In this article, we’re going to retouch a photo of the Milky Way in both Lightroom Classic and Luminar AI to compare the two applications. This isn’t a technical comparison, but more of an artistic one. I’ve always loved Lightroom and I’ve been using it for many years, but let’s see how it compares to other software.
Here’s the photo taken at night of the Milky Way with a castle in the foreground. It was taken at 3,200 ISO, 15.0 sec, and f/4.0. It’s fairly underexposed to avoid as much noise as possible. We’ll first retouch it in Lightroom, trying to get the best out of it, and then we’ll do the same retouch in Luminar to compare the two.
STEP ONE: We’ll start with a basic retouch, which will be different from your typical landscape, as it’s a night shot. First, let’s boost the Exposure +0.85 as well as the Whites to +61. This helps to bring out the Milky Way in the image. With night photos, I find it best to add colder tones like blue, so let’s bring the Temp to 3515 and Tint to +14.
STEP TWO: The Milky Way looks better, but now the castle looks a bit overexposed. We can fix that with the Brush tool. After pressing the letter K to access the Brush tool and open the Masks panel, we lowered the Highlights to –24 and boosted the Contrast to +37. We then painted over the building to lower the intensity of the lights.
STEP THREE: We now have a good base, but let’s make the Milky Way pop a little more. We’ll click the Create New Mask button in the Masks panel and select Radial Gradient, which adds a new mask in the panel. After drawing a radial gradient around the Milky Way, we boosted the Clarity to +43, Temp to 14, and the Tint to 13.
STEP FOUR: To finish, let’s deal with the noise by going to the Detail panel and, in the Noise Reduction section, setting the Color slider to 50 and the Luminance to 10.
Here’s the final result for Lightroom.
We’re now going to retouch the photo in Luminar AI. To make sure you’re opening the image as a RAW file, open it directly in Luminar AI and not from Lightroom, otherwise it won’t be RAW.
STEP ONE: Let’s start with the sky. In the Enhance AI section, we’ll set the Accent to 99 so the sky stands out more. With the brush, we’ll paint on the mask with an Opacity of 100 and Softness of 100 so its full power is directly over the Milky way. Then we’ll lower the Opacity to 50% and paint a little further away from the Milky Way. Finally, we’ll lower the Opacity to 25% and paint even further away for a nice dégradé.
STEP TWO: To fix the white balance, let’s go to the Light section and make the overall picture colder, setting the Temperature at 3526 and the Tint at 15. Be careful here because the settings in Luminar are more sensitive than the ones in Lightroom.
STEP THREE: In the same section, there are some great tools to make your photo pop. Here, we’ll boost the Whites to 83, Exposure to 0.96, and the Blacks to –52.
STEP FOUR: Let’s try to make the Milky Way pop as much as we did in Lightroom. In the Details section, we’ll set the Small Details to 32, and then use the brush to paint this effect only on the Milky Way with the Softness at 100 and the Opacity at 53.
STEP FIVE: In the Dodge & Burn section, we’ll click on the Lighten tab, and create a brush with a Strength of 9 and Softness of 100. Painting over the Milky Way makes it pop even more!
STEP SIX: Now let’s select the Darken tab, set the brush Strength to 29, and paint over the castle to make it darker.
STEP SEVEN: To remove noise, we’ll go to the Denoise section and set Color Denoise to 31, Boost to 37, and Luminosity Denoise to 10. Again, be careful here because the settings are very sensitive.
Here are the original image and the final results from Lightroom and Luminar.
So looking at the final results of both programs side-by-side, you can decide which one you like best. I personally prefer the Lightroom look on this one: the Milky Way stands out better to me, and the overall picture is more pleasing, but you can judge for yourself. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and you learned different ways to retouch a night photo!
ALL IMAGES BY SERGE RAMELLI