Macphun’s Luminar is a versatile beast. While a lot is made of processing landscapes and cityscapes, you find it also happens to be a very capable portrait editor. Follow along with this walkthrough to see how I use Luminar to edit a portrait.
Open your photo in Luminar. As you’ll be using more of a layer based workflow than presets for now, turn off the presets panel by clicking on the second last icon in the upper right of your screen. You’ll get more space and more of the image to work with this way.
For your first layer (as well as with further layers), you’ll need to click the Add Filter button to add controls. You can have as many filters as you like on one layer.
Image Tonal Balance
Your first step is to improve the overall tonal balance of your portrait. This one is a little dark, but at the same time, there’s no true black in the photo. If you look at the histogram, there’s a gap at the top (right side) where the wall could be whiter. There’s also a gap at the bottom (left side) where areas like the eye pupil could be darker.
The best filter in Luminar to fix this is Tone. You can select this from the filter list that appears after you click the Add Filter button. You can also just enter the name of a filter in the Search field to find it faster if you know the name of the filter you want.
Notes: As you get comfortable with Luminar’s filters, you’ll probably find yourself using several of the same ones frequently. To make them even easier to find, click on the “star” to the left of the filter name to designate them as “favorites”. Thereafter, choose the Favorites category at the top of the Add Filters panel for speedy access to your most-used filters.
For the dark part, you’ll drag Blacks slider down (left) to taste. For the brightness, you should use the Smart Tone slider. This really neat slider allows you to brighten the image while protecting highlights, or darken while protecting the shadows. This is better than Exposure, which will clip highlights and shadows.
The remaining sliders should be adjusted until you feel the photo looks good. You’ll see there’s a small change in Highlights and Shadows here, along with a tiny amount of Whites. The settings will, of course, be different for every image.
At any stage, you can check your progress by clicking on the eye icon to preview, or click the Before/After view to reveal a slidable Before/After preview.
I know you’re thinking that my subject’s skin is flawless, but in close, there is work to do. You may have more or less to do for your portrait, but the same principles apply. You find the Clone tool on the right panel in Luminar. Clicking it will render a new layer to edit. As this is a rendered layer, it effectively means you’re not working on a raw file anymore, but as you’ve got a good balance of tones to edit, this is fine. You may want to leave this step until later if this bothers you.
Once the render is complete you’ll be presented with the cloning screen, asking you to “Click to set the source” (as seen below). The source is the location you’re copying to fix the area you need to work on (which is the destination). To set a different source after this, hold down the Alt/Option button and click where you want the source.
Next, fix under the eyes by setting your source point to the cheek below. You can quickly change the brush size, using the square bracket keys [ and ]. For adjusting the brush softness (feather) hold the shift key with the square bracket keys. For certain areas, you don’t want to eliminate the destination completely (e.g. you still want some of the lines under the eyes to look natural) so drop the opacity a bit. 50% is a good place start if you’re not sure.
To completely wipe over an area, set your opacity to 100%. Set the brush size to just slightly larger than the blemish. Choose an area that matches both the texture and brightness of the area around the blemish as your source point.
An old retoucher’s trick is to set a low opacity (like 20%) and then brush over the image slowly, removing blemishes while sampling different areas. This can smooth out texture too much, so just take care while you do it. Click Apply when you’re done.
In the case of my example image, there are one or two areas still to fix, but I’ll clean this up at the end of the main retouch, before applying a final finish.
Next, you’ll need a new layer, as you’ll be masking off the filters you use on this layer. Masking allows you to hide areas you don’t want to be affected by the layer. Click the + sign in the Layers panel and choose Add New Adjustment Layer.
Choose Soft Glow from the Filters list for this layer. As you increase the Amount of glow, you’ll notice that it also increases the brightness of the portrait, so use the Brightness slider to reduce it. You can also increase Smoothness to taste. Portraits can also usually benefit from some added Warmth.
You only want the effect on the skin here, so right-click on the layer and choose the Mask>Invert Mask menu. On the top right of the screen, below the Hand tool, you’ll see the Brush tool. Click it. Turn on the Eye icon in the brush controls to see where you’re painting the mask. Just paint the skin and avoid areas of detail like the eyes, eyebrows, nostrils, and mouth.
You can paint at 100% opacity because you can decrease the overall layer opacity later if you need to.
Next, let’s retouch the eyes. Consider renaming layers as you work for ease (as you can see I’ve done below), but it’s not essential. Create a new Adjustment Layer and add the Details Enhancer filter. Boost each of the details sections to taste. I’ve expanded the filter section to make it more visible below (it’s not something you can do in the app).
Again, right-click on the layer and choose Mask>Invert Mask. Then use the Brush to paint in the iris only. If the effect is too strong, bring back the opacity of the layer in the Layers panel.
Dodge and Burn
While it’s not a preset or filter, you can easily dodge and burn in Luminar. You need to set them up as two adjustment layers and mask them off.
Burning (darken select areas)
For burning, create a new adjustment layer and add Curves as the filter. Grab the middle of the curve and pull it down a little to darken the image. Change the Blend Mode of that layer to Luminosity. This stops the curve from adding saturation as well as contrast. Don’t forget to name the layer so you know which one it is.
Next, you need to invert the mask as with other layers: Right-click on your Burn Layer and choose Mask> Invert Mask. The areas that you need to burn are the areas that are darker in the photo naturally or things you want to minimize. Burning helps things recede while dodging will bring them forward.
For faces, areas to burn are around the edge of the forehead, the area below the cheekbone, the neckline, the sides of the nose and the brow bone near the nose. Below shows the active mask with the areas I have burned. You want to paint with a low opacity brush (10% or so) and build up the effect. Keep turning the layer off and on to ensure you don’t overdo it. The effect should be subtle.
If you brush in the wrong area, just hold down the Alt/Option key to turn it into the eraser temporarily. You can click the hollow circle to select the eraser tool.
Dodging (lighten select areas)
Dodging is also a new adjustment layer with a Curves filter, go ahead and add that now. But, this time you raise the middle of the curve a little.
You can probably guess that you need to invert this mask as well! Great, you’re getting the hang of using Layers in Luminar. For dodging, you need to paint in the areas that you want to come forward. The forehead, above the cheekbone, the chin, and the front of the nose.
If you find the effect too subtle still, raise the curve a little more. The combined dodging and burning will give more contour and shape to the face. As the last bit, you can also dodge a small crescent shape into the bottom of the iris. For my image, I’m going to do a little more cleanup with the Clone tool.
Finishing the Look
For the final look, consider the elements of the photo and what can enhance it. This portrait is a little too saturated, so on a new adjustment layer add a Saturation/Vibrance filter and lower the Saturation to taste (I used -16 here).
Even though you set the Blacks right back at the beginning, fading this image would also look cool. To do this, add a Curves filter to the layer and raise the left point a little. Add a second point to restrict the effect to the darker parts of the photo.
The final thing you can do is add the Grain filter. A small Amount will give you a little texture to give a more organic feel to the shot.
Saving the Image
Saving the file from the File>Save menu saves a .lmnr file, which is a fully editable file, with all your layers intact. You can even save your history into this file.
To share the file with others, you have a few options. On the left of the top bar, you’ll see the standard share icon (a box with an upwards arrow). If you click it, you’ll get the available options. Export to Image will create a rendered image, while the icons available allow you to share to Email, Message, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Smugmug or 500px.
Selecting a service will bring up a dialog for that service.
If you choose Export to Image, you get the standard operating system browser dialog. You can choose from JPEG, GIF, JPEG2000, PNG, TIFF, PSD or PDF output. The other options change to reflect this. For web sharing, an sRGB JPEG is the best option.
So that’s been a look at a variety of the tools available in Luminar to aid with editing a portrait. You can download a free trial here and give it a go. Feel free to post your results in the comments.
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