The Problem With Lightroom Presets

The Problem With Lightroom Presets

Lightroom presets come with a mixed bag of acceptance. Some think they are an abomination to a learned skill and craft and should never be used, whereas others enjoy the look and feel they provide to their images. It's not just as black and white as that, and it's down to the individual whether to use them or not, but one thing to make no mistake about is the time it takes to create them.

The Problem?

So, is there indeed a problem with them as the title of the article suggests? Well, no, there is no problem with them at all, except for perhaps the time and understanding it takes to make them. Each preset is created to work within a set of parameters based on color, tone, texture, light, curves, etc. It's an art form in itself creating them and ensuring that they work with said parameters on the range of the images on which they were created. I have a fondness for using them in sequences of images to portray a visual narrative.

One Size Fits All 

As you are probably aware, based on these editing parameters, they are not a universal edit, and where they may work great on some images, on others, they look dreadful. Sure, once applied, you can adjust the sliders to suit your image, but it's knowing what you want to adjust to make it work or knowing that whatever you adjust with that certain preset won't work for your image where the skill and understanding is based. Although photographed on the same day with the same conditions minutes apart, this present pushed to 200% just doesn't work. In fact, for me, no presets worked with these images. I am quite happy with the original edits, as I feel they suited the images better. What type of mood and feeling do you want to portray?

Choosing to use or not to use a preset is the individual's prerogative, and knowing how much is too much comes down to personal taste. It can take time to understand and create them. It's a skill that's worth investing time in, as it could expand your knowledge from an editing perspective and increase your skill base overall. Adobe has added a new feature in the latest update, which can simplify the creation process for you, giving you more time to explore the range of possibilities with them.

Adobe's Preset Update

Adobe has addressed the full-on applied approach of the presets and have included an amount slider to adjust the intensity of any preset. Initially, the preset is applied at 100%, and you can adjust accordingly to suit your image, anywhere from 0 to overcooked, but at least it's there. If you like the effect but have no idea where to start to adjust it to suit your image, this one slider will enable you to make subtle adjustments to all the edits engaged. This feature will enable new users of Lightroom to gather a better understanding of how they work and what has been used in the presets creation and perhaps encourage them to create their own.Incidentally, there's also a slider in camera raw to increase or decrease the intensity of the preset. I'm not sure if this has always been there, as when I add presets, it's in Lightroom, but I am aware that when Adobe updates Lightroom, there are usually a few features in camera raw that are updated at the same time.


If you are new to presets and want to dive into the world of creating them for yourself, add one and adjust the slider to your visual preference, then check all the editing panels to see where the adjustments have been made. Reverse-engineering something is also a good way to understand the creation process.

What are your thoughts on using presets? Are you in the abomination camp or are you quite liberal in your attitude towards them? I'd love to know.

Gary McIntyre's picture

Gary McIntyre is a landscape photographer and digital artist based on the west coast of Scotland. As well as running photography workshops in the Glencoe region, providing online editing workshops, Gary also teaches photography and image editing at Ayrshire college.

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I don't use presets *except* for one that I made to show the raw image. I understand Lightroom use have such a setting got rid of it or buried it.

Lightroom adds its own presets behind the scenes when you first open an image.

It is a little bit difficult to do, but you do have control over this. I had to create a flat setting that reduced the added sharpness to import it files. I'm sure not many people noticed, but camera raw automatically adds +40 to sharpness where the old standard used to be +25. While it can definitely make some images look nicer absolutely destroy skies and sensors that tend to be a little bit noisier or images shot with high iso will suffer.

Yes, that's what I did and it's a pain in behind. Still begs the question why can't Lr make it an easy preset just like the others.

If you need to do this, you can save those settings as a full default, not just a preset. So your starting point will reflect your preferred sharpening settings. You can do this on a per camera basis too.

I'm very very disappointed in the headlines for these recent articles..there is no problem with presets, and the recent, heavy lean towards clickbaity lead-ins hopefully will get curbed on this site.

Maybe the headline deserves a rewrite because this is specifically mentioning using random precepts and using them for any old image is precarious at best. This is not a "problem with presets." This could have been a teaching moment instead its a nonsensical headline that leads in one direction while the article goes into another.

The headline particularly bugs me because I myself, I have happily edited down over 10,000 images. I have probably created a hundred plus presets based on different times of the day, landscape portrait etc. Either for landscape or my style photos, I use them as starting points for every new fashion season and take it from there. I gave about 15 presets that have the flat look and I typically start there even though it may not be a perfect match. The important thing to stress I believe that these are starting points for an edit.

I'm personally I've never bought a preset pack. The ones that I've downloaded, like this article States, usually give me results that I'm not particularly looking for. But one thing that I do that definitely helps, is after I apply a starting preset, I simply click the auto adjustment button. If the darts end up being too dark it will usually brighten them up and vice versa. It's a very very small thing, however I can post that it works extremely well and keeping things close to the effect that you're trying to apply in the first place.

That said, I'll be digging into the new Lightroom tools of the next few weeks I won't be looking for a problem. At the end of the day I'm only looking for solutions I have to do the rough and tumble with some settings or a preset that fits a look for a photo set that I'm trying to do, then that's just what it is. But it is definitely not a problem. Thanks for listening.

Lightroom Presets are useful. Not for overall image 'looks' but as shortcuts for commonly used adjustments. Make yourself a set of presets that each do only ONE thing - +15 Vibrance, +30 Vibrance etc - and then click the presets instead of using the sliders. Saves a lot of time.

Hey at least it's original content and not a link to a YouTube video.