Luminar Software – good for stock photography

I’m always on the lookout for pieces of software that do one of two things – help my workflow, or create new approaches to my images that will make them more interesting to buyers. I came across one in the past week (in fact it was hard to miss in the news) – Skylum’s Luminar image processing software. (Affiliate link) What attracted me to this in the first place was the excellent reviews it is getting for AI sky replacement. Skies are one of the key things that can make or break a travel photograph and if we are travelling around to different places every few days (as many travel stock photographers do), it is hard to be in the right position at the right time to get a perfect sky. Too often, it can be just pure blue with no clouds (pretty boring), or, in more northern climes, it can be grey and overcast. As I have said before, you are always in competition against great images taken in great light and so if you are in a beautiful place with grey skies, it is almost not worth even taking the photo!

Boring sky over new apartments under construction in Greenwich London
New apartments being built by the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, London

This image was a one-off chance – I was in the Emirates Air Line cable car over the Thames and saw this view out of the window. I thought it showed the big changes going on in London, and the sky is OK, but not great. Trying to work on just the sky with all those details overlapping with the clouds would be a massive task in Photoshop. But what if you could change the sky and make it more attractive? And do that in one click? That is the magic of Luminar:

New construction in London along the banks of the Thames in Greenwich
Dramatic image of the construction going on in Greenwich London with apartments along the Thames

But how well did it do? Here is a 100% crop of the top of some buildings. This shows how good the software is at deciding what is sky (and it also shows some errors it makes):

Detailed crop of the top of the buildings

Note how it has not replaced the small elements of the cranes and lines with sky – which undoubtedly would have happened if I had tried to do this manually in Photoshop. Also, the sky carefully follows the edges of the buildings. Now where does it go wrong? It has assumed that those white panels on the top of the left building are sky and has blended some lighter sky colors onto them. In this image, it doesn’t really matter and you could get away without changing it, but luckily you can mask various areas in the Luminar software and fix things like this (or go to Photoshop for a final “tidy-up” of the masking. The software also allows you to change the light conditions of the rest of the image to blend better with the sky. Perhaps this is better shown on this image from Alexandria in Virginia. Again, there were some nice colors in the sky, but even with an HDR approach they were still pretty feeble:

HDR image of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial tower in Alexandria near Washington DC
Alexandria, VA – 4 November 2019: Sunset at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial

This would have been maskable in Photoshop, although those trees would be tricky. How did Luminar manage it?

Alexandria, VA – 4 November 2019: Sunset at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial
Detail of the masking around the trees

Well, I would say that this was a pretty good mask!

I’ve also played about with some images that were just pretty poor to start with. This one against the sun in Devon, England:

Original raw file with no editing

With a bit of playing with in Lightroom and then a sky replacement, I got this:

Cows on hiking path on the Devon coast

Pretty dramatic change. Now this isn’t perfect. The software struggled with the difference between the sea and the sky (which is pretty blurry in the original), but that would not have been difficult to mask. I’m not saying this is a great image, but with some work, I could turn it into something even better.

Now what are the issues for stock photography – doing these changes to make fine art prints is one thing – selling them for stock is another. The first question is whether you have the rights to sell the image? The stock agencies usually insist that all elements in the picture are your own work and the skies here clearly aren’t. In the basic set of skies provided, there are 30 different images and you can flip them and obviously alter the white balance etc. The current Black Friday deal gives you a free pack of 25 more sunsets (plus a free eBook from Rocky Nook). I chose The Landscape Photographer’s guide to Photoshop, which is normally about $40.

The clear downside is that the agencies will start to get multiple shots that basically have the same sky and will probably cry foul at some point. I also wondered about changing a sky on an editorial photo (the London one), but we are not photo journalists and the image doesn’t really misrepresent anything about the buildings or the typical London skyline so I’m pretty sure that is OK.

The upside is that you can add your own skies. I have quite a collection of skies that I have taken over the years and I can obviously take new ones whenever a nice sky appears. Remember the key to blending is that the light direction has to look correct, so keeping different skies in your library with the sun coming from different angles will give you a great set of skies to blend into your own pictures.

I’ve only scratched the surface here – the program does all the normal image editing functions (with AI enhancements) plus a lot of experimental things that could make for interesting stock photos. This one is pretty much over the top, but shows some of the things you can do – it is nice how the sky was replaced inside the windows of the tower:

Over the top addition of sky plus sunrays to an image from Mount Vernon
Detail of the weathervane and roof windows at Mount Vernon near Washington DC

I’ll write more as I get used to the capabilities of the software, but I wanted to give you an opportunity to make use of their Black Friday sale if you are interested in trying it out. The link below is an affiliate one, and I will get a small payment if you use this to buy the software for $79 including those free gifts I mentioned.

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6 Responses

  1. traingeek says:

    I pre-ordered Luminar 4 and just installed it yesterday. I am looking forward to what it can do to my editing workflow for some images.

    I think a lot of stock photos already have some heavy image manipulation and are accepted… I don’t see a difference between serious Photoshop work and wholesale sky replacement, especially for non editorial photos. In the end the photo is to convey a message, and whether it is “real” or not is irrelevant, in my opinion.

  2. T.W. van Urk says:

    I wonder if I can use Luminar skies in my stockphotos ? I don’t want to get trouble with copyrights.
    So most save is to build an own skies-database. Fortunately we have beautiful skies in the Netherlands.

    • Steven Heap says:

      I am pretty sure that the App developers would include a complete license to use the sky images commercially, but the stock agencies have clear rules that all elements must be taken or created by the contributor and so using their skies would be against this rule. Not sure how/whether they would apply it, but the safest option is to create your own library of skies. As you say, not too difficult to do!

I'm always interested in what you think - please let me know!