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The Luminar Essentials Panel: Your Guide to Basic Editing in Luminar 4

Do you want to know how to do some simple (but ultra-useful) edits in Luminar?

That’s what this article is all about.

luminar essentials

I’m going to show you how you can produce stunning photo edits–while only using the Luminar Essentials panel.

Sound good?

Let’s get started.

The Luminar Essentials Panel: Video Tutorial

If you’re the type that prefers to learn about post-processing over video, then go ahead and check out the recording below, which will give you everything you need to know about the Luminar Essentials panel (and how to use it for beautiful edits).

Otherwise, read on!

Getting Started With the Luminar Essentials Panel

Before you can edit photos in the Luminar Essentials tab, you’ll need to double-click on a photo in your Luminar Library.

luminar photo library

This will bring up the photo in a loupe-style view. Then click on Edit in the top right corner to enter into the editing module of Luminar:

edit

Now, depending on whether you’ve been using Luminar on your computer, the Edit button may open any number of possible panels. Tap the Essentials icon to open the Essentials tab:

essentials tab in luminar

A series of Luminar tools will appear, including:

  • Light
  • AI Enhance
  • AI Structure
  • Color

(And more.)

essentials

Now you’re ready to get started with Luminar 4 editing!

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The Luminar Essentials Toolkit

You can find many of Luminar’s most important tools in the Essentials tab.

In fact, you can edit with just the Essentials tab, and you’d do just fine.

It offers everything you need to make your photos stand out:

Exposure adjustments.

Contrast adjustments.

White balance adjustments.

Even some basic color adjustments, along with more sophisticated selective color adjustments.

Not to mention some cool artificial intelligence (AI) tools that you should definitely test out.

Let’s take a look at a basic editing workflow using the tools in the Essentials tab:

Step 0: Try the AI Accent Slider for (Possible) Improvements

You can find the AI Accent slider as part of the AI Enhance tool:

AI Accents

Here’s the thing about the AI Accent slider:

It’s rarely going to give you a full edit. But it’ll sometimes make your photos look a lot better, and it’ll often make your photos look a little better.

Enhance

So I recommend by starting with the AI Accent slider for each of your photos. If you don’t like it, no big deal, move on to the next step.

But if you do like the look (and the look will vary from photo to photo!), then use it as a starting point. Because from there, you’ll still want to carry out some other important functions, including:

Step 1: Use the Light Tool for White Balance Adjustments

Here’s the thing about editing in a non-destructive program like Luminar 4:

The order of your edits is often up to you. Whether you start with white balance, exposure, contrast–it’s mostly personal preference.

So you’re free to start somewhere else along this list, as long as you make sure to hit each step.

However, after I’ve tested out the AI Accent slider, I like to start by making white balance adjustments, so I’m going to work from there.

To access the white balance tools, click on the Light tool:

Adjusting white balance

Now, the reason we do white balance adjustments is to counteract color casts in photos. So look at your photo, and ask yourself: Do you see any color casts?

Here’s an example of a photo that’s too cold:

Cold photo

And here’s the same photo, adjusted so that it’s far too warm:

Warm photo

Even if you decide there isn’t a color cast in your photo, I recommend quickly cycling through the white balance presets to make sure you don’t prefer a different temperature:

Using preset WB

And if there is a color cast, the quickest way to correct it is with a preset.

If that doesn’t do the trick, click on the Dropper icon, and your cursor will turn into a color dropper, with the direction to Pick a target neutral. Simply find an area of your photo that should be neutral gray or white, then click.

Using the target dropper

Luminar will do the rest, immediately changing the white balance to compensate for your image.

If you’re still not satisfied, or if you can’t find a neutral area to use for the adjustment, then use the Temperature and Tint sliders to make manual adjustments. Note that moving the Temperature slider upward will warm your photo, and moving it downward will cool your photo. The Tint slider, on the other hand, will compensate for green color casts by adding purple, and purple color casts by adding green.

And, if all goes well, you’ll end up with a color-corrected photo.

Step 2: Use the Exposure Sliders to Maintain Detail

When it comes to image editing, one of the first things you should consider is the exposure.

Is your photo too bright? Too dark? Just right?

Beginners have a tendency to leave things too dark, resulting in a muddy, unpleasant effect. So it’s important to avoid this whenever possible.

But how do you edit for a proper exposure? How do you determine the proper exposure in the first place?

I’d recommend you start by looking at the brightest and darkest parts of your photo. Determine whether you’ve captured details in both the blacks and the whites. The best photos generally keep detail up to the darkest blacks (called the black point) and in the whitest whites (called the white point).

If you have areas that lack details, that’s a sure sign you’ve underexposed or overexposed. So adjust the Exposure slider in the Light tool until you regain any lost details. Here, the Highlights and Shadows sliders can be of help when you have extreme contrast in your photo.

Exposure and contrast

You can also check exposure via the histogram. A histogram that is skewed to the left is a common sign of underexposure, and a histogram that is skewed to the right is a common sign of overexposure.

Make sense?

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Step 3: Use the Contrast Sliders to Add Punch to Your Photos

I’m a big advocate of adding contrast to your images.

Why?

Because contrast tends to make things look crisper, clearer, and punchier. Plus, images often look pretty dull when they come right out of your camera–which is why adding contrast is critical.

Look at the difference between this image, without contrast:

Contrast sliders in luminar essentials

And this image, with contrast:

Adjusted contrast

It’s not a huge change, but it’s there, and it matters.

One of the cool things about Luminar (and most modern-day processing programs) is how easy it is to spice up your photos with contrast. Simply push up the Smart Contrast slider in the Light tab until things start to look impressive. If you want a slightly different look, feel free to play with the Whites and Blacks sliders, which you’ll find under the Advanced Settings tab.

Using smart contrast slider luminar essentials

For instance, you could raise the Whites slider to add more punch in the brighter areas of the photo, or you could drop the Blacks slider to give more power to the shadow areas.

Regardless, a bit of contrast can go a long way, so don’t neglect this step!

Step 4: Add a Bit of Vibrance or Saturation for Improved Colors

Now that you’ve dealt with exposure and contrast in your photo, it’s time to look at another crucial element:

Color.

The truth is that most photos could use a color adjustment of some kind, because it’s very easy to end up with lackluster colors.

Fortunately, Luminar offers a very easy way to deal with this:

The Saturation and Vibrance sliders, found in the Color tool:

Saturation and vibrance

Saturation is designed to intensify all of the colors in your photo at once.

Vibrance is designed to punch up your colors more carefully, working primarily on colors that are less saturated, and avoiding skin tones.

If you have the time, go ahead and use both sliders. See what you think.

But if you’re pressed for time, I suggest using the Saturation slider, unless you have people in your photo–in which case, Vibrance is generally the better option.

Step 5: Do a Bit of Sharpening Via the Details Enhancer Tool

Now it’s time to add a few finishing touches to your photo. And even if you’ve used an ultra-sharp lens, you’ll still need to apply some sharpening–to keep all the details looking crisp and clear.

I said at the beginning that you can tackle these post-processing steps in any order.

But the truth is that sharpening and noise reduction should be your two last steps.

Why?

Because other processing steps will magnify (or diminish) noise, and can also alter the amount of sharpening necessary to make the photo stand out.

Luminar makes sharpening quite easy:

Navigate to the Details Enhancer tool:

Details enhancer

Then magnify the photo to 100 percent, because you’ll struggle to evaluate the effects of the sharpening, otherwise.

Then boost the Sharpen slider, taking care not to let things get too crunchy.

Note that you can fine-tune your sharpening using the precise detail sliders.

For instance, if your photo has lots of small details, you might want to bring them out with the Small Details slider.

Alternatively, if your photo lacks small details, or if you don’t want to sharpen the small details (e.g., for a portrait), you might be better off boosting the Large Details slider.

That way, you can get the sharpest possible photo without causing any sharpening artifacts.

Step 6: Apply Noise Reduction With the Denoise Tool

This is the final step of your basic Luminar 4 processing workflow.

Once you’ve applied some noise reduction, that’s it–you’re done!

(Of course, there are more advanced edits that you can do, but these aren’t as important, and they’re definitely not required.)

Noise reduction simply reduces the noise (or grain) that can make your photo seem muddy.

So open the Denoise tool.

Denoise tool in Luminar essentials

Then go ahead and magnify your photo to 100 percent. Slowly boost the Luminosity Denoise slider, paying careful attention to the noisiest parts of your photo (generally the shadow areas), as well as the areas that have a lot of detail. You want to strike a balance between noise reduction and sharpness, so make sure you’re not too heavy-handed.

Then do the same with the Color Denoise slider.

Color denoise

And then…

Take a step back. Look at your photo. Go ahead and toggle the before/after function by tapping the eye icon at the top of the window:

(You can also press the “\” key.)

The Luminar Essentials Panel: Conclusion

You should now have a sense of how to edit using the Essentials panel in Luminar 4.

In fact, if you follow the steps above, then you’re prepared to do basic editing on all of your photos–and make them look truly beautiful.

Luminar essentials panel
How do I access the Essentials panel in Luminar 4?

To access the Luminar 4 Essentials panel, make sure you open an image in the main editing window. Then click on the Edit button (in the top right corner) to enter the Edit module. Finally, select the Essentials icon (in the shape of a sun) on the right panel.

What is a basic editing workflow for Luminar 4?

When working in Luminar 4, I recommend you start by experimenting with the AI Accent filter, just to see what Luminar’s AI function comes up with. Then make any necessary white balance corrections. Third, make exposure adjustments, aiming for good detail, followed by good contrast. Next, punch up the colors with the Saturation and Vibrance sliders, before adding a bit of sharpening and noise reduction.

How do I improve my photos quickly in Luminar 4?

To quickly improve your photos in Luminar 4, follow the workflow I’ve set out in the article: Start with Luminar AI, then do white balance corrections, exposure corrections, contrast enhancements, and color enhancements, before finishing off the photo with sharpening and noise reduction.

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