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PortraitPro Studio 21 – A comparison with Luminar Neo Relight Ai

PortraitPro Studio 21 – A comparison with Luminar Neo Relight Ai

In Part 1 of this two part examination of Luminar Neo I looked at how Relight Ai handled a typical portrait taken under difficult lighting. This second part looks at how PortraitPro Studio 21 handles the exact same job. No attempt has been made to enhance the portrait in either software, firstly because the beta version of Luminar Neo I have access to has no significant portrait capabilities and secondly because I really only wanted to look at how easy it is in both software solutions to effect large global changes to the overall lighting of the portrait.

For this comparison I used exactly the same start point, the image of my friend Chris as shown in Part 1. Since I had chosen to use the jpeg version of this image in Luminar Neo I again I started with the jpeg in PortraitPro Studio 21. Nomally I would recommend starting with the RAW file when editing but the importance here of where we end up is less of interest than the journey itself so the jpeg works equally as well. Here is what the UI of PortraitPro Studio 21 looks like. It is somewhat different to that in Luminar Neo, somewhat busier and focused on the face but that is not surprising as PortraitPro Studio 21 is really designed o do a different job.

The User Interface for PortraitPro Studio 21

In Luminar Neo, see Part 1 for much more detail on exactly what was done, the relighting of the portrait is handled by Relight Ai. I also used two other tools to affect the Mood and the Colour. In PortraitPro Studio 21 I used just two tools these being Skin Lighting & Colouring which affects the relighting of the face and the Layers tool to modify the background. Being software designed specifically for portrait work PortraitPro Studio 21 has many additional tools that I could have used. However, this would not provide a fair comparison so I used only those stated above.

Looking at the background first, PortraitPro Studio 21 provides the ability to seperate the foreground image (the face) from the background. This process creates an editable mask which can be fine tuned to give better results. In general terms, seperating the background from the foreground is a one click process as here

Seperating the foreground from the background

As can be seen, the background is now really well seperated from the foreground including the areas that Relight Ai had problems with. Once the background is isolated, it is a simple job to change whatever parameters you feel will provide the end result you are looking for, In this case I used just brightness and exposure but I could have used blur, contrast and even a tone curve to make the changes I wanted. The result of this work is shown below.

The final step required is to relight the face and this is done using the Skin Lighting & Colouring tool. As with all the tools in PortraitPro Studio 21 there are a lot of options but for this edit I only wanted to apply light to the right hand side of the face as we look at the photo so as to provide more even tone agross the face as whole. Here’s the final image associated with the edits discussed presented so that we can compare it to the results from Luminar Neo. Since the edits are done in different packages there is some difference in the overall colours and tones but the comparison is really to allow you to see what each application has achieved. There is no doubt that with additional work both could be improved greatly but as a tart point, they hopefully allow some useful comparison.

Luminar Neo Relight on the left, PortraitPro Studio 21 on the right


PortraitPro Studio 21 is probably one of the better portrait editing tools on the market today. However, it is not perfect and with the image used here, it suffered similar problems with dealing with the hairline of the subject. My feeling when using both applications is that Luminar Neo was much easier to use, gave good results and produced a noticably better image that what I started with. PortraitPro Studio 21 on the other hand, certainly with respect to portraiture, presented me with a huge number of options which, had I wanted to go down this route, would have allowed me to perfect the portrait way beyond what Luminar Neo, certainly at this point in time, could achieve.

Of course the $64,000 question must be “Is the PortraitPro Studio 21 image noticably better than that created by Luminar Neo Relight Ai?” I think that despite my respect for PortraitPro Studio the answer for me is just a “maybe” when considering like for like as in this case. I know that’s a cop-out but there are reasons. Luminar Neo was really easy to use, created a good start point for further work and ultimately delivered what I wanted quickly and with relative ease. While Relight Ai never managed to balance the light as effectively as PortraitPro Studio 21, there is a marked shine on the forehead because of the strong light coming from the left as we look at the image, it did a pretty good job overall. Had I spent a lot more time on this project I feel sure I could have perfected it. Besides, Relight Ai also works on landscapes and on objects so it is more of a generalised tool than PortraitPro Studio 21 which leans unashamadely towards portraiture. On the other hand, PortraitPro Studio 21 definately handles relighting of the image far better although that shouldn’t be surprising given the range of tools available for portrait manipulation. The image from Portrait Pro Studio 21 is therefore much flatter and a marked improvement on the original. Of course, had I used more of the tools at my disposal in PortraitPro Studio 21 I am pretty sure there would have been even more improvement over the original. However, that was not the purpose here as what I wanted to do was to show that both applications are capable of producing excellent results in portraiture which can be improved by additional work.

Luminar Neo at this point in time, albeit crippled by Skylum who have removed lots of the key functionality is without doubt capable of doing really good work even as provided ie beta. It’s intuitive, capable and feels a lot more like the versions I loved in the early days ie Luminar 2018 and Luminar 3. Where it ultimately ends up is down to Skylum but they appear to be on the right track.


Luminar Neo Relight Ai (Beta Version)

  • Very easy to use
  • Lots of control over the final image
  • Lacks portrait focused tools at the moment
  • Relight Ai only provides basic relighting capabilities
  • Some mask work is likely to be required
  • Great results for minimal effort and cost

PortraitPro Studio 21

  • Comprehensive and therefore confusing UI
  • So many tools I don’t know where to start
  • Can be used to do as little or as much as you want
  • Extensive tools for working on the backround
  • Extensive tools for working on the foreground image
  • Very powerful relighting capabilities
  • Amazing results but it is (relatively) expensive and it does require more effort and experience to get the best from it

Luminar Neo – A closer look at Relight Ai


My post yesterday focused mainly on providing my first thoughts about Luminar Neo with respect to the very much cut down beta software available to early adopters. In this version the two stand out features of Luminar Neo are Relight Ai and Sky Replacement although the latter has been a key feature of Luminar since version three.

In this 2-part review, Part 2 I will look at how PortraitPro Studio tackles the same job, I want to take a closer look at Relight Ai as this feature will be of significant interest to portrait photographers. Relight Ai is designed to allow the editor to effect changes to the background and forground lighting as well as how the light depth changes the image. Skylum suggest that using this technology you will be able to completely relight your image so as to affect stylistic as well as cosmetic changes to the image. This is no mean task and to pull this off in any meaningful way, Relight Ai woud need some significant understanding of the characteristics of light, it’s direction and intensity. Does it work? Read on!

In my normal work as a photographer I would tend towards tools such as PortraitPro Studio for portrait work. Laterly though, products like On1 PhotoRAW have included some useful if limited portraiture tools which reduce the need to take every image into PortraitPro Studio. This is made somewhat more difficult in the case of Luminar Neo though as the version I have does not include any useful portraiture tools so you are left only with the basic tools available in this particular release. If and when Skylum update the software to include these tools I will return to look at how these might help or hinder portrait development. Even so, this is an excellent opportunity to see if Skylum are heading in the right direction with Luminar Neo.

The image I have chosen to work with is one that I “snapped” a few weeks back of frind Chris Welford at an informal gathering that we attended. I have decided to process this in two ways. Firstly to use Luminar Neo, with what is currently available in the beta version and to compare this to an image modified using PortraitPro Studio. This is probably a little unfair but I think you might be suprised by the results.

The way Luminar Neo works with Relight Ai is a little unusual as the mask, as I found out, does not cover say just the face as in the case of other software applications, for example On1 PhotoRAW, but the whole of the image. I’m a little unsure then how Neo applies different effects to the image when the mask is uniform across the whole image but it does. This initially resulted in a little head scratching as my first attempts at creating a differential lighting scenario hardened the hairline making it look totally unrealistic. What I found out was that in order to “soften” the effect where needed it was necessary to erase the mask in these two problematic areas. You can see the affect of these changes to the mask in the before and after image below. This is not an easy task given the delicasy of the hair in this area but the results improve with patience.

Once I was reasonably happy with the edit to the hairline all that remained was to modify the image with regards it’s colour pallette which I did using the Mood tool. Mood is basically a LUT selector which gives you the opportunity to modify the colour and tonality in your image using either your own LUTs, LUTs purchased from Skylum or a 3rd party supplier. As it was I elected to use one of the provided LUTs. BEWARE though, for some reason this version of Luminar Neo doesn’t keep a record of the LUT applied so good luck trying to remember which one you used! Hopefully this will be sorted out in future releases. Finally, I took some of the vibrance out of the image to provide for more natural skin tones and added an Accent which helped balance the background and foreground. The results of this work can be see in the image below.

Final image after applying Relight, an included LUT and some basic colour and accent adjustments


Firstly, let me say that the software I am using is an beta release for early adopters and as such, the software may by now be more advanced and complete. Please bear this in mind when reading my conclusions.

Relight Ai is a tool promoted as allowing you complete control over how your image can look if you apply variable lighting to your scene after capture. In part, this is a pretty accurate statement – it can, especially for the sample images provided. However, it can’t do it in all and in cases as shown here, it did need some help with mask adjustments. Now as soon as you have to start working with masks, any software can achieve the same ends. I could do this job in Affinity Photo, Darktable, On1 PhotoRAW 2022 or even in my old copy of Luminar 4. Don’t get me wrong, in many situations and for many photographers I think Relight Ai is going to be a Godsend. However, if you seek perfection in your final images then good is often not good enough and you are going to have to do some work on the mask.

Things I liked about Neo in terms of this task was the reletive ease of applying basic relighting to the scene. That worked really well. I liked the fact that you had control over the depth of light adjustment although this seems to basically mean right to left rather than front to back. I need to research this more. I also like the easy way you can adjust the mask, which you are very likely going to have to do. For the image above I really did need to zoom in to hair strand level in order to achieve my goal of making the transition look as realistic as possible. I also liked the basic tools provided in this release. The work above was done using just three tools, Relight Ai, Mood and Colour plus a slight adjustment to the Accents in the image. Another problem is that Neo, once I had started to look at other tools seemed to forget the edits I had made in Relight Ai. For example, when I went back in to change the colour of the sunglasses back towards the green hue in the original using a mask adjustement in Colour, Neo lost the editing around the hairline. I hope that these issues are associated with the beta software rather than a trait that will carry on through to the final release.

Am I happy with the final result? Yes, I am although I could have perhaps pushed the foreground lighting on the face a little more having looked at the end result. Even so, it’s changed a decent image into a better one from my perspective so I have to be happy with that.

A big thanks to Chris Welford for allowing me to use the image for this article.