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Lightroom Presets | 5 Reasons to Add Them to Your Photo Editing Workflow

By Michael Henson on November 10th 2015

Love them or hate them, discussions surrounding the “legitimacy” of using Lightroom presets can certainly stir people up and impact blood pressures all across the photographic community. Understandably, photographers that have dedicated countless hours of their lives to the mastering of tools such as Lightroom and Photoshop have strong opinions and see the value in others “doing their time” to learn the nuances of these pieces of software. On the other hand, there are photographers that spend very little time working to improve themselves in this particular area. They have discovered that with a well-placed investment and a couple clicks of a mouse, they can have photo edits that look great without having to practice for years.

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Should You Use Presets?

Well, that’s a debate and topic for another time, and frankly, there are merits to each argument, so I’m not even going there. Instead, I’m going to focus on the value of utilizing presets in your editing workflow. If you choose to take the leap, excellent! If you prefer to develop your own editing mojo, go for it! You have to make the decision that makes sense for you and your business.

Each of the following arguments for the use of presets is fairly straightforward. I’m certain there are countless other reasons, and I’d love to hear your feedback and philosophy on the Zen of Presets in the comments and over in the Facebook SLR Lounge Community!

[REWIND: HOW TO PROCESS HDR IMAGES IN LIGHTROOM CC]

Makes Life Easy

Presets make life easy. This is the overarching reason, the foundation, the common thread between each of the following paragraphs. If you are a hobbyist, presets can allow you to create beautiful images with less investment of your time, money, and energy. If you are a professional photographer, presets impact your workflow in several different areas. They are almost like the dancing cleaning supplies in the Sword in the Stone that help Arthur get the cleaning done so quickly – just the photographic editing version.

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Saves Time

For both hobbyists and professionals, this is one of the allures of using presets for your photographic editing. In Lightroom, you are able to apply a specific preset along with additional setting tweaks and apply them to large numbers of photos at once. As you can imagine, this one aspect is invaluable and helps photographers focus on what they are interested in, which is capturing amazing photos. For wedding and event photographers, this is even more valuable as the number of photos they take on assignment can easily number in the thousands. Being able to sync edits across their entire day’s work makes the processing of those weddings and events much easier and more efficient. Both the client and the photographer win!

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More Polished Edits

Taking full advantage of presets is the quickest way to “level up” your editing game. The professionals that develop presets (like the SLR Lounge system) and many others have spent thousands of hours in the studio and at a computer tweaking, evaluating, and perfecting their editing styles and working to create the best possible version of each photograph they work on. By utilizing the presets they release, you are essentially allowing that professional editor into your workflow to edit your photos, or at least get you much closer to a polished final edit than you would have on your own.

More Styles

As mentioned above, the pros that release presets have TONS of experience in various styles. Utilizing their preset systems allow you to experiment and try out different looks and “feels” to a photograph with a quick click of your mouse. Many times, this can result in a new fresh look to a photo that takes it from “good” to “astounding!” You are also able to be more consistent across your body of work by replicating one particular style in each of your photos to produce a look that you consistently like and can adopt as “yours.” Clients look for consistency. By being conscious of this, you can capitalize on their preference for a particular style and establish yourself a niche much more quickly than if you drastically change photographic styles from edit to edit.

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Learning Tools

Again, thousands of hours of editing experience and critique have been “baked” into each preset. By paying attention to the changes that each preset makes and examining the way those changes impact the image, you can quickly learn a lot about editing and begin to tweak presets to fulfill your vision. Examine how a preset changes the color, curves, contrast, etc. How does it change the shadows or highlights in an image? How do those changes translate in the image? Asking these questions and actively studying each preset will certainly increase your editing knowledge and get you much further down the path to editing prowess than simply plodding along on your own.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the reasons that I unashamedly utilize presets in my workflow. There are countless preset systems out there from the subtle to the outrageous. Some work great on a specific style of image and others are more adaptable to a wide variety of photos. If you are interested in taking the leap and purchasing a preset system, I would highly recommend you check out the SLR Lounge Preset System. Not only do you get a TON of incredible presets in various styles, strengths, and moods, you get some awesome brushes that can be used for everything from creating catchlights in eyes to dodging and burning. There are some other very good preset systems out there, but for the value, I’ve certainly found that the SLR Lounge system is hard to beat.

Hopefully, you’ve learned something and are more willing to add presets to your workflow! If you are a die-hard DIYer, hopefully, you have gained a bit of insight into the value and why presets are such a hot topic and why so many photographers take advantage of them. Either way, I hope to get your feedback and insights into editing workflow and share those images with/without presets! I’m always looking for a way to make my images better, and I know there are incredible photographers in our community. I hope to hear from y’all!

Thanks for reading!

Michael Henson is a St. Louis based photographer obsessed with everything creative. His photography interests span genres from still life to sports. When he’s not running around with his face to the camera or behind a keyboard writing, you can typically find a guitar in his hands or catch him out enjoying life with his family and friends.

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8 Comments

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  1. Betty White

    Thanks for sharing, I definitely must have these presets in my notes. I just edit huge amount of photos every single day, so cannot do it without using them.

    In the wedding season I use these presents, you can try them as well, they are free

    http://fixthephoto.com/blog/retouch-tips/lightroom-presets-for-wedding.html

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  4. Daniel Thullen

    Although I do not typically use pre-sets in my daily editing process, I can see where applying them to a group of similar photographs would make for a more consistent look to the group. Although I fall into the “Die Hard DIYers” perhaps it is time to give presets a trial run.

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  5. David Olshan

    I have always loved the idea of using a preset system, but it never seems to work out for me. I feel like every picture is a little different and by using a preset across a whole batch, each photo needs to be individually adjusted anyway. And with so many presets to choose from, it becomes mind-numbing finding the “right” one. Maybe I am going about it wrong, so I would like to see some opinions from people who find them valuable.

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    • Michael Henson

      Hi, David! I agree! My process is: 1) Get an idea what I want the image to look like – (This is mostly determined by the processing style that I like – a bit moody & contrasty as a rule.) 2) Find the preset that gets me close to that. 3) Go through and individually tweak/check each image. This can be super quick or can lead into longer editing sessions depending on how close I can get it and how much I want/need to dig into it.

      For me, presets give me a quick boost toward the finished product, but I go in and add adjustments/tweaks as needed. I never apply a preset to a whole batch of images and leave it alone. Some do, but I haven’t found that to be the best process for me.

      Hope this helps!

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  6. Andy & Amii Kauth

    Appreciate your insights, though we are pretty “die-hard DIYers.” Also, love the expressions on the last image in your post.

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    • Michael Henson

      Thanks! I totally get it! Ultimately, it comes down to finding the way that helps you express your vision for your images.

      Loved your wedding article and your style! Looking forward to reading more from you/getting to know you!

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