Luminar layers

How to use layers in Luminar

Luminar layers

This tutorial shows how to use the powerful layers, blend modes and masking tools in Luminar 2018, but actually the same principles can be used in other image-editing programs which support image layers.

Luminar layers

I’m going to start with a perfectly pleasant lakeside travel shot and give it a more dramatic Game of Thrones look by adding in a new sky as a new Image layer, change the blend mode to change the look (and make the masking easier) and then use Luminar’s masking tools to stop the sky appearing over the main parts of the picture. I’ll finish off by adding a preset effect using a new Adjustment layer.

01 Adding a new image layer

Luminar layers

So here’s our start shot, already open in Luminar, and it’s fine as far as it goes but that blank blue sky is a bit boring, and it’s just a straightforward ‘record’ shot. So let’s start by adding in a new sky, and to do this, you need to click the ‘+’ button at the top of the Layers panel just below the histogram in the top right corner of the screen. You’ll get a drop-down menu with three choices, and we want the second one – Add New Image Layer. You’re now prompted to chooser the image file you want to add from your computer.

02 Image Mapping explained

Luminar layers

So here’s our ‘sky’ image imported as a new layer. As you’ll see, it completely covers up the image below, but we’ll get on to that shortly. Before that, though, it’s worth pointing out one of Luminar’s neat little features. You’ll see that by sheer coincidence the new sky image is exactly the same size as the one below. It’s no coincidence, though. In fact, Luminar automatically ‘maps’, or scales, the new image to match the size of the one you’re adding it too. You can change this if you want by right-clicking the layer in the Layers panel and choosing Image Mapping from the drop-down menu. There are three choices here – Fill, Scale to Fit or Fit. It’s the default Fill option you’re likely to want in most instances since it expands or contracts the new layer to match the image size without leaving any blank edges if the aspect ratio is different.

03 Layer blend modes

Luminar layers

When you first add a new image layer, the new layer completely covers the existing one at first. That’s because it’s set to the default Normal blend mode – but you can change the way the new layer interacts with the one below by changing the blend mode via this drop-down menu. Here, we’ve selected Multiply mode, which adds the tones in the new layer on top of the ones below. You get a net darkening effect which still allows the underlying photo to show through, and this gives a nice result which also makes the masking a little easier, as we’ll see.

04 Luminar’s masking tools

Luminar layers

Changing the blend mode has got us some of the way towards our finished look, but having the clouds superimposed over the chateau and the water gives them a mottled, darkened effect. But Luminar offers masking tools for ‘masking’ the areas of the new layer that you want to hide. If you click on the Mask (brush) icon alongside the layer you’ll get a drop-down menu where you can choose from a brush, gradient mask or radial mask. We want to mask an irregular area so we’ll choose the brush. When you do that, you’ll see the top toolbar has options to Paint or Erase the mask and a drop-down panel for changing the brush properties. If you select the Paint option you can now start brushing over the areas where you want to hide the new layer.

05 The Show Mask option

Luminar layers

It’s not always easy to see where you need to Paint or Erase the mask, especially if you’ve used a blend mode as we have. When you create a mask, which you do simply by using the masking tools, it appears as a small thumbnail image next to the layer it’s applied to. If you right-click on this mask thumbnail, a drop-down menu gives you the option to Show Mask. When you do this, all the areas where the new layer will be visible are shown with a red overlay, while all the areas you’ve protected will be clear and you’ll be able to see the image layer below. This can make it easier to see where you need to Paint or Erase the mask to follow object outlines more closely.

06 Adding a new Adjustment Layer

Luminar layers

So with the masking done, the new sky is now blended in with our start image quite effectively – but we don’t yet have the final ‘look’ we’re after. To get this, we need to add a new layer, but this time an Adjustment Layer. This will let us add a new effect to the two image layers we’ve just combined.

07 Picking a preset

Luminar layers

So now we’re right back in Luminar’s home territory. We can pick one of its many presets to apply a strong ‘look’ with a single click. We’ve chosen the Dark Moon preset from the Travel category and right away we’ve got the rich, dramatic look we wanted… well, nearly. The greens are a bit too green and the whole image is somewhat oversaturated, but that’s easy to fix because all the filters used to create this effect are available to edit on the right side of the screen.

08 Final adjustments

Luminar layers

All we’ve done here is to make some small adjustments to a couple of the filters used for the Dark Moon preset. The Foliage Enhancer was making the greens far too vivid, so we’ve pushed its Amount value down to zero. We’ve also reduced the overall Saturation value in the Dramatic filter to tone down the colours generally. By the time you get to this point you might start spotting a couple of areas where your mask needs a couple of little tweaks. If that’s the case, here’s a short selection of Luminar masking tips.

Luminar masking tips

  • If you do need to return to a layer mask after adding more layers above, the upper layers will be temporarily disabled while you work on it. It’s a bit of a nuisance not to be able to see the final effect while you do this, but hey-ho.
  • Once you’ve re-edited your mask, click on the top layer in the stack to see the the final results again. If all you see is a red overlay over the the whole image, that’s because the mask button alongside the layer is still highlighted – so click it to de-select it.
  • My advice is not to get tied up in knots trying to make pixel-perfect masks with the brush tool. It’s not really sophisticated enough to make this easy and, besides, a softer, feathered mask edge often gives a more photo-realistic blend.
  • If you do need to follow a hard edge, as we did with the roof of this chateau, there is a very useful trick for following straight lines – click one to ‘start’ the brush action and then shift-click at the other end of the straight line. Luminar will then create a straight mask edge between those two points!

5 thoughts on “How to use layers in Luminar

  1. Thanks for the helpful tutorial. Still learning Luminar, so there are many interesting new items described in the article for me. Interesting to see how you completely changed the mood of the photo.

  2. I am brand new, and notice most people use layers…. this is a very nice tutorial! I think I will have to return several times….thank you!

  3. The internet is full of tutorials attempting to explain the ins and outs of image editing software. While those offering these tutorials “may” understand how this software works, the vast majority have mediocre communication skills that result in the person reading the tutorial feeling a bit lost.
    You are the exception to this rule, Rod. Your tutorials have a clarity that is uncommon, and they stand head and shoulders above most that I’ve seen. I find myself coming back to lifeafterphotoshop as I feel confident that any questions I have will be answered here.
    Thank you for yet another exceptional tutorial!

  4. Thank you – the tips at the end cleared up a couple of things that I was dong wrong that had confused me, and the straight line method is excellent – really useful.

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