The Luminar user interface

Is Luminar the Ultimate Lightroom Plugin for Landscape Photographers?

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MacPhun launched Luminar, its newest photo processing app, in November. MacPhun have made big promises for this program, and many of you are probably wondering whether it would be a worthy addition to your current workflow, and if it could ultimately replace Lightroom or Photoshop.

I’ve been using Luminar for a week or so now, with the aim of answering these questions. Before we continue it’s important to note that Luminar is a powerful application, and that in this article I’m relaying nothing more than my first impressions. I’m not a Luminar expert, and there’s a lot of things it can do that I haven’t discovered yet. The potential of this program, as we will see, is enormous.

The short version: if you’re a landscape, architecture or travel photographer (and you’re a Mac user) you will love Luminar. Read on for the detail.

If you’re a Windows user, Luminar for Windows is coming next year.

Is Luminar a replacement for Lightroom?

Not yet it isn’t. Luminar is very much a work in progress. At the moment it has no library or Catalog system, and doesn’t offer an alternative to Lightroom’s Library module for organizing images.

A library/Catalog is one of several features MacPhun is bringing to Luminar in future updates. Other currently missing features to come are batch processing, lens corrections, manual chromatic aberration removal, perspective correction and defringe.

Lightroom has all of these.

Luminar for developing photos

Luminar is much more fully featured when it comes to processing photos. There’s no doubt it currently lack tools most photographers find essential (batch processing, perspective correction etc.). But it more than makes up for it with its additional features. Here are some:

  • Luminar has layers and blend modes.
  • Luminar has more masking options than Lightroom.
  • Luminar has more tools for adjusting clarity, structure and enhancing detail.
  • Luminar has a built-in polarizing filter that works very effectively.
  • Luminar lets you apply an Orton Effect, adjust color contrast and do bi-color toning.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what all of these terms mean, all you really need to know is that Luminar is powerful.

Layers in the Luminar user interface

Luminar supports layers and blending modes (marked above), features that make it closer to Photoshop than Lightroom.

The polarizing filter in Luminar

The polarizing filter is remarkably effective. But it does smear detail if you make it too strong.

Tonal adjustments in Luminar

One reservation that I have about Luminar is that it doesn’t work as well as Lightroom for basic tonal adjustments. There is no live histogram update – when you adjust a slider, the histogram doesn’t change until you release it. That makes it difficult to be precise with Whites and Blacks sliders.

Other (minor) reservations

Raw processing is possible when you use Luminar as a stand alone program, but as already noted it lacks some essential tools – including being able to select one of your camera’s color profiles.

When you move a slider the image updates in real time, but you can only see a lo-res, pixelated version that updates properly once you release the slider. That makes it hard to judge the effect of what you’re doing, especially when using sliders that enhance details and texture. It slows down even further as you add layers and masks.

Admittedly, I did test Luminar on an older MacBook Pro and it should run much faster on a new machine. But I run Lightroom on the same laptop and Lightroom is faster.

Lightroom’s Develop Presets are quite a bit more sophisticated and flexible than Luminar’s presets, especially from the point of view of building a preset system to make processing faster and simpler. If you have a preset based Lightroom workflow, then Luminar will struggle to replace it.

Bear in mind this is the first version of Luminar and that these are the sort of things that may be improved in future updates.

Is Luminar a replacement for Photoshop?

If you use Photoshop for high-end retouching and digital compositing techniques then probably not. But I may be wrong – this is not my area of expertise and I haven’t got that far with Luminar yet.

If you’re into HDR then Luminar can’t do that either. You need MacPhun’s Aurora HDR.

Likewise MacPhun’s Tonality Pro (or another plugin like Silver Efex Pro 2 or Topaz B&W Effects 2) are better suited for black and white photographers.

But when it comes to other digital effects Luminar is surprisingly powerful. I’ve only touched on what it can do in the photos that I show you in this article.

The vast number of tools contained in Luminar, combined with layers, blending modes and the ability to apply each tool as a local adjustment means that it could easily take months to learn how to get the best from it. Someone who takes the trouble to do so will be rewarded with a very substantial tool set.

Presets in Luminar plugin

Luminar’s presets make it quick and easy to apply effects that would take you much longer to achieve in Photoshop. All presets are fully adjustable and customizable.

Luminar as a Lightroom plugin

Which brings me to how I see Luminar fitting into the Lightroom workflow.

I see Luminar as an advanced plugin that does the things that Lightroom’s Develop module can’t.

At the moment it’s easier to apply Lens Corrections and make basic tonal and color adjustments in Lightroom. You can carry out the initial work in Lightroom, then export the photo to Luminar when you want to take advantage of its unique tools.

Luminar is easier to use than Photoshop, and will appeal to photographers using Lightroom 6 (the standalone version of Lightroom) who don’t have access to Photoshop.

The only disadvantage that Luminar has as a Lightroom plugin is workflow related – you can’t export a Raw file from Lightroom to Luminar (even though Luminar can process Raw files).

Instead, what happens is that Lightroom creates a 16 bit TIFF file to send to Luminar (this is standard behavior with all plugins). TIFF files are large and take up a lot of hard drive space, but don’t forget you can convert them to JPEG once you have finished to save space.

Photo of autumn leaves on boardwalk processed in Lightroom

Photo processed in Lightroom.

Photo of autumn leaves on boardwalk processed in Luminar with Orton Effect

Luminar is the plugin you use when you want to do things to your photos that are not possible in Lightroom. This photo is a good example. I exported it to Luminar and applied an Orton Effect, giving the softer image you see above.

How long will Luminar take to learn to use?

Luminar’s layout and workflow differ greatly from Lightroom and Photoshop and takes some getting used to. Expect a learning curve if you come straight from those programs. It will be a lot easier if you already use other MacPhun apps.

Luminar uses some different terminology than Lightroom and Photoshop, and that takes a little getting used to.

In Luminar, each post-processing tool is called a filter. If you think of a filter as an Instagram type effect that you apply to a photo then you will need to recalibrate your vocabulary.

Filters in Luminar user interface

Luminar has over 35 filters that take the place of the right-hand panels in Lightroom’s Develop module. Each filter is accompanied by a description and a photo describing what it does.

One of the things I like about Luminar is the way it handles workspaces.

Luminar has over 35 filters (which you can think of as the equivalent of the right-hand panels in Lightroom’s Develop module). You can’t display all 35 filters on the screen at the same time, there are just too many. So Luminar lets you select which filters you want to work with. This selection is called a workspace.

For example, it is likely you would use different sets of filters for processing landscapes and portraits. Luminar lets you create one workspace for landscapes, another for portraits, and switch between them as often as you want.

You can use and modify Luminar’s built-in workspaces (shown below), or create and save your own.

Luminar built-in workspaces

Who will use Luminar?

How much use you get out of Luminar depends on what subject matter you tend to shoot.

The first time I used Luminar I tried to process portraits with it. I wasn’t impressed with the workflow or the results. Even allowing for my inexperience with Luminar I still can’t see a good reason why you would leave Lightroom to process a portrait in Luminar.

But then I moved on to processing landscape photos and the story changed entirely. Luminar has numerous filters that seem to have been created with landscape, architectural and travel photography in mind.

The strength of Luminar is that it takes you places that you won’t expect. You can experiment with the filters and do things to your photos that you can only dream of in Lightroom and would probably never figure out in Photoshop.

That’s why I say Luminar is the ideal plugin for landscape photographers.

For example, here’s a photo I processed a few weeks ago in Lightroom.

Landscape photo of Sheepstor, Dartmoor, processed in Lightroom

Here’s what I created in Luminar. The subtle soft focus, muted colors and enhanced detail are impossible to replicate in Lightroom. Luminar enabled me to do that quickly and easily without going into Photoshop.

Landscape photo of Sheepstor, Dartmoor, processed in Luminar

The only thing I would say about processing landscape photos with Luminar is that it’s easy to get carried away and create the type of over-saturated, over sharpened type of images that give HDR a bad name. You have to remember that you have total control over the strength of the presets and filters and to apply them with a subtle touch.


Luminar is a powerful program that shows plenty of promise. My feeling is that its strongest appeal will be to Lightroom users looking for a plugin to use as an alternative to Photoshop. Landscape, architectural and travel photographers will love it – and yes, it could be the ultimate plugin for landscape photographers.

The power of Luminar could make it a game changer for Adobe. I like Adobe’s Creative Photography Plan and the benefits it brings over and above Lightroom, especially Photoshop and Lightroom mobile.

But now there’s a powerful case for buying the standalone version of Lightroom, and using Luminar in place of Photoshop.

It will also be interesting to see what future updates bring. A year from now Luminar could be a viable Lightroom replacement that has more processing power and costs less to buy. There will almost certainly be a Windows version available as well.

Considering all that it’s capable of doing, Luminar is very reasonably priced. At the moment it costs $US59 if you’re in the United States, or £44 if you’re in the UK (check the Luminar website for the price in your local currency).

Luminar is well supported with an online instruction manual, and lots of video tutorials that explain how Luminar’s various features work.

If you like the sound of Luminar then go ahead, download the trial and give it a try (please don’t forget that the bonuses will only be available for another week or so).

Do you have any questions about Luminar? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!

Note: MacPhun kindly provided me with a copy of Luminar to review. As always, the views in this article are my own and I only write about products that I am happy to recommend to my readers.

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About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, publisher, traveler, workshop leader and photographer based in the UK. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.


  1. I bought Luminar and tried it. I ended up returning it and after a bit of a go-round with MacPhun I got a refund.

    My machine’s a 2011 iMac with a quad-core i7, 12G of RAM, and an upgraded SSD Fusion Drive.

    Luminar was so slow it was unusable. Compared to PhotoNinja which would open a RAW file from my D750 or XE-2 in about 11 seconds, Luminar was taking well over a minute to do the same job and its raw rendering was *horrible* in comparison. They’ve fixed some of the raw rendering problems, but the speed is still so slow as to be unusable on my machine. It might get faster if you threw really serious hardware at it, but the fact that it is so slow in comparison to other programs is a dead giveaway that there’s some serious performance problems in the engine itself.

    Affinity Photo, on the other hand works amazingly well and very quickly.

    1. Author

      Hi Al, sorry to hear about your experience with Luminar, although it doesn’t mirror mine. It doesn’t take over a minute to open a Raw file on my aging laptop, so I don’t know what went wrong in your situation. At the moment though I wouldn’t recommend Luminar for working with Raw files because it doesn’t have a library or Catalog system (that’s coming next year). It works best as a plugin and it does that brilliantly.

  2. My friend runs it on his Mac and loves it. I am looking forward to the Windows version as a plugin to Lightroom or stand alone…

  3. Hey Guys,
    It is now official!
    Luminar and Aurora HDR will soon be available on Windows.

    Moreover, the public beta of Luminar for PC will be available in July – we’d love for you to give Luminar a test drive and help us make it as outstanding as it can possibly be.

    Stay in the know:

  4. I use Luminar and like it with one huge reservation: there are no selection tools. None. Masks have to be created with a brush. This is a ridiculous and tedious limitation.

  5. I purchased Luminar for windows and also Aurora and believe the HDR from Aurora is superior to the same raw photos from Lightroom but I am taking them back to luminar or lightroom to process them . However I am using it on 2 different computers with differing results One has a SSD drive and is reasonably fast but the other is an ordinary hard drive but supposedly faster processor but I am having trouble with the speed of using both programs on this computer. I think I am achieving better results at the moment using Luminar as a plugin to lightroom but as you say you can do more in Luminar with some functions you would have previously had to do in photoshop. I will wait and see what future improvements bring as this is only the first version for windows and some items on the Mac version will not be included until later in the year. I am impressed with the tutorials available.

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