The Changing Face of Photo Editing

A bit late with this post.  It is summer, after all, here in Canada.

A couple of new announcements in July caught my attention because I use both products but also because they are clear examples of the changing face of photo editing.

Attention - Hot NewsSkylum announced the upcoming release of Luminar 4, scheduled for sometime in the fall.  Originally released in 2017, the company and the product have gone through some interesting evolutions.

Topaz Labs released the next version of its Studio software, completely redesigning the interface, and redefining its associated pricing model.

Both products are standalone photo editors.  Both products also provide plugin options for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  But that’s not what makes them interesting.

Luminar 4

Topaz Studio

Unlike the ‘unplugged” Lightroom and Photoshop, both of these products provide as much or as little control over the photo editing details as the photographer desires.

Both contain a variety of filters and adjustments, with sliders similar to their legacy predecessors.  Both allow masking and opacity changes and blend modes, again similar to their legacy predecessors.  So on this level, they provide very familiar functionality and results.

Topaz FiltersBut in both cases, the individual filters and adjustments actually provide more fine control than the sliders in the Adobe products.  There are more sliders to adjust and more opportunity to fine tune one against another.  Both products contain dozens and dozens of these filters and adjustments, which can be combined into an infinite number of combinations.  These combinations (also called “looks”) can be saved and even shared or sold publicly.  There are filters and adjustments for basic functions like contrast and tone, and more sophisticated and artistic filters like precision contrast and focus blur, or abstraction, impression and textures.  There are sky enhancers and foliage enhancers and golden hour filters.

This alone makes them great products.  In both cases, the filters and adjustments have been applauded as notable advances in the quest to create the perfect image.  There are no shortage of YouTube testimonials lauding the capabilities of these tools.

LuminarBut that’s not all.  Each company has recognized that new photographers or those with less interest in being at the computer also want great images.  Part of both companies’ offerings are one-touch adjustments that completely rework all the elements of an image, making suggestions for what might work better.  These are more than just presets.  These are the AI based adjustments – based on artificial intelligence.  The software has been “taught” to recognize elements in a photograph and to suggest improvements based on what it has learned.  No two images will receive the same treatment.  In some, the sky might be lightened, in others darkened, for example, with a single press of the Accent AI filter in Luminar.  While the sky is adjusted one way, the buildings or landscape may be adjusted completely differently.

Some of these AI adjustments are dedicated to better blend light levels in the image.  Some concentrate on colour matching to create a mood based on the elements in the image.  And some, like the latest sky replacement option in Luminar, will not only replace the sky in one touch (recognizing and masking for the horizon), but will adjust the other elements of the image to match the light quality and colour of the light in the new sky.

Machine Learning Engine

It’s true that the adjustments based on artificial intelligence are only available now that technology has allowed them to be available.  Machine learning is all the rage (as a developer, you can try it for free with Google!) and will likely have a future in almost every technology-based product we will use in our lives going forward.  Even your fridge is smart enough to know when it is out of milk.  I suspect one day, we will be able to look at an image and simply say “darken the sky a bit” and it will happen.

All that said makes this a wonderful time to be a photographer.  I do have to admit though that one-touch adjustments haven’t and won’t be on my agenda, except perhaps as a way of surfacing new ideas.  Everyone runs into a roadblock occasionally on how to finish an image (see my last post) and these options provide a great way to break a log-jam.  But I do look forward to seeing how both my own colleagues and the many creatives online exploit the full potential of these tools.  It will be fun to watch.