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Luminar Neo – Going stratospheric or just more Skylum hot-air?

When I first bought into the Skylum world with Luminar2018 I was impressed. At last a really simple, efficient and productive tool for minimal outlay. At that time, other than Photoscape X Pro, it was my main photo editor and I did some really good work with it. Then came along Luminar 3, another really good version of Luminar with some useful updates and additions. Again, I used it pretty much for all of my editing and I was always pleased with the results. Things changed for me with the release of Luminar 4 as I felt that the addition of the Digital Asset Management system (DAM) really pulled down performance and certainly in my case, never really worked. Luminar 4 was also beset by crashes and performance issues which again for me, spoiled the enjoyment of using the software. At this point in time I decided to look at alternative software tools such as Capture One, On1 PhotoRAW etc. Although I updated Luminar 4 through into what is now the last edition, Luminar 4.3, I have never felt the same way about it as I did with those earlier releases. For this reason, when Luminar Ai was released I decided against it choosing instead to go with On1 PhotoRAW alongside Affinity Photo. This combination, especially being able to access the presets in On1 from Affinity was and still is a great solution.

And so to Luminar Neo. Now, I thought about this for some time before committing £35 GBP as an early bird buyer. One thing Skylum are good at is marketing and on paper, Luminar Neo looks the business. On the other hand, Luminar 4, for me at least, was such a disaster that I had said that I would never again invest in Skylum products. Well, time changes things and The Creative Camera now gives me the ability to take apart the tools I use and to share my thoughts, hopefully in a balanced way, to a growing audience. Besides, I spend more on coffee in a month that the purchase price of Luminar Neo!

LUMINAR NEO LAYOUT AND UI

At this point in time I only have access to the pre-release beta version so that needs to be made clear. I cannot talk about the final product user interface (UI) or how it will work in the longer term. Currently, it looks a lot like screen shots I have seen of Luminar Ai rather than Luminar 4.3 which I am much more used to using. The front screen is pretty sparce, just a catalog section, the main image you have selected from a particular catalog, a couple of text links to catalog and edit at the top and some thumbnail images along the bottom. You can add your own folder to the catalog as well as create albums – useful for grouping like images eg street, landscape, candid etc. The current clean look is actually quite pleasing and I suspect new users to Luminar Neo will find its minimalistic structure helpful. Nothing at all on this page to daze and confuse. Clicking on the Edit link above the large image takes you into the editing panel where you can start to create your masterpiece. Once in the main editing panel you have a strip of tools to help you fine tune your image, these iare grouped under Essential, Creative, Portrait and Professional. These tools are very similar to those found in Luminar 4 and I suspect, although I have never used it, Luminar Ai so will be comfortable to existing Luminar users. New users will likely feel equally at home as all of the tools are easy to understand and if not, a quick play around with the sliders makes their usage fairly clear.

Now in Luminar 4 when you modified a tool it retained those new settings plus there was a history setting that allowed you to wind-back your edit if it all went horribly wrong. Here though there is no history tool and to edit your sliders you need to go to EDITS (next to the TOOLS icon). I realise that this is a beta UI but rather than just being able to go back into a module to modify your edits, you now have to go into a seperate Edit panel to make changes. I personally don’t like that or see the necessity to do this but perhaps others will like it. As a new user of course you won’t know any different so it won’t matter to you. There is also no way currently to add layers. I understand layers will be available in the full release and I think that this is a necessity for any advanced RAW editor.

TOOLS AVAILABLE IN THE BETA

With regards to the TOOLS offered, these are pretty much standard and what you expect from any good photo editor. The ESSENTIAL tools allow you to develop your RAW or JPEG in any way you wish, add exposure, modify shadows and highlights, add contrast etc and much more. Below these are the CREATIVE tools which enable you to turn your image into something more moody, mysterious or dramatic. Below this we have some ultra simplistic Portrait tools which I hope will be enhanced in a future release plus a few PROFESSIONAL tools which enable more control of the image. Again these are few and far between at the moment but we’ll see where they take us. A SHARE TO icon exists at the top right of the screen to allow you to export your reworked image to a folder or to email although the latter doesn’t work on my version. The export to file works fine, although it is pretty slow, a persistent proble for Skylum it seems. Exporting the image above to a folder on my C drive (an SSD) took 9 seconds. Affinity Photo would do this in no more than a couple of seconds on the same PC. Nonetheless, it works perfectly well.

RELIGHT AI

One of the key tools offered by Skylum in Luminar Neo is RELIGHT Ai. This tool is designed to cleverly assess the current lighting and allow you to modify this to suit your subject or your needs. In the example below, I have taken a portrait provided as a sample within Luminar Neo and applied Relight Ai to it to change the background and foreground lighting. Does it work? Yes, it does. Can I do it in other ways on other software, yes I can but it is more fiddly than moving just a couple of sliders. The best exponent of relighting I have used in portraiture is PortraitPro Studio but this is an expensive option which for many will be overkill.

In the image below you can see the results of relighting on the sample portrait. Basically my aim was to drop the highlights in the background while applying some spot-lighting to the face to emphasise this in the final portrait. This can be done using just three sliders so is pretty easy to achieve. You do have to be careful when you have a soft outline such as hair as overdoing the adjustment can result in a hard line around the head. I backed off the brightness far slider to remove this artifact.

SKY REPLACEMENT AND SCENE RELIGHTING

With regards to the other big thing Luminar users want to do, changing the sky, Skylum remain the king of this technology for the moment. Nothing could be simpler with regards changing the sky, and indeed relighting the scene afterwards as can be seen here in the following example.

CONCLUSIONS

This was never meant to be an indepth overview of Lumina Neo. It is simply a quick look at what the state of play is today. Both the edits above are based on applying easy to use tools to the original images. I have to say that on these tools alone, the technology is very well done and I can see a lot of options for using Luminar in my workflow, if not as my main editor, certainly as a specialist tool for certain jobs.

As it stands, I am impressed with what I have seen today. The workflow I adopted is recognisable from Luminar 4. The software is stable with no gliches, no crashes and no stuttering with simple edits. Not once did it lockup during use. I feel that relighting is a powerful if limited tool and if Skylum can pull it off here, they will have a winner on their hands.

Sky replacement in Luminar is still one of the best on the market, way better than On1 PhotoRAW at this point in time. I know that products such as Adobe Lightroom have recently upped their game re sky replacement etc but for such a low cost, Luminar does a great job.

Of course I have to dive deeper into the various editing tools but since I have used these on Luminar 4 I feel comfortable with their usage and effects. I can’t yet see how to add an image layer, something Luminar Neo will need to be able to do, but it seems that currently at least, Edits is the layer equivelent in Luminar Neo.

IN SUMMARY

  • Very easy to use
  • Beta version offers a very simple but effective UI
  • Relight Ai works well albeit that you may need to make mask adjustement in some situations
  • Sky replacement is still one of the best around
  • If you add a second instance of a tool, for example, Colour, no masking is available in that isnatnce
  • Slow export functionality when compared with other applications
  • Great results for a very low cost

Take care

Remove A Colour Cast from Your Photos

Remove A Colour Cast from Your Photos

One of the most annoying things associated with photography is getting the white balance (WB) wrong, especially at night or under artificial lighting. While auto WB should help to overcome most lighting issues, it does pay to make sure that you use the right WB option available to you in camera for the situation you are filming in. But what about if you don’t make the adjustment there and then? Is it game over? Can you recover a scene that has a strong colour cast for example? Well, yes, in general you can and it’s all thanks to the power of the Curve tool together with a little help from our old friend WB. These two tools are found in practically every decent photo editor available today from Snapseed on your mobile phone through to Photoshop, Affinity Photo and Gimp.

What’s a Colour Cast

A colour cast is basically where the underlying colour tends to shift towards a particular tint. It’s most often seen in night shots where photos can adopt an orange tint or in the studio where the WB is not corrected for the types of light being used. While in some night shots a golden orange tint or glow can enhance a photo, it certainly doesn’t look good in studio photography or where age has spoiled a family heirloom. This article presents some ways for you to improve your photos where a colour cast is spoiling things.

EXAMPLE 1 FIXING THE COLOUR IN AN OLD IMAGE

Let’s start with an example on how to remove the colour cast in an old photo.

Copyright unknown. Image used purely for educational purposes

As can be clearly seen, this image has a very strong orange colour cast. It’s also not helped by the fact the predominent colours in the image are earthy tending towards browns, red and orange. Even so, bringing out the blues and dropping the reds and browns has to be a good start in making this image look more natural.

To recover this image I have used two techniques. The first is to identify an object in the photo that should be white and then to use this information to find other areas within the image that should also be moved towards white. Here the most obvious white colour is in the boys tee-shirt. In the first photo above this has a pinkish tinge especially around the neck. In this technique we create a rectanglular box, colour pick the pink tint from the teeshirt and apply it to the box. We then pull out the handles until the box completely covers the image. Setting the blend mode for that layer to Divide results in other areas of the image that should be white or close to white becoming white lifting the whole image towards more natural tones. Here’s the result of undertaking that process. Notice that the white tee-shirt now looks white while other tones within the image have improved. However, to my eye the photo still exhibits a strong bias towards earthy colours which might not be desirable deping on the intended use.

Copyright unknown. Image used purely for educational purposes

To improve this image still further, especially with regards the peol in the photo, we can additionally apply a curves adjustment to the image to remove much of the red and to better control the greens and blues. To do this we simply shift the RGB values in the image towards what they were more likely to have been. For example, jeans are typically blue so act as a guide here. The resulting image below shows just how powerful the curves feature can be in everyday editing.

Copyright unknown. Image used purely for educational purposes

And below is the final image with pretty much all of the colour cast removed. Applying a white balance correction could improve this image still further but as a demonstration of technique, it pretty much serves it’s purpose.

Final image with curves applied. Copyright unknown. Image used purely for educational purposes

EXAMPLE 2 PROBABLY THE QUICKEST FIX THERE IS

In this example we are going to use the very simple technique discussed above of applying a colour picked rectangle over the image and setting the blend mode to Divide. This only works if you can identify an area within your original image that should be white. Here, the jacket does have some white so I have carefully picked on this shade (see image 2) in order to colour the rectangle that covers the image. As you can see in image 3, this is a distinctive shade of cream rather then the white it should be. In the final image I have set the Blend Mode to Divide in order to neutralise all of the colours in the image bringing them quickly back to what they were on the day of shooting.

As the final picture of the series shows, this is a remarkably quick way to compensate for a colour cast in your images where you have a known area of what should be white. To work though your editor must include the Divide function within its Blend Mode options. On1 for example does not have this option so this is not a teqhnique that will work if you have On1. In such cases I recommend using curves and white balance modifications which I describe in more detail below.

EXAMPLE 3 RECOVERING FROM WHITE BALANCE ISSUES

Here’s another example. In the first of these photos the image again has a very strong orange colour cast. Here the colour cast is caused by an incorrect setting of the white balance in camera during a photo shoot. The second image shows how easily the image can be recovered using the simplest of work flows.

On the right hand side of the above image you can see the various layers applied to the photo. Firstly I duplicted the image, just is case I do something stupid which affects the integrity of the base image, then I used a Curve to modify the colours in the image. After this I used an Unsharp Mask to affect a little increased sharpness in the eys, hair and pearls and finally I took the opportunity to remove a few tiny flaws such as flyaway hairs etc in the overall portrait. An alternative strategy could have been to complete the basic work up to and including the Curves adjustments and then to take the image into say, On1 Effects Ai and or On1 Portrait Ai to apply some adjustments. To be honest, Affinity is excellent for portraiture so I’m not convinced there’s a huge lot of benefit of going into On1 to achieve a better resullt. I also have the option though of using Anthropics PortraitPro but again, here I didn’t feel the need to do this.

So, let’s now look at what the tone curve would need to look like in order to achieve the above result.

This is a pretty simple curve adjustment but of course, for each RGB channel ie Red, Green and Blue as well as the Master channel you can apply much more complex curves in order to achieve your required goal. As it is, these simple modifications work pretty well although as mentioned, I did also reduce the temperature in the white balance to add a little more blue.

So, that’s pretty much it really. In some cases, particulalry where the lighting is used to effect a particular artistic look it is much more difficult to return the image to a neutral colour pallet because this actually doens’t exist. It can also be difficult where orange, green or blue lighting is used to create an effect, for example on buildings at night. However, where your camera misunderstands the colours due to processing confusion as in the above example, it is really quick and easy to return it the neutral colours which actually existed.

This final image of Sarah, from the same set as those above, has been further processed to illustrate additional ways to enhance the basic image. As above, the original image was also colour tinted orange and has therefore undergone a similar transformation.

Model: Sarah Dowrick. Image copyright Dave Collerton

I very much hope this short introduction to colour correction using very basic tools available within any quality editing suite has been helpful.

Recolouring B&W photos using Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo is not for the faint-hearted but put your soul into learning and prefecting it and you’ve got the perfect editing partner for life. That’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing photo editors out there, many for free, just that it is a well supported, hugely capable product from a major author. Serif have left nothing to chance with Affinity Photo and with each release, it just gets better and better. Add to that a healthy, growing userbase with many users adding quality tutorials to YouTube and elsewhere and you’ve got the perfect, practically zero cost alternative to Adobe Photoshop.

Now, as I mentioned, Affinity Photo is not for the fainhearted but if you know Photoshop, you’re already more than half-way there. I bought my version of Affinity Photo back in 2019 and I used the pandemic lockdown to throw myself into it. That doesn’t make me an expert, far from it, but I have yet to find something that Affinity can’t do. Where it differs from Photoshop, other than in price and the lack of a yearly subscription, is in the number of people developing presets for it. Whatever you need to do, Photoshop probably has a preset to help you automate the task. That’s not to say that Affinity Photo doesn’t have similar features, just that currently at least there are fewer people building add-ons (Serif calls these Macros) for Affinity Photo. Now doubt as time goes on, that situation will change.

Before I go futher, this article is not meant to be a HOW TO for Affiity Photo. These are best created using video as you really need to see the process rather than read about it. All I am trying to do here is to introduce an interesting creative process which is to convert an old 1940’s post card sized photo into a colourful, period acurate image. Lets take a closer look at this particular image.

Home Guard, West London, 1940’s

The primary reason for doing it was because it contains an image of my grandfather Frank, who served in the home guard during WW2. Frank, for those interested, is bang in the centre, top row. This then is a labour of love and is still very much work in progress as far as I am concerned. So far I have completed perhaps 80% of the editing work with the concrete road and finishing refinements still to do. There’s no hurry on my part as there’s no client to wory about but had there of been, a job like this would take perhaps 4 – 6 hours depending on the level of detail required, historical accuracy and overall refinement needed.

Now, although I have said that I don’t intend to talk about the exact process of re-creating this image in colour, I do need to talk though the strategy and process as this is important in understanding how we can create a colour accurate image of wartime 1940’s. The only real way to do this then is to find relevent colour images from that period or failing this, find appropriate colour images from things such as renactments which utilise, for example, authentic uniforms from that same period. Same goes fo rthe buildings, roof and road colours. Given the lack of colour images of this type from that period, the latter approach then is much more feasible. For a start, in the 1940’s B&W was the predominant film stock used and while colour film existed, google searches don’t always deliver the necessary results. The other thing to remember, since we are going to gradient map the colours we find in more modern photos onto the B&W image above, the highlits and shadows in that image play an equal part in contributing to the reality of the final result. For this reason we not only need to find a colour accurate scene, we also need to find one with similar lighting and tonality conditions ie light and shade.

Having found relevent photos to use as a guide, we can now create swatches that will help us to recreate the colours, for example of the uniforms, on the B&W image. Here, you can see that the sampled colours from the above photos have been applied to the B&W image as reference colours. On Affinity Photo these are on a seperate top layer. From left to right we have uniform lows, mids and highs, in the centre facial colours again from lows, though mids to highs and on the right, the colours sampled from the door of the barracks, again lows, mids and highs. Amazingly, this is all we need to begin the fascinating process of recolouring the B&W image.

As previously mentioned, the process of applying the colours from the swatches is done using a Gradient Map. For example, in the case of the skin colours we simply sample the colours above setting the low on the gradient map (which is in red) to the darkest shade, the mid colour (green) to the mids and the lightest colour to the highligh (blue) colour. This is perhaps better explained by the reference image below which shows the default colours applied to the image. Here red depicts shadows, green depicts the mids and blue depicts the highlights in the original B&W image. Of course we aren’t just talking about 3 tones, you can add as many points on the gradient map as you like by simply sampling colours between low and high and adding them to the map.

This all being said, let’s take a look at where the image is right now as I write this article so I can talk more about the process and the refinements that I still need to make. In this image, I have applied four gradiant maps. One is applied to the uniforms, another to the skin tones, a third to the buildings and finally, a fourth to the roofs. Of these I am least happy with the ashphelt roofs and will revisit this shortly to lower the harshness of the blacks and to add some texture.

I chose to create this article to inspire others to have a go. We all have family photo treasures, many in B&W, and in my view, simply adding colour to a face immediately brings it to life. The last time I saw my grandfather was 40 years ago but looking at his face here, irrespective of the fact that the resolution of the image is terrible, it immediatly bought back wonderful memories of spending precious time with him when I was a boy. Master builder, mandolin player and a great father and grandfather, as is so often the case we don’t know how good things are until we lose them.

Affinity Photo is an amazing image editing tool. Serif offer a short trail period if you wish to give it a go. With special offers, Affinity Photo can be purchased for about £25 which is basically stealing. If you do decide to try it though, my suggestion is to persevere as if it was your only editing tool. You can’t pick up and put down Affinity as you can something like Luminar Ai or even Lightroom, it requires practice and patience. Put the effort though in and you’ll be rewarded by some some amazing editing tools on which to build real editing ability.