Why Lightroom Presets Aren't All They're Cracked up to Be

Lightroom presets are a highly popular way to edit photos or to (try) to emulate the look of a photographer you admire, but they're not always all they're cracked up to be. This great video examines why you should think twice before resorting to buying Lightroom presets.

Coming to you from Evan Ranft, this great video talks about Lightroom presets and why they're not a one-click solution to editing your photos. The simple truth is that photo edits are relative: they all depend on the lighting, exposure, color content, and more of the original photo, and thus, there is no absolute adjustment that works universally across all photos. As you'll notice in the video, Ranft has to apply the preset and then evaluate each parameter and adjust it to properly fit the photo he's working on. The adjustments are enough work that personally, I think it would be better to just dial in the look from scratch. It also takes a refined eye that you need to spend a lot of time developing to make these adjustments; if you've put in that time, you'd probably rather make your own presets than buy someone else's. That's not to say presets don't have a place, but think about whether your time and money would be better spent developing your skills before you purchase them.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I think the trend of every Instagram photographer selling presets is insane. I don't even use presents I've developed myself because every photo is different and has different needs, there would be no way to make a one-size-fits-all edit that takes full advantage of the image's potential.

Exactly.. the only time it might make sense is if you are gonna be having a very similar shot every single time. Even with that you are sorta better off dialing in one shot and just syncing the other shots. The issue I find with people that buy presets is they never really learn how things work so when the preset doesn't work they have no clue what is causing the issue. If you build your own presets you will know what does what and can fine tune things after.

I agree. A while ago I posted a photo on Flickr that was featured on their Explore page. As a result it got a lot of views, likes, etc. I was contacted by a few people wanting to know if I used a preset, and if so, where I got it. Or if I could send them a preset or sell it, etc.

As a result I experimented with applying what I had done with that photo to other photos I have and the results were mostly horrendous. The only time it came close to working was when applied to the photos from the same session as long as they were in the exact same location and lighting. My conclusion was that, generally, I don't see how presets can be useful to anyone.

Yeah, maybe I'm overly judgey here, but I think if you're taking photos that all can have the same preset applied to them and they look the same... you're not a very creative photographer. There are processing themes that are present throughout my body of work because it reflects my taste, but the photos aren't all of the exact same subject in the same lighting conditions.

Sometimes I feel pressured by an unseen force to use a particular preset because "it's my look" rather than editing the photo in the way I feel makes it look best. Can't be too much of a one-trick pony, so I really try to vary my edits for each shoot.

I downloaded a preset pack years ago and found that I spent far more time clicking through each preset trying to find one that looked the way I wanted than if I had simply made the adjustments myself. The few adjustments I make in Lightroom that are broadly usable enough to be worthy of a preset barely take longer than simply adjusting a couple of sliders anyway.

I'm glad photographers are able to find another revenue stream by selling presets, and it's good there are consumers who find them useful, but they aren't for me.

I feel the same. Photography and grading is that little extra you can apply to your shots that give them a signature. If it’s got someone else’s signature on it I don’t feel quite like it’s mine.

Photography is a craft I feel is all my own and editing a photo (or not editing it) needs to stay within those boundaries.

There is a line though now with influencers and the people who follow them. A lot of them aren’t seeking the fame and opportunity and less about the actual craft.

It’s all good but I’m a craft guy, I enjoy the entire process.

I've downloaded some presets here and there and I've made some of my own. I use them, but they're only ever starting points.

I have a few basic presets I created myself based on few categories like 'flash indoors', 'flash outdoors' 'outdoors', 'reception' etc.

They are just a starting point. Then the real work begins.

I have thousands of presets, all forgotten and on an old external hard drive.

So... moral of the story is don't use presents because its work undoing them than starting from scratch. The only presents I've every found useful were for B&W conversion. The rest lead to the same thing shown in this video... you still need to edit the photo.

I've always thought of presets as little more than a tool for photographers to generate passive income. There are plenty of people out there who want a certain "look" and may not have any real editing experience: for them, presets will help them get closer to that look for some images, and that's likely good enough.

For those with more specific taste, I see value in presets designed by that photographer to bulk apply settings to photos from an event or photo series with uniform conditions - accelerating the workflow. But to purchase presets with the expectation that many of those settings are going to be updated to reflect the needs of a specific image, that could often be making more work (and costing money) rather than saving time. To each their own though!

I don't like them, never used one. 😀

I'm not one to use Lightroom presets. I do prefer to colour correct and adjust my files in Lightroom to get it to a baseline and then lay on my own actions in Photoshop that I created to work with my style. I find it more consistent and easier to manipulate using that approach.