Skylum Luminar 3 was an excellent tool for infrared photography. Here are the reasons why Luminar 4 is no longer recommended.

Edit November 2019: Skylum has released Luminar 4, and unfortunately there are major changes affecting the ability to work with Infrared pictures. A big thanks to reader Dave who made me aware of the changes.

1) Skylum has removed the Channel Mixer from the available tools. Confirmation can be found in this Skylum community post. This completely breaks the IR workflow.

2) It is no longer possible to create custom workspaces. So you need to switch from panel to panel in order to use the tools you need for IR photography, instead of being able to group them into a single area.

3) Pricing: While Luminar 3 included licenses for 5 installations, Luminar 4 includes only 2 installations. So effectively, Skylum has increased the price for Luminar 4 by 150%.

In summary, with all the changes made in Luminar 4, at this point I can no longer recommend Luminar 4 for Infrared Photography.

If you still own Luminar 3, the article below is perfectly valid and I encourage you to read on. Just save yourself the money for the upgrade.

In this article, I would like to share my experience using Luminar for Infrared photography. If you are a returning visitor, you may have read about my desire to replace Adobe Lightroom with a different product.

Until now, I have not decided on a general replacement for Lightroom. But I have found Skylum Luminar to be a very capable and flexible tool for my infrared photography. It is not perfect, but Luminar addresses both of the two main issues you experience when you work with infrared pictures.

Currently, I am testing three alternatives to Lightroom: Phase One Capture One Pro, ON1 Photo RAW, and Skylum Luminar. As of June 2019, Luminar is the only one that offers a fully integrated workflow for infrared pictures. Keep reading for the details.

No White Balance restrictions

In Lightroom, it is usually not possible to adjust the White Balance of Infrared pictures to get rid of the red/purple color cast. The same is true for Photo RAW, which is even more restrictive than Lightroom: the lowest possible value for white balance in Photo RAW is 2400°K (in Lightroom it is 2000°K). Capture One allows more flexibility when setting the white balance, the low limit is at 800°K.

With Luminar, such restrictions do not exist. If you set the White Balance correctly in-camera, Luminar will produce accurate results. I have prepared three example pictures to demonstrate this. For each example, you will see the in-camera result compared with what Luminar, Capture One, Photo RAW and Lightroom produce.

For the in-camera result, I am using the JPEG itself or the JPEG preview embedded in the RAW file. I have used ExifTool to extract the JPEG previews from the RAW files. The Luminar, Capture One, Photo RAW and Lightroom pictures are screen captures from a color calibrated monitor. The pictures were taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1, converted to Full Spectrum. The camera was set to sRGB mode.

Example 1: 610nm (Super Color) Infrared filter, JPEG file

This picture was taken as a JPEG with a custom white balance (CWB) reading from green foliage. While this is not the recommended CWB approach for this filter, we will use the example anyway.

Example Picture 1
Example 1: Out-of-camera JPEG
Example Picture 1 in Luminar
Example 1: JPEG Picture in Luminar (no import required)
Example Picture 1 after Capture One import
Example 1: JPEG Picture in Capture One, after import
Example Picture 1 in Photo RAW
Example 1: JPEG Picture in Photo RAW (no import required)
Example Picture 1 after Lightroom Import
Example 1: JPEG Picture in Lightroom, after import

As expected, we do not see any significant differences between the pictures, because the original file is a JPEG. For JPEGs, obviously none of the software packages does a re-calculation of the White Balance. The only differences we can see are in contrast, with Luminar and Capture One being closest to the original.

Example 2: 610nm (Super Color) Infrared filter, RAW file

In this example, the picture was taken as a RAW file with a CWB reading from a grey card, which is the recommended approach for this filter.

Example Picture 2
Example 2: Embedded RAW preview
Example Picture 2 in Luminar
Example 2: RAW picture in Luminar (no import required)

Luminar renders the picture nearly like the in-camera version, just a little bit cooler.

Example Picture 2 after Capture One import
Example 2: RAW picture in Capture One, after import

Capture One renders the picture visibly cooler than the original, but this can be corrected using the white balance slider.

Example Picture 2 in Photo RAW
Example 2: Picture in Photo RAW (no import required)

Photo RAW is completely off, because of its limited white balance range. The white balance slider is at its 2.400 K limit, you cannot correct the color cast in Photo RAW.

Example Picture 2 in Lightroom, after Import
Example 2: RAW picture in Lightroom, after import

Lightroom shows a red cast, again because of its limited white balance range. The white balance slider is at its 2.000 K limit, you will have to create a camera profile to set the correct white balance.

Example 3: 850nm (B&W) Infrared filter, RAW file

In the final example, the picture was taken as a RAW file with a CWB reading from green foliage, which is the recommended approach.

Example Picture 3
Example 3: Embedded RAW preview
Example Picture 3 in Luminar
Example 3: RAW picture in Luminar (no import required)

Luminar renders the picture very close to the in-camera version, only a touch cooler.

Example Picture 3 after Capture One import
Example 3: RAW picture in Capture One, after import

Capture One renders the picture again visibly cooler than the original, but you can correct this using the white balance slider.

Example Picture 3 in Photo RAW
Example 3: RAW Picture in Photo RAW (no import required)

Photo RAW shows a slight pink cast in this case. Again, the WB slider is at its 2.400 K limit, but you can, of course, move the Saturation slider to -100 to get a neutral black and white picture.

Example Picture 3 in Lightroom, after Import
Example 3: RAW picture in Lightroom, after import

Lightroom shows a strong purple cast here. Again, the WB slider is at its 2.000 K limit, but you could move the Saturation slider down.

Some may argue that Luminar is ‘cheating’ by using the embedded preview of a RAW file instead of ‘calculating’ the correct result as Lightroom does.

First, I am not 100% sure about that as even in Luminar, you can see the picture change slightly after a few seconds. For my Micro Four Thirds cameras, I can see that Luminar applies lens correction profiles. Sometimes you can also see colors changing, but only very subtle.

Second, does it matter? I would argue that what counts is that you as a photographer see and can work with the correct result.

Built-in Channel Mixer

The second advantage of Luminar is the built-in channel mixer. To achieve the Infrared Blue-Sky effect in Lightroom, you must use third-party software. The same is true for Capture One and Photo RAW. In Luminar, you conveniently use the built-in channel mixer to achieve the same result in seconds.

Are you like me and cannot find the channel mixer in any of the Edit workspaces? Click the blue ‘Add Filters’ button at the top, then scroll down to the ‘PROFESSIONAL’ section. The channel mixer is the second entry.

Here is the result of the channel mixer applied to the first example image above, using the built-in before/after comparison tool:

Before/After comparin of using the Channel Mixer
Before (left) and after (right) using the Channel Mixer

How to apply the Channel Mixer

Here is a quick summary of the settings you apply in the channel mixer to achieve the Infrared Blue-Sky effect:

  • For the red channel, set Red to 0 and Blue to 100
  • Leave the green channel alone
  • For the blue channel, set Red to 100 and Blue to 0

At this point, the picture is far from perfect, but a good starting point for further enhancements. FYI, the header picture at the top of this article is what I got out of Luminar in less than 5 minutes of editing. Not my best infrared picture for sure, but also not bad for a quick edit job.

Useful Luminar filters

While playing with the built-in filters, I found a couple of them especially useful for infrared photography:

  • Accent AI Filter 2.0: It impresses me what a single slider can do to your color Infrared pictures. Just make sure you don’t overdo it.
  • Remove Color Cast: Try this filter after you swap channels for the Infrared blue-sky effect, using Method ‘Auto #1’.
  • Split Color Warmth: Again, if you are not happy with the result of the channel swap for the Infrared blue-sky effect, try these two sliders. They adjust the warm and the cool part of your picture independent from each other.

I also like the Workspace concept, where you can group filters according to your preferences. I have created two workspaces with different filter sets. One for color infrared photography, and one for black and white infrared photography.

What Skylum needs to improve in Luminar

While Luminar looks promising, there are some areas where Skylum needs to improve the software:

Software stability

During my tests, Luminar crashed a couple of times, especially when using the crop tool. Also, sometimes moving the HSL sliders did not change anything in the picture or right-click menus did now show up on the screen. I am sure that as Luminar matures, these issues will be taken care of. But right now, they are annoying.

No real print functionality

Really, I get it. In these days, everybody views pictures online. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to print our pictures. While Luminar does offer ‘print’ functionality, it does not even offer basic control over the printing process or the layout. And I am not talking about advanced features like color profiles or soft proofing. In its current form, it is actually useless for even the most basic printing requirements.

Skylum markets Luminar as “Full featured photo editor and organizer” (Skylum, May 2019, https://skylum.com/luminar). In my opinion, a full-featured photo organizer should offer more output options than just exporting pictures.

Missing key features

Other missing features currently include the ability to add or edit EXIF/IPTC metadata, or to add keywords to your pictures. Watermarking is a manual activity, and not part of the Export process. And there is more missing like geotagging or virtual copies. Some of these features are on Luminar’s roadmap, so we can expect them to be implemented in the future. Others are not, so we really don’t know which direction this photo editor will take.

My conclusion on using Luminar for infrared photography

In summary, Skylum Luminar is a useful tool for post-processing your digital infrared pictures. It solves the two biggest workflow issues for infrared photographers, and the built-in filters are useful as well.

Yet, at this point, I do not consider Luminar as a Lightroom replacement, because there are so many missing features. But IR photography is artistic by nature, and the use of filters and other enhancements is widely accepted. This and the rather low price makes Luminar an attractive offer for infrared photography.

Have you already considered Luminar for infrared photography? What do you use for your infrared pictures? Are you happy with your solution? Let us know in the comments section below!