Luminar and Photoshop

Graphic design artist editing photo on computer

With so many options for photo editing software currently available it’s hard to know as a photographer which is best. To help you choose we’re pitting two of the most popular options against each other – Luminar v Photoshop.

Over the years many photographers have started to move away from Photoshop allowing for a new market of photo editing software such as Luminar Neo and Affinity Photo to become a viable option in the marketplace

But what are the differences between Luminar and Photoshop?

What is Photoshop?

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Photoshop is the industry standard in the charts of the best photo editing software. It is available on all computer platforms – Windows and Mac, as well as app store options.

While popular amongst photographers it’s not only designed for camera enthusiasts. Photoshop is great for graphic design, vector-based artwork, video editing as well as a Camera RAW file plugin.

There’s almost nothing you can’t do in photo editing with Photoshop, but it is remarked on being a complicated interface. Because Photoshop isn’t strictly designed for photographers you’ll need to weave between the unnecessary menus, panels and tools to get to what you need.

It was one of the first photo editors available and it dominated the market until the mid-2010s. In the past few years, Photoshop was previously sold as individual editions on a CD, is now only available as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription platform. While it means a regular monthly payment it does give you free updates.

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What is Luminar?

Luminar Neo logo

Luminar Neo was expected, and designed, to be the new competitor for Adobe Lightroom but in truth it Luminar Neo has more in common with Photoshop.

Luminar Neon is another photo editing software that supports non-destructive image editing. Whereas Photoshop was made for a number of artistic disciplines, Luminar Neo always had the photographer as the target customer. This is why it can convert RAW files directly into the software and does not require any separate plugins.

All the adjustments you make in Luminar Neo are non-destructive. This means any alterations you make to a photo can be re-adjusted to the original image until it is exported.

For many beginner photo editors, Luminar Neo is an ideal option since it simplifies the overall editing workflow. With complicated adjustments filtered down to a single slider, you can edit images to look like professionals quickly.

Luminar Neo was one of the first photo editing software to use artificial intelligence. This type of software automation allows you to quickly replace skies, remove distracting objects or swap them more dramatic assets.

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man sat a computer editing a landscape photo on luminar neo

Luminar v Photoshop: 10 Key Differences

While there are similarities between Luminar and Photoshop it’s the key differences that will help you make up your mind on deciding which photo editor is for you. Here is an overview of the 10 key differences between Luminar Neo and Photoshop.

1. File Organisation

One of the biggest advantages to using Luminar is it’s easy to use organisation system. If you’re a photography with lots of images to look through quickly then Photoshop will slow you down.

Much like Lightroom, you can filter your photos using flags, star ratings, and even colour-coding. Whichever way you choose to pick out your favourite photos it will save you time when it comes to editing.

2. User Interface

Since we mentioned earlier that Photoshop was made for a range of visual arts, and Luminar was intended only for photographers it shouldn’t surprise you which is easier for a beginner to understand.

The user interface of Luminar will only display tools you’ll need as a photographer. Though Photoshop’s extensive menus give you access to tools and filters you may never have thought of using but could take some time to discover.

Unlike Photoshop, where all the tools aren’t in any logical divisions (ie. retouching tools are in the same panel as text typing tools). Luminar took care of their new users and divided the toolsets into separate tabs.

There are individual tools for landscape, portrait and street photography for example.

We would advise starting an online Photoshop courses for beginners to get their head around the interface before tackling big edits.

3. Computer Requirements

Another thing to bear in mind is fast suitable your PC or Mac is for running Luminar v Photoshop.

Photoshop has always been known for being a memory-hungry software. It requires at least 16GB of RAM to run smoothly as well as a separate graphics card.

While Luminar claims it only needs 8GB of RAM to run the software, alongside 2GB of hard drive space to install.

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4. Photo Retouching Tools

This is an area in that Photoshop trumps Luminar. Retouching tools are essential to the modern-day digital photographer. The need to remove objects and distractions that you didn’t spot initially in your photo is something that’s used regularly in editing.

Photoshop has a range of photo retouching tools. The clone stamp, patch tool, content-aware and lasso tools are all different ways to make selections and repair areas of documents with ease.

Luminar on the other hand has added dedicated Skin and Body AI tools to make retouching easier in its Neo software. These tools while simple to use don’t have the advancements or refinements of Photoshop.  

Photoshop also has more advanced retouching tools if you want to be more precise with cleaning up your photos. Spot healing and frequency separation make it easier to whiten teeth and smooth skin.

5. Plug in Options

Luminar Neo doesn’t allow external plugins into its software BUT it is available as a plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop itself (so there is universe where the two can be used together for different purposese).

Photoshop though, extends access past presets to third-party include filters, patterns, custom brushes and actions.

Actions are automated processes that you can download from others or create your own to automate multi-staged edits.

For example, if you want to make all your photos black and white cropped to 50% of the original size and saved you can record these steps and save it in an action. When you next want to repeat these steps just press play on the action and Photoshop will take over.

This saves so much time in editing. While it sounds similar to batch editing in Luminar, actions allows you way more adjustments. Alongside actions, you also may find hundreds of ready plug-ins on the Adobe Add-ons website to use in Photoshop.

6. Using RAW Files

Both Luminar v Photoshop can handle RAW files for photographers – but they both do it in different ways.

Luminar allows you to open RAW files directly in the program, while Photoshop opens RAW files in Adobe Camera RAW. While it’s not a massive difference it does mean you don’t have fully access to all the Photoshop tools when working in Camera RAW.

You’ll need to adjust your photos in Camera RAW before saving them as JPEG files to open in Photoshop.

7. Dedicated Photo Editing Modules

Luminar splits up the editing panels into different sections based on the type of photo you’re working on.

These modules are Essentials, Creative, Landsape, Portrait, and Professional. Within each of these areas, you’ll find a set of dedicated editing tools to further enhance your photographs.

Essentials is where you’ll find all your basic image correction tools like exposure, contrast and HSL.

Creative gives you access automated sky replacement, Orton Effect sliders and more.

Portrait, as you’d imagine, has tools geared up for retouching. Features such as artificially intelligent skin enhancements assess the subject in the photo and identifies where to soften the skin whilst keeping authenticity.

The Professional module is home to the finishing tools such as dodge and burn, split toning and advanced contrast.

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8. Presets

Luminar presets can be applied to all your photos. They are a way to quickly apply stylised edits. There are a handful of looks built into Luminar Neo, but you can download more presets and LUTS from their Luminar X marketplace.

Presets are very handy for photographers who are trying to establish a specific style to their photos and want to be consistent across all their shots.

Unfortunately, Photoshop’s preset options are tucked away in Camera RAW which you’ll need to manually upload from your hardrive. This adds an extra step in the workflow if you aren’t using RAW files already.

9. Selection Tools

Where Photoshop stands above all other photo editing software is with its advanced selection tools. As a photographer you’ll be regularly wanting to make local selections to photos to adjust. In these situations, Photoshop makes it really easy to use.

While many of the selection tools in Photoshop are part automated, they are pretty accurate, meaning it saves you time. If you a portrait photographer needing to edit a models hair tools such as Magic Wand makes it quicker than doing it manually.

Luminar Neo has selection tools that are similar in principle most of these are fully automated. This is where Photoshop understands users better. If the AI isn’t perfect, you’ll need an opportunity to refine the AI’s selection which Photoshop does, and Luminar doesn’t.

If you’re wanting to take your photography more seriously and even to a professional level, this will make a big difference to you.

Photoshop CC Icon on a computer

10. Colour & Exposure Adjustments

Photoshop has every colour and exposure adjustment tool that you’d expect from the most popular photo editing program.

The colour, contrast and exposure adjustments in Photoshop v Luminar allows you to get certain looks in your images easier.

You can alter colour and exposure at the same time. And instead of applying colour changes to your overall photo, you can target your shadows, mid-tones, or highlights directly through local editing.

Again, this type of layer mask adjustment is also available in Luminar. But Photoshop provides this option across more of its adjustments, not just colour, exposure and contrast. Photoshop allows layer masks for black and white, HSL, gradients and more.

Luminar v Photoshop: Which is Best for Me?

When deciding which photo editing platform is best for you it’s important to consider how much you’ll use it.

Luminar Neo is perfect for beginners or photographers looking for an alternative that is easier to use than Photoshop. If you just want a quick in and out photo editor Luminar will feel the better option as it’s lightweight (in terms of CPU impact) and simpler in the interface.

Incidentally, if you are currently a Photoshop Elements user and looking to upgrade, Luminar oddly may seem a slightly smaller jump upwards rather than taking a bigger leap and investing in the full version of Photoshop.

Photoshop, on the other hand, is better for more experienced photographers who are looking to push their skills and creativity further. You may already be a Luminar or Lightroom user but feel limited by the tools available. Photoshop in this instance is the best option.

If you want to add text, graphics and even video to your work then Photoshop has all these tools in the same software. If you’re looking for more control in your photo editing workflow and how precise you need to be with selections and adjustments Photoshop would be the better choice.

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How Much Does Luminar and Photoshop Cost?

Luminar v Photoshop have similar strategies on how they sell their photo editing programs – both offer monthly subscriptions.

With Luminar Neo you can subscribe monthly or pay for 1 or 2 years in a single transaction. With the Photographers package on Adobe you also get the Camera RAW plugin, Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC. 

(As of the time of writing this article, here are the current pricings for Luminar v Photoshop.)

Adobe’s Photoshop Photography Bundle

£19.97 per month on a 12-month contract

This subscription includes Lightroom CC (mobile), Lightroom Classic (desktop), Camera RAW, Photoshop on desktop and iPad, and a massive 100GB of cloud storage.

Luminar Neo

£11.95 monthly (billed monthly)

£69 1-year (billed annually)

£99 monthly (billed annually)

£129 lifetime (1 x perpetual license)

A lifetime license on Luminar Neo is the same value as paying for Photoshop for 6 months.

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Luminar v Photoshop: Summary

Before you choose between Luminar v Photoshop, figure out where you are as a photographer. If you are a beginner to photography and you’ve never used photo editing before then Photoshop is probably not the best step to take initially.

See Luminar as the lighter, easier photo editor to start with. Maybe over time as your photography and creativity expands, you’ll need a photo editor to expand with it. In that instance we’d recommend Photoshop as a great option to upgrade to.

Both programs can handle RAW files, make basic colour and exposure adjustments, and have automated tools to replace skies and enhance skin on portraits. While the differences between Luminar v Photoshop are subtle, it’s those differences that separate a snapshot and a photograph.

More control and great power can result is stronger photographs and works of art. If you want to elevate your images to the best possible level, then Photoshop is what you need.

But if you’re just starting out, don’t race to the top straight away – start with Luminar.

(iPhotography may make small commissions from links in this article.) 


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