Whether you’re using Adobe Lightroom, Capture One, or any other raw-processing software, odds are, the default settings aren’t right for you. By taking just a few minutes to consider what you typically shoot, you can save yourself hours in processing and create better-looking images.
This article isn’t going to look at presets, which can generally refer to those groups of settings that create significant changes to the look of a photo or even a one-click edit. Instead, I want to take a look at the settings you should consider changing to provide a more customized baseline for beginning your editing process.
Customizing your default settings provides a number of benefits: saving time by not making repetitive edits, creating a more consistent starting point in edits, and developing your understanding of what you’re actually doing to your images in post. Also, if you’re like me, you can fall into an editing rut, so taking some time to look through all the options your software offers may help you discover a new feature or two.
While the examples given will be drawn from Lightroom, the features and their impacts on images should apply to every major program. You may need to apply these defaults in a different manner or consider their exact implementation and effects on your particular software, but the concepts still hold value. Above all, each of these settings will be of varying importance based on what you shoot. The defaults for an action photographer are going to look very different to that of an astrophotgrapher, for example.
Profiles, Defaults, Presets?
Editing software provides a number of different options for saved settings: recipes, profiles, presets, defaults, or actions. While all of these have their use, I want to look specifically at what Lightroom calls the “default develop settings,” the settings applied via the develop panel to every image you import from that camera.
Importantly, Lightroom allows for different defaults on a per-camera model basis. If you want to create multiple, very customized baseline settings for the same camera, you may instead want to apply those via presets (which is possible at import). Also, remember that these settings are applied without respect to ISO, so when setting things like sharpening and NR, aim for a happy medium that will work across the ISO range.
In other raw processors, this functionality to change default settings may not be present. Instead, consider creating a custom preset or “user style” that you can apply to all of your images. I’d recommend using a naming convention that highlights the camera model and ISO it’s intended for to make it easy to match up when applying it.
From the Bottom Up
Lightroom’s Develop panel, right near the top, features a small menu option that has a big effect on the look of your image. The profile button, which may read Adobe Color, Adobe Standard, Camera Standard, or similar, actually impacts almost every aspect of your image. Raw profiles have existed in Lightroom for years, but only recently were they brought to the forefront of the editing process. Importantly, these profiles do not “move” the sliders in the rest of the develop panels.
For my editing workflow, I like to start with as neutral and flat of an image as possible, preferring to build up an image rather than try to jump ahead with an aggressive default look. As a result, I’ve changed from the more contrasty Adobe Color to Camera Flat. Along with profiles, the rest of my defaults are based around this approach.
If you’re used to the punchier look of Adobe Color or another contrasty and saturated default, this change may take the most getting used to. However, I find that it is worth it. There are a huge number of tools to add back that contrast and saturation, but with greater control. HSL, the tone curve, texture, clarity, and dehaze all let you apply these adjustments in a more measured and purposeful way.
Once I’ve established that clean starting image, I like to keep it that way. While you can add a touch of highlight reduction or vibrance to these defaults, I don’t. Remember, these settings get applied to every image. Instead, consider some of the settings beyond the basic light and color adjustments.
One of the first things to adjust is the detail, sharpening, or noise reduction settings (depending on what your program refers to them as). Raw files need some amount of sharpening and noise reduction performed to every shot, but these defaults often aren’t well tailored to your camera.
For example, on my D810, Lightroom defaults to an unnecessarily high amount of color noise reduction, zero luminance noise reduction (even at high ISOs), and non-specific sharpening settings. Each one of these values can be better configured.
On my D810, I prefer to have the noise reduction set very low, adjusting it on a per-image basis. Since I frequently shoot at or below ISO 800 on this camera, I very rarely have to dial this setting in. Instead, I get more resolution with my more conservative NR settings. By contrast, my typical camera settings give me more headroom for aggressive sharpening. Also, Adobe’s preset doesn’t take advantage of the masking feature, which my preset adds.
Furthermore, there are a few settings changes that I know I’ll make to almost every image. By having these on by default, I’m saving myself time toggling them on for 95 images, and instead only have to toggle them for 5. For me, these are Remove Chromatic Aberrations and Enable Profile Corrections, with the amount of correction set to 0. While not every shot needs the vignetting or distortion correction, it simply saves a click to be able to instantly adjust the slider (not sure why this isn’t on by default, frankly).
To determine what your defaults should be, get together a few images. I’d recommend a couple high-ISO images and a couple low-ISO images, covering a few different subjects. By creating a Develop preset with your intended new defaults, you can easily test your changes across a range of images without impacting your existing default.
Making the Switch
When you’ve created a group of settings that you’re happy with, Lightroom makes it easy to set it as your new default. Just reset an image from that camera, then apply all the relevant settings that you want as a default to an image. Next, hold ALT or Option on your keyboard, and click reset. This popup lets you update the defaults to your current settings, as well as restore Adobe’s defaults if you don’t like the changes you’ve made.
If you’re using another processor, check if there is a way to alter their default settings or just make use of the preset feature that should be present by creating your own “defaults.”
While the software companies that make raw processors put a lot of effort into their program’s look, they don’t know what you shoot or what camera you use. Since you know the look you prefer and the settings you always reach for, why not tailor those defaults to you? Spending just a few minutes creating these presets can save a lot of time over the long run.
Have you tweaked the default processing settings in your software of choice? What changes did you make?