How Using Presets Helped Teach Me Lightroom

Even though people love to knock presets, if you look under the hood, you might learn some things about how many different ways you can manipulate your photos in Lightroom.

I've been using software for organizing and editing images for over 20 years. No, this doesn't mean I was some child prodigy, it means I'm an old geek. After swearing by a mix of Picasa and Adobe Photoshop for a long time, I normalized on Lightroom and haven't looked back since. This does not mean I don't respect other programs. Whatever gets you creating works for me.

When I was first getting into Lightroom, I was also actively taking and sharing images on social media. I had joined the HDR cult for a while and would feel confident boosting the clarity slider to 100 on the regular. In part of my exploration in editing styles and techniques, I went on a Google quest for free presets. I had used some premium actions in Photoshop, but didn't quite understand how the Lightroom equivalent would work, so I insisted on free unless the pitch was too good to turn down.

I found out that all presets didn't necessarily follow the same editing patterns I had simplistically been using. I had mainly spent my time in the Basic slider section, but many of the presets were using Split Toning, Tone Curves, and the HSL/Color sections I had never had the courage to mess with at the time. Boy, was I missing out.

Sometimes, just a dash of split tone can take a photo to the next level. A flat, diagonal curve in a photo may be a missed opportunity to get your light just right in a way the basic sliders just can't do. Discovering the power of changing the individual hue, saturation, or luminance of each color in the spectrum was a major breakthrough, leading to more control over the final results I was creating.

Presets are only bad if they hinder your exploration and prevent you from growing your skills in the program. Nowadays, I feel like I can achieve almost anything I want style-wise and rarely bring anything into Photoshop. I now make my own presets for common edits and don't spend nearly as much time tweaking sliders. If I find myself doing a certain graduated or radial filter often enough, I will give it a name and make a preset for it.

Do you use Lightroom presets? Any good ones to share?

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Alex Cooke's picture

Is that the Cleveland Water Crib?

Michael B. Stuart's picture

After Googling to confirm I can confidently reply, yes! We were greeted with an awesome sunset after a fun day at the Zoo.

Dave Morris's picture

RNI Films are quite good. They are mainly true to the film brands they simulate, and come with a wealth of custom camera profiles. So their consistency between your cameras is really good.

In terms of style they are sort of similar to the discontinued VSCO but more subtle and provide a very good range process variations for each film brand which I really like.

Viktor Wågman's picture

RNI Films are why more accurate then VSCO. and you can get it to C1 to..

Dave Morris's picture

... I also prefer the RNI's camera profiles to the Adobe's as a starting point for my own edits. They are flat, almost like LOG, with more detail in highlights and shadows and also the RNI colors are just better balanced with no hype.

They make RAW more editable and give you more room to shape your own look. But your display needs to be really good to fully appreciate it. Here are a few screenshots but a lot of detail get lost/flattened once converted to sRGB.

Viktor Wågman's picture

Stop Wasting Your Money on Lightroom Presets August 29, 2018

Viktor Wågman's picture

And LR adds background adjustments to your imges when you import it to LR!