My Experiments With Luminar AI Sky Replacement

Fine art photography by Craig Boehman.

Image by Craig Boehman | © 2021

Reality isn't a term I embrace in photography. There's a time and a place for "staying true to the scene" in documentary photography, naturally. But when it comes to any form of photography outside the realms of photojournalism and other genres that rely on more objective pursuits, anything goes.

This anything-goes spirit to approaching the photography industry is represented well by tech firms who are investing in AI technology, especially for photo editing. Skylum's Luminar AI is a case in point. Their sky replacement feature in their latest software release makes it easy to replace skies with their own stock photos. They also provide the option to add your own skies.

I've become interested in what AI technology can do for photo editing out of guilt, first and foremost. In the past, I haven't jumped on board quickly to a lot of technology and social media platforms as I should have, in retrospect. For this reason alone - call it atonement - I embraced the notion of being one of the first to sign up for Skylum's early bird deal and to download it and start using it immediately after release - which is what I've done.

A few months back I never dreamed I would consider sky replacement as an option in my editing workflow. To be perfectly frank, I considered many of the obvious sky replacement images out there floating around on the Internet as gaudy, as all-flash, and no substance. And maybe I'm still right...maybe this trend is deserving of an ugly death and will die out like the dinosaurs by way of some giant meteor of mass viewer fatigue, the same fate suffered by those countless millions who abused the HDR effect.

It's too early in my experimentation with sky replacement (not to mention, my fine art photography career) to strategize or to have an informed opinion on the best way forward for myself. There's an inner voice that is cautioning me to not over-use these effects, to avoid becoming dependent on sky replacement just because I photographed a subject with a sky. I don't need a permanent crutch to lean on in my photo editing life.

But there's another voice inside that is egging me on to explore my options, to push the boundaries of what sky replacement is currently. That means trying to break the software where I can, to use features like sky replacement as a tool for other yet-to-be-discovered uses.

I've already found one such use: for bodies of water. One of the weaknesses (creative strengths?) of Luminar AI is that while it is likely the best sky replacement software in the business to-date, there are still issues detecting skies where horizons aren't well-defined. Again, like in images with water. To wit, you can often trick Luminar AI into placing a sky directly into the water, just like I've done below.

Originally, I had tried to place the sky where the sky actually had been but gave up because it was way too much work to do it manually in Luminar AI. And why the hell should I sweat it when the AI engine is supposed to carry out the difficult manual labor? So in the end, I let the software place the sky where it thought it was and I cropped in to cut out all the unnecessary and confusing imagery that only a failed sky replacement attempt can produce.

Note that while this was a massive failure by Luminar AI, technically speaking, it still managed to leave the subject's reflection in the water alone. This informs me that there really is something special happening behind the scenes in the software. It proves to me too that there are ways to use sky replacement without contributing to the anticipated abuses and trends that such technologies always seem to spurn in their wake.

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