and I haven't had an answer from anywhere is that at this point in time the software allows for only Jpegs as skies.

Now that it won't allow for atleast 16 bit tiffs is something that is a bit baffling. I hope it does so in the final release because the sky resolution would never match the foreground resolution especially with high megapixel cameras and when we want to print. I made a few images and decided to print a couple. It wasn't as evident on the monitor and certainly not on social media but as soon as the prints came out the abnormalities were pretty glaring.

Hope the final release does allow for tiff skies to be implemented.

Wishing you all the best.

( I did pre-order the version before I wanted a beta to be able to show to my workshop participants for them to be able to make a decision on a purchase. I'm glad to be a part of the beta testers but as of now I'm holding back the reviews till the glitches are sorted)

Jake Diaz's picture

I love how much time I save and how easy it is to use Luminar 4. The results exceeded my expectations. I love a software that works exactly as advertise. I use it for my portrait photography.

Gerd Moors's picture

Does anyone have experience editing action/sport images in Luminar?

Riley McArdle's picture

I use it for skateboarding photos.

Randy Henderson's picture

Shoot kids playing baseball. Most images require straightening. One thing I like about Luminar 3 is it's very easy. Rather than drawing a line to set the horizon repeatedly until you're happy, Luminal lets you grab the side of the image and pull up and down and level the image against the grid overly in real time. One thing I don't like about Luminar is spot removal is very slow. Opening an image in edit mode is slow as well. Hope L4 has improved. Been buying their products since they were called Macphun and continuously disappointed. I'll wait to try a trial version this time and forego any pre-sale savings.

James Pearce's picture

While the editing tools are very fun and powerful, I was hoping that they'd focus on a usable DAM with Luminar 3 rather than expecting an upgrade again so soon. It doesn't sound like they've managed to make one in 4 either.
I was sold on the promise of a Lightroom replacement when I bought Luminar 3 but it's incredibly slow with 16MP MFT files. I just ended up buying ON1 to manage my photos and Flex to edit them when needed. The AI tools do work well.

Alex Tsepko's picture

Hi James. I’d love to learn more about your photo editing experience. What is the best way to connect? Alex, CEO of Skylum.

dred lew's picture

The forums have tons of feedback about things that are not working, things that will not be fixed for L3 and are questionable that they are fixed for L4.

Kevin Harding's picture

I've found Luminar to be OTT when it comes to the far far too sensitive sliders, 0-100 in 3 secs Ferrari-like when what I really want is 0-100 in 20 secs so I can make minute changes easily (rather than having to type them in every time). It seems like they want every shot to be HDR (legacy of Aurora perhaps) ?

Ditto using clone tools where often the changes lag way behind and are often not truly accurate of the area selected.

I've switched to ON1 for most work (but their clone tools are even worse) as their masking tools are truly excellent and it's far easier to get more 'natural' looking processed shots. I go back to Luminar for the fine details.

I wish Luminar would bother fixing the issues of the previous iteration before rushing onto something new every year in an effort to get us to part with even more of our money. And where is a comprehensive Export module inc. the ability to add logos and signatures instead of the convoluted workaround ? Basics being ignored in favour of headline making new features that are likely also half baked. ON1's Export Module whilst not yet perfect is getting very close.

Kevin Harding's picture

I've found Luminar to be OTT when it comes to the far far too sensitive sliders, 0-100 in 3 secs Ferrari-like when what I really want is 0-100 in 20 secs so I can make minute changes easily (rather than having to type them in every time). Only 0-10 are of any value whilst 11 - 100 on the sliders would create horrendous images. It seems like they want every shot to be HDR (legacy of Aurora perhaps) ?

Ditto using clone tools where often the changes lag way behind and are often not truly accurate of the area selected.

I've switched to ON1 for most work (but their clone tools are even worse) as their masking tools are truly excellent and it's far easier to get more 'natural' looking processed shots. I go back to Luminar for the fine details.

I wish Luminar would bother fixing the issues of the previous iteration before rushing onto something new every year in an effort to get us to part with even more of our money. And where is a comprehensive Export module inc. the ability to add logos and signatures instead of the convoluted workaround ? Basics being ignored in favour of headline making new features that are likely also half baked. ON1's Export Module whilst not yet perfect is getting very close.

Fristen Lasten's picture

That last image appears to be from the Land of Two Suns.

Sean Cloutier's picture

I was using Corel then Adobe. I started using Luminar and I am hooked. The one thing that I like the most is the GUI. Everything just seems to be where I need it. The whole flow seems so much smoother.

federico chieli's picture

I have been using Luminar 3 or Flex as a plugin. When I tried to use Luminar as a standalone and replace Lightroom I encountered way too many problems.
A large catalog (100,000 images) would make Luminar pause for 10 minutes before being able to access anything.
Also there was no way to export a subset of images/edits as a catalog. This is the only way to breakup an existing catalog in smaller catalogs.
Has Luminar 4 fixed these issues?
I love using it as a plugin.

Angela Andrieux's picture

Hi Federico - The library in Luminar 4 is essentially the same as Luminar 3, but we do have updates planned for the library in early 2020. You can find more info on what we have planned at

Jacob Livshits's picture

I find luminar 4 to be insanely slow. It's not a tool intended to really replace lightroom as it chokes on large folders (300+ a7r3 raw files). I can see SOME use as a plugin for lightroom/ps, but as a replacement for LR? no way.
I'm running a very recent i7, 64 gb ram and quadro card, but still the response time and browsing is damn slow.

Randy Henderson's picture

Exactly why I didn't go for the pre-sale savings. L3 is so sluggish, was hoping L4 would improve. Sounds like they focused more on the gimmicks than the performance. Too bad.

Jake Diaz's picture

Slow? Is saving me a lot of time from having to edit everything manually. The AI needs time to make calculations. If you are doing it from a laptop or an old computer then is going to be slow. I rather get good results than rushed AI.

r1ch m's picture

Using it as a standalone product, I don't think it is ready for prime time. If you make any dramatic adjustments it brings out any chromatic aberration in the images that cannot be fixed using the tools within the software. I noticed this on some images, then searched online to see if anyone else was having the problem. Sure enough, and support acknowledge it and say it won't be fixed anytime soon, no ETA. It seemed too good to be true and it is. I wonder if they will fix it in version 5 then charge more money. If that is the case, I will no longer be upgrading this software. I do not hate this product (like I do Adobe who want a hand in your pocket every month), it was my wish to have a Lightroom replacement and I wanted it to be a good solution. I am just very disappointed with the results after seeing all the "hype" online. Another 100 bucks down the drain along with the hopes of fulfilling the promises the product made. I thought I did enough research to avoid wasting money. I did used other software to correct the aberration but since Luminar only works with Lightroom when I tried to export it as a 16 bit tiff in the other software,and then import it into Luminar loses much of its abilities for adjustment. Again, another huge oversite that no one tells you about. Instead of all the AI stuff, how about just allowing it to make adjustments without CA? Is that really too much to ask? Did this problem exist in previous versions... I wonder. Maybe everyone is using it with Lightroom so no one every mentioned this issue so it has never been addressed.