Macphun Luminar Review | You Don’t Want To Miss This One


Macphun has nailed it with their photo editing software. I started using Aurora HDR earlier this year then adopted Luminar later into my workflow and its made my life so much better.

I’ve spent years learning all the crazy tricks in Photoshop for Landscape photography, building actions, buying plugins, etc. Then Macphun comes around and simplifies all that complicated workflow with a couple of sliders and a handful of filters. Brilliant!


Order from Macphun – Luminar



For those that know nothing about Luminar, it basically works as a complimentary program to something like Lightroom. It doesn’t have a catalogue or anything like that, instead, it’s a single piece of software loaded powerful plugins or tools they call filters. These filters create powerful effects that give landscape, lifestyle, wedding, travel; you name it, photographers everything you could ever need.

Its interface looks like this.



There are some really nice built-in presets that work really well to get you started, shown there at the bottom of those sample images.



One thing that always hung me up with the online Photoshop tutorial community was the method for applying Radiance, or the Orton effect. There were three different ways I found to do this and they all give a similar look but also slightly different. Machphun has caught onto that and added two methods to the Orton effect, and a filter just for Radiance – problem solved, brilliant and insanely simple.

Plus, it all works with sliders – no more punching in some numbers, hitting apply, hope it looks the way you want, if not, undo then try again, like with Photoshop or other Photoshop action panels.

That’s all super cool and that’s only two filters mentioned so far. 

I obviously can’t go into every type of filter because there is more than what I need, plus it would take me days of writing to explain what they all do. But, what I will do is talk about the filters I use regularly and how I incorporate them into my workflow.



My Top 5 Favorite Luminar Filters


You ever catch yourself drooling? I just did the other day and I just busted out laughing because it’s always funny. This software will make you do that. 🙂

These are my top 5 favorite and most used filters that work for my style of photography – in no particular order.


Radiance / Orton Effect

I’ll bunch these both together because they are similar. 

Radiance sort of enhanced the colors while softening the harshness of the images. Orton effect sort of adds Radiance but still preserves sharpness. Almost like giving it a misty glow. It’s kind of more like using negative Clarity in Lightroom but with a lot more control.

This is great for Landscape photography. I don’t always use it on the whole image usually but on objects in the distance. Mainly, subject matter that isn’t the center of attention. Sometimes it’s also nice to use with a luminosity mask so it only gets applied to the shadows or highlights. Yep, this software has a luminosity mask.


Advanced Contrast

When I would edit photos in Photoshop I use to always break my image apart using luminosity masks to apply contrast and saturation separately to the shadows, highlights and midtones. Since, this is how light actually works in nature. Objects in shadow, should have less contrast and less saturation and Advance Contrast allows for these contrast adjustments to be applied to highlights, midtones and shadows independently, with an added option to balance the contrast as well so you can sort of shift around the effect within those tonal ranges.



There are two methods for applying fog – dark fog and light fog. 

This essentially lifts the blacks and lightens up the shadows – kind of fading the image. It nice because it takes the harshness off the darker sections and is also a very popular look with Landscape Instagrammers – if you care about that sort of thing.


Color Contrast

Color Contrast is handy when you have one of those shots with colors that just feel flat or weird. Color Contrast has a Hue slider that will shift around the colors of the image and then there is a contrast slider to boost just those areas.

It’s really important to not globally add saturation or vibrance to your image unless you know what you’re doing. I usually don’t touch saturation or vibrancy and instead rely on contrast to enhance particular colors. When I do adjust contrast globally, I usually end up turning the saturation and vibrancy down. 

The last thing you want is an image that looks over-saturated, and the way to get around this is to only enhance the saturation of targeted colors. That’s why Color Contrast is very nice filter.


Detail Enhancer

Detail Enhancer is kind of like an advanced sharpening tool focusing on the Small, Medium and Large details. It’s sort of like using the High Pass sharpening technique in Photoshop but on steroids.

If you’ve ever seen those super crisp landscape or HDR photos and wonder how they did it, this will get the job done.

Within this filter there is a Highlight Protection slider as well as a Masking slider to preserve areas where you don’t need detail, like clouds. Or to only apply the effect just to the edges with the Masking slider.

The few different techniques I used in Photoshop to sharpen my images were; find edges with the unsharp mask filter, find edges with the High Pass Filter, or more recently I would usually just use the High Pass Filter and either brush it into areas where I wanted more detail, or I would use a luminosity mask to keep it out of the highlights.

But that wasn’t all I was doing, I would often use a few different layers of the High Pass filter with different apply methods at different values. It got messy; the Detail Enhancer just makes this a lot easier.


Other Filters I Keep In My Favorites

There are a few other filters I’ve put in my favorites. I don’t use them as often but do use them occasionally when the image calls for it.

Foliage Enhancer, Golden Hour, Micro Structure, Structure, Polarizing Filter, Soft Glow and the Soft Focus filter.


There are other very important filters found within this software, but I use this software with Adobe Lightroom and I usually apply what I can in Lightroom before sending my shots over to Luminar. Also, since Luminar bakes the applied image, (btw you can save you work), I’ll save some simple adjustments for after I’ve worked with Luminar, like grain, sharpness, and vignetting. That way I can quickly re-adjust those settings depending on if I print the shot or if it’s just for web.


Macphun Luminar Review and Sample Images



Luminar Shortcomings

While Luminar can do a lot of really nice stuff, it still won’t be a complete replacement for Photoshop for some of the most advanced users. So for you guys and gals, you’ll still need to use both.

This is getting pretty knit picky, but I want share my opinion so this software can continue to evolve in the hopes that one day I won’t have to use Photoshop for landscape and hdr photography. That’s my dream anyway. I say this only because Macphun has an eco-system of software that is so close to being all you’ll ever need.

Here are a few features I wish were improved.


Luminosity Masks – The good news is, there is a Luminosity mask. It works almost exactly the same as using “Apply Image” on a layer mask on Photoshop. The bad news is, that’s it. You can’t stack it multiple times like you can in Photoshop, which would increase its intensity, and there are no adjustments to the Luminosity masks like in Aurora HDR.

If they just brought over the luminosity masks from Aurora HDR that would be perfect.

For me personally, I like to use luminosity masks to keep effects out of the shadows or highlights. It’s nice to use on filters like the Orton Effect, Soft Focus, Photo Filter to add that extra glow to sunsets and it’s even nice to use on some of the sharpness filters, although a lot those have masks built-in.

This one is fairly important for a lot of landscape photographers.


Transform Tool – Currently this tool allows you to adjust the height and width of the image. That’s it. If you’ve shot some building and want to adjust the tilt, or want to line up a landscape shot by warping some of the image to be more inline with the golden ratio, you can’t. 


No Solid Color Brush – If you want to add a colored glow to your sunset or enhance some colors, you’re stuck using the Photo Filter, which always has some sort of layer effect applied to it and you can’t pure color or white, or black.

This isn’t a bad way of going about it, it kind of works the same as painting on color in Lightroom but with a few more options (except Lightroom has that nifty ‘auto mask’ feature). Most of the time you can just use the Photo Filter with a Radial Mask then apply a Blend Mode like Screen or something.

But, when I paint on color, I often times will paint solid color, then adjust opacity and apply a luminosity masks to keep it out of the shadows. This creates a really cool effect that’s hard to get any other way. You can see what I’m talking about in this shot and this shot. You can see how I used color and light to completely drown out detail.

For myself and most landscape and hdr photographers (which is really the same thing these days), using Photo Filter + Radial or Brush masks + Blending Modes works fine.



Macphun Luminar Review | Bottom Line

Glacier in Glacier Bay Alaska. Shot with the Sony A7rII and the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II.


Bottom line – is Luminar worth it?

It really is.

I mentioned in my AuroraHDR review that it’s more than just HDR software because of its incredibly powerful toolset, with amazing detail extraction and tonemapping capabilities. Well, Luminar has even more tools and even more power and they compliment each other very well. 

If you’re a landscape and travel photographer looking to maximize your results, you really need both. Then you can ditch Photoshop for all but the most serious photo reconstructive surgeries.

But anyway, I say all this and it seems like I’m affiliated with Machpun, well I am. But, I’ll tell you that a lot of companies approach me asking me to review their software or become and affiliate and I usually turn them down or ignore them unless they have something great. I care a lot about this blog and photography and would never recommend anything I don’t believe in.

This software has changed the way I work and is now a very important part of my workflow. There really isn’t anything else out there like it, except maybe the old Color Efex Pro that was bought by Google years back and is no longer maintained. So today Luminar is really your best option.


Luminar + AuroraHDR 2018


Final Thoughts

When I first started using AuroraHDR, I knew Macphun was onto something really special but was still never really interested in picking up Luminar, mainly because Photoshop was working fine for me. It wasn’t until I sat down with some of the developers for some coffee and they gave me a walk-through. So glad they did, because it’s really awesome. 

The thing I think that always turned me off initially was the marketing of Luminar was geared more towards the beginner photographer where they push their Accent – AI filters. A filter that has an interesting algorithms that automatically examine your image and apply the best tonal and color values. It’s cool and works well, but was never for me. I guess their strategy is to get the photographers like myself to publish their interpretation of the program.

So here I am, telling you this program is more just beginner AI color correction. It’s a legitimate professional tool that should not be overlooked even by the most high-end professionals. 



If you like my travel and landscape photography then all you really need for similar results are AuroraHDR, Luminar and Lightroom, all together that’s less than the price of a crappy lens, but you’ll be getting so much more than what a crappy lens can offer you.


Order from Macphun – Luminar

You can use the code GRIFFIN to get 10% off as well.


Luminar Review | Sample Photos

Most of the photos seen in this review are either from Glacier Bay or Denali Alaska. Shot with either the Fujifilm XT2 or the Sony A7rII.


  • dutchmm
    October 17, 2017, 5:45 am  Reply

    Thanks! V interesting, as I am in the process of (sadly) giving up on Corel’s Aftershot Pro 3, and Luminar is one of the two hitherto Mac-only offerings I am considering. Your photos fill me with a mixture of envy and wanderlust.

  • Tony Wooderson
    October 17, 2017, 12:48 pm  Reply

    Hi – I’ve been using Luminar for about 12 months. Love it but still getting to grip with what does what filter-wise. Just bookmarked your Top 5 Favourites

  • jkk1943
    October 17, 2017, 1:09 pm  Reply

    I have been using Luminar for a year as an extension to Apple Photos. Used Aperture for six years until Apple stopped supporting it. Only problem with Luminar is that it is only a plug in, not a free standing program with its own library. A year ago Luminar was promising to create a free standing program but they apparently have abandoned this goal to pursue expanding their business to cover PC users.

  • thehealthyeatingsite
    October 17, 2017, 9:34 pm  Reply

    I use Luminar as a standalone app. It can be used also as a Plugin to Apple Photos, as I believe most of the MacPhun family can, but you can use it standalone also. Have you tried just launching it, outside of Apple Photos?

  • thehealthyeatingsite
    October 17, 2017, 9:36 pm  Reply

    Thanks Alik! Great review, I enjoy seeing what your favorite filters are. Beautiful photos!

  • October 17, 2017, 10:58 pm  Reply

    Thank you, I’ll be posting some more soon.

  • October 17, 2017, 11:04 pm  Reply

    Luminar can be used as a standalone program. Just put the application down in your dock and you can drag and drop clips right onto it from your Finder. It even works with RAW files from just about every camera (except GoPro). You’ll still need Lightroom if you want a sophisticated catalogue.

  • October 17, 2017, 11:09 pm  Reply

    I’m still getting to grips with all those filters too. 🙂 It takes awhile to figure out the best way to use each filter. Whenever I get new software like this I always tend to overdo it, then over the months/years I start dialing back and gaining more control. It’s super fun though getting the instant feedback from those sliders. I’ve been playing around more with the Luminosity mask to only apply the effects in the highlights or shadows. Pretty cool stuff.

  • October 17, 2017, 11:10 pm  Reply

    Thanks Dutchmm! It’s very fun software. Doing post processing is usually my least favorite part about photography (except shooting in extreme cold conditions) and Luminar and Aurora HDR has taken a lot of that pain away. 🙂

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