The internet has become a gold mine of resources for photographers of all different genres, experience levels and styles. It's so easy to find inexpensive Lightroom or Photoshop presets to help create interesting post-processing colors and effects without spending hours trying to create them yourself. The only problem is: which ones do you use? SLR Lounge has released an all-comprehensive Lightroom 4 Preset System that is user-friendly and takes the headache out of using presets.
Let me start off by saying that I have dabbled with Lightroom presets before, and while I was easily amused by the effects that each would create I would quickly become frustrated with how they would clutter up my Lightroom preset sidebar. It got so cluttered at one point that I deleted the hundreds of presets that I had just to clear up my sidebar. I reverted back to just doing basic level adjustments in Lightroom and exporting them to Photoshop to do the majority of my retouching.
I was intrigued by SLR Lounge's new comprehensive system of presets that were all user friendly and actually quite useful in my post-processing workflow. So much so that within just one week of working with this system I found myself using the presets as a precursor to my Photoshop adjustments. It shaved off so much time from my post-processing that I was able to enjoy other pursuits like spending time with the family in lieu of sitting in front of my monitor and tediously adding the effects manually.
After downloading the files off of their server (7.41 gigabytes) and opening the .zip file, each folder comes with its own specific instructions on how to use the files and how to install the presets into Lightroom. The installation is very easy and even comes with a video explaining more in depth on how to install the new presets. In another video Pye takes you through a rather long demonstration (13 minutes) on how to use the system and what exactly it entails. While the demo video was exciting to watch I do feel that this was perhaps a mistake adding this into the tutorial videos. The demonstration was so engaging that I had stopped the tutorial and started messing around with the presets myself without watching the other videos. This was a huge mistake on my part. It took me several days to concentrate and come back to the videos and watched each one. I really recommend that you hold off on messing around with the presets until you've watched the majority of the video tutorials that accompany the system.
The Lightroom 4 Preset System comes with over 189 develop presets, 27 brush presets, 28 mixologies and 44 high definition tutorials that teach you how to use the presets to their potential. Also, what's great is that SLR Lounge is always updating the system and adding more mixologies and tutorials on their website for users. I will be going over everything that's included in the system at the time of this review.
Mixologies, Base Adjustments, Color Curves and Special Effects
Let's start off with the mixologies. The mixology is a clever way to take your photo from the plain RAW to fully edited (not including heavy skin retouching) within 3 to 6 clicks of the mouse. The system is created to easily build your own go-to mixologies. It all starts with the standard import settings. You can do this one of two ways. You can automatically apply the settings in the import dialog box or you can apply it to each photo manually. I like having as much control over my photos as possible so I always choose to apply this basic setting manually (The standard import is best used with RAW files. Jpegs may need a bit more basic adjusting).
As you can see just the standard import preset is powerful on its own. It brightens, sharpens and boosts up the contrast on your images and is a nice starting point for the other base adjustments. There are two versions of this standard import, one with a 'profile correction' (PC) that fixes any distortion from your lens and one without. These can be changed to fit your own style, but I for one think that the default is pretty perfect for the type of post that I like to do on my images.
Now here is what I really love about this preset system: The way that the preset system is grouped and named is pretty intuitive. Long gone are the days of going through your library of presets and clicking through each of your presets to find which one that you were wanting to apply. Usually presets have some pretty odd names, like 'Sunny Wonderment', 'Xanadu' or 'Willow Dream' (all real preset names) which seem like a nifty idea when purchasing, but after collecting a few of these presets you forget exactly what they do. The way that SLR Lounge has named their presets is straight-forward, easy to understand and is so user-friendly that you won't be able to use other presets due to the frustration that their naming cause.
Next up are the base adjustments, color curves, color toning and special effects. The possibilities really are endless with the amount of adjustments that you can apply to your images. What I like is that the system basically groups the color curve presets in 5 categories: bright washes, neutral washes, neutral punches, vintage punches and dark washes, making it extremely easy and time-saving when finding the exact preset that you want to apply. The special effect group comes with some vignette, border and grain presets and the color toning comes with some color combination presets that help put that finishing touches on the coloring of your images.
*Image using the Lightroom 4 Preset System By SLR Lounge (after basic skin retouching using: Heavy Soften (Skin) and Azure Neutral Punch)
The system comes with 27 brush presets to tweak your images even further. This is pretty new to me since I am used to using the default brushes that Lightroom 4 provides. I found that there were certain brushes that I leaned more towards than others. I especially liked the sky/cloud, lip enhance, and clothing/texture brushes while I wasn't really fond of the skin softener brush. In their defense though, I like to retouch skin in Photoshop, usually retouching there first and re-importing it back into Lightroom. The brushes are very versatile and are easily adjustable using the sliders that you have come to know in Lightroom.
Before and After image using Standard Import preset and brushes: Dodge (Brighten), Clothing/Texture, Warming, Nature/Color and Hair/Lashes
As I said earlier I made the huge mistake of skipping over the step-by-step tutorials provided in the system and started playing with the presets on my own. Don't make the same mistake as I did. Take the time to sit down and watch the tutorials one by one. Take your time and don't rush it. You probably won't be able to sit down and watch them all in one day. Using images that are provided to you by SLR Lounge, Pye takes each image and explains step-by-step the exact formulas he uses (using the system) to create each effect. The images are all pretty diverse ranging from wedding to portraits and landscapes. My only gripe is that there isn't any exercise photos that are shot in studio, and as a commercial photographer I would have really liked to see what can be done to my studio portraits using this system. I had to figure it out on my own. This is such a minor detail though that it shouldn't dissuade you from the system as a whole.
Pye explains not only the creative side of the presets, but also the technical side of the presets (how they change the image). I find this invaluable because as a commercial photographer I tend to over-analyze the technical side of photography. He takes the time to explain what he's clicking on and why he's choosing those particular presets or adjustments. Each tutorial starts with the RAW image and goes through the entire process to the ending result; unlike a lot of tutorials that usually start halfway cutting out the content that isn't necessary to that particular tutorial.
Each tutorial video ranges from 5 to 10 minutes long. If you're a regular to SLR Lounge and the videos that they produce you probably know by now how articulate Pye is in his tutorials. He rarely stammers and doesn't pause very often which is great for clarity, but can also be a downside because he tends to speak so fast that I find myself going back and rewinding the tutorial to hear what I may have missed. Again, another very minute complaint (as if being too articulate can be a legitimate complaint *sarcasm*).
I find myself having a hard time writing down the pros and cons to this system. Mostly because the cons are so minor that I feel they don't deserve any attention. This system is so comprehensive there is no way that I would be able to cover all of the features. For example, they also have a pretty nifty faux HDR preset that is awesome all on its own. With an intuitive naming system, which I find to be the most invaluable attribute that this system has, I don't see why anyone would go back to the silly names of presets before.
If all of this information isn't enough to convince you to buy this system, let me state that I have used countless of other presets. I have deleted them all. The only presets that I have in Lightroom are the crappy presets that Lightroom 4 provides you with (only because I can't delete those) and SLR Lounge's preset system. It's so good that I can't bring myself to ruin the organized workflow that is now my preset sidebar by adding other presets other than my own user-made mixologies that Pye teaches you to create in the tutorials.
If that still isn't enough then this should help tip your decision: The price. For the price of a set of presets (that include about 10-20 presets) from some of the leading preset websites on the market you can own SLR Lounge's Preset System. At the time of this review the system is being sold for $99. That's truly a bargain. Especially so if you're a wedding photographer and need to edit hundreds of images on the fly. This system saves you money and precious time that could be spent elsewhere.
You can buy the Lightroom 4 Preset System By SLR Lounge: HERE