(logo & image above copyright of Skylum Software)
Luminar Neo is photo editing software from Skylum software, founded and mostly based in Kyiv, Ukraine. It was announced last year, and I pre-ordered it in October 2021. Its initial release was made in early February 2022, I use it as a plugin to Lightroom and Photoshop, and this is a quick review – should you buy it – of version 1.02.
What is Luminar Neo
Luminar Neo is standalone photo editing software – a follow up to Luminar AI. It includes some Artificial Intelligence editing tools, as well as plugins for Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, so you can use it on its own or in your current workflow.
Luminar Neo is currently incomplete. Because of the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine, development of Neo has slowed considerably, at least for the foreseeable future. It was released with some features missing, such as background removal and replacement, but the developers maintain that their intention is to complete the features and fix bugs in the future. Updates are still happening as of today (15 March 2022), but are going to be slower than normal and may stop for a time in the near future.
This is completely understandable, and I support Skylum software and the people of Ukraine.
Luminar Neo has many AI features, which can be very effective. One of those is Relight AI, which you can use to re-light a photograph, as the name suggests. It allows you to control lighting in the foreground and background. This works well and quickly on a fast computer, automatically masking the subject and allowing you to guide the viewer’s eye to what you want them to look at first.
Portrait AI allows specific portrait adjustments to be made, such as background blurring, face relighting and skin retouching, all using algorithms with simple controls. There are additional controls to shape the face & body, and change lip colour, eye colour & shape etc. Those aren’t edits that I would ever make, but they may have some use cases.
I edited the image below, a (severe-looking!) selfie taken on Marcle Ridge in Herefordshire in mid-winter, using both Portrait AI & Relight AI. All edits were in Luminar Neo only.
Sky AI (sky replacement) is another fast and very effective tool. Out of the box it works better than Photoshop’s sky replacement tool, but with some caveats that I’ll mention later. You have great controls for the placement, brightness, temperature, and mask of the sky, and you can add your own custom skies. Below are a couple of examples. Again, all edits were in Luminar Neo.
Luminar Neo also has standard develop tools such as curves adjustments, contrast, etc. and they work very well. This isn’t a full review, so I’ll move on now, but know there are more tools available than I’ve mentioned.
Now to the problems with Luminar Neo. Firstly it’s unfinished. For the reasons I outlined at the start this may not improve quickly, and that’s ok. So considering the software as it is, what are some of the issues I have with it?
The catalogue feature, if you use it as standalone software, is better than nothing but simply not as feature rich or easy to use as Adobe Lightroom.
Masks are limited – it only recognises people for subject masking in Portrait AI, so not say, dogs or cats, and creating your own mask is rough in comparison to the fine-tuned masking you can do in Photoshop.
You can achieve all of the effects of Luminar Neo in Photoshop, sometimes it will take longer, but Neo just doesn’t have the depth of control and fine tuning that a professional will demand for daily use software. As an example, Sky replacement in Photoshop outputs as grouped layers with layer masks applied that allow you to further manipulate the changes if you need to, while the sky replacement Luminar Neo filter outputs as a complete layer in Photoshop.
When used as a filter in Photoshop you can’t re-edit the Luminar Neo settings, even if you convert for Smart Filters – you have to start your Neo edits from scratch.
Layers are very basic indeed, pretty much just placeholders for what I expect Skylum would like to do with layers, which places strict limits on what you can achieve with editing.
Final thoughts – should you buy Luminar Neo?
If you’re an amateur photographer, or want some software to edit your casual smartphone photos, then Luminar Neo is something you should really consider. Its ease of use takes much of the learning curve away and allows you to create good looking images quickly.
If you’re a professional, then Luminar Neo will not replace either Lightroom or Photoshop. However, you may find a use-case for it in your workflow. I’ve already found it valuable in speeding up some parts of my editing process within both Photoshop and Lightroom for some types of photographs – just make sure that you make the changes to a new stamped layer in Photoshop and be certain its what you want before you click Apply, because of the inability to return and adjust your changes. (If you’re using it as standalone software, you can return to re-edit images and layers in your Luminar Neo catalogue).
I also think that for more creative visual arts it will be a valuable tool for me to add to what I do in Photoshop.
Finally, and importantly, if you’re on the fence about buying Luminar Neo then consider that purchasing it can be another way you can help the people of Ukraine in their struggle for freedom.