What are Lightroom presets, and why are they not always perfect? — ItsMeNatalie

What is a preset? And why should I use it?

A Lightroom preset is a list of editing settings that help you achieve a certain style or mood on your photo. With just one click you can change your photo by applying those pre-determined settings of colours, hues, shadows, highlights, contrast, and more! Presets work by default in Lightroom and can have different extensions depending on the device you are using them on:

  • .dng — mostly used in the Lightroom Mobile application, but it’s OK to also import them to the desktop version
  • .xmp — mainly designed to be used in Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic, although I managed to use them in Lightroom Mobile on Android.

You may ask — why are presets so popular? Here are three main points:

  • Extremely speed up batch editing and simplify the editing process — you can apply the same preset to many similar photos you took, for example at the walk on a sunny day. It won’t make every single image perfect, but it will definitely reduce the number of enhancements you will have to do, as they automatically adjust all the settings to them.
  • Helps to create and maintain consistent style on photos — using the same preset for many photos taken in the same (or a similar) location will help keep the same tonal style through all of them. You may still need to customize some of them, but the general mood will tie them all together.
  • Affordable — Lightroom presets are worth money considering how much time they will save you and how much easier your editing process will be. What’s more — you can create your own presets!

As you can see, these are big advantages of using presets. Unfortunately, there is also one big disadvantage that not a lot of people talk about — they are not perfect for every photo.

Why presets are not perfect and how to fix them?

First, presets are always created for a photo that was taken in a specific environment and lightening setup, and they may not match yours. Secondly, different cameras record photos differently. Nikon RAW photo will not look the same as Canon’s one. What’s more! Different Canon models will give you different results in white balance or colours’ intensity with exactly the same setup. Presets are a good foundation, but sometimes you may need to make several adjustments to each of the photos to make sure it’s matching your vision.

So how you can make imperfect preset perfect again? Let’s quickly apply a preset on the raw photo and go step by step with the enhancements we can do.

Left: Unedited photo | Right: Photo with “Golden Leaves” preset

During one of the walks in the forest, I spotted a breathtaking sight — beautiful red and golden leaves on a brown and moody green background. The gentle rays of the sun shone through the thinner layers of leaves, emphasizing their texture and colour. To capture these tones and mood, the ideal choice was to use a preset “Golden Leaves” from the “Rustic Autumn” pack.

As you can see after applying the preset, the vibrancy settings of the main colours were spot on, so I did not need to worry about them. Unfortunately, the photo was way too dark and did not have enough depth in my opinion. To fix that, I decided to increase the exposure and shadows values but pull the whites and blacks sliders down. After that, I decreased the highlights to emphasize the texture in the photo but also lowered clarity a bit to achieve dreamy vibes.

Left: Photo with applied “Golden Leaves” preset | Middle: Described changes | Right: Photo with applied changes

After adjusting the basic values and setting the exposition correctly, I decided to go a little further and enhance colours. In the HSL adjustments panel, I increased the luminance of red, orange, and yellow colours. Thanks to this, leaves started to be more vibrant and close to what I saw during the walk. Then I noticed a lot of green shades in the background were distracting the eyes, so I decreased the luminance of green and aqua tones.

Despite the changes, I felt like the photo didn’t have enough depth. To fix that, I decided to add two linear gradients placed diagonally from the corners. The main reason behind this decision was to darken the background to shift attention to the central part of the photo. Let’s look again at how the photo has changed:

As you can see, the preset worked very well as a starting base. It sped up the workflow and thanks to it, I just needed to change a couple of values here and there. If you’d like to see me edit photos, then every Thursday I publish a short post or video on Instagram where I show the sped up process. So definitely check it out!

So are presets worth buying?

Creating your own presets and working out your own style is not easy, and it doesn’t come immediately. At the beginning of my journey, I was buying presets from creators I was supporting and admiring. Thanks to that I learnt the editing process, explored possibilities of different styles, and finally shaped my own. In the end, I decided to create my own presets, that I use on a daily basis and that you can find in my store.

So, are they worth it? In my opinion — YES, because they are an ideal form of learning! But as with everything, you need to be careful. I always recommend reading reviews, especially if they contain other people’s before and after photos. Professional presets that you buy will work quite differently than those available for free. They are more polished, they may focus on only one aspect of the photo (i.e., only tones or enhancing only certain colours on the photo).

Originally published at https://www.itsmenatalie.com on November 28, 2021.

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Front end and CSS maniac 🎨 Photographer in free time 📷 itsmenatalie.com

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Natalia Zmyslowska

Natalia Zmyslowska

Front end and CSS maniac 🎨 Photographer in free time 📷 itsmenatalie.com

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