Your Reliance on Presets is Going to Cost You Your Job!

Presets are awesome. They've sped up my workflow by an order of magnitude since I first started using them back when I switched to Lightroom years ago. They save time and, therefore, money! But, to quote every action movie ever made: "Is that all you got?"

We are nearing a turning point in camera tech where advances are going to be less about image and more about convenience. How many more megapixels do we need? How much better can low-light performance get? How much more accurate and responsive can autofocus be? What's next? Here's my guess: One stop image making. 

I see a world coming soon where most of the post processing that 90% of users will need will be done in camera. Video frame grabs will be so good that they will suffice for most uses. Film emulation is already in a lot of cameras. In 10 years it will be in all of them. Picking your focus point after the fact will be normal and not a novelty. The Sony A7R Mark II, as advanced as it is, will be obsolete. What will a $2000 camera get you 10 years from now?

If your workflow is highly dependent on presets, you may be in trouble. The time for self-reflection is now. I'm not talking about in-depth post processing work. I mean that if you go out, take mediocre photos, apply some presets and call it a day, your business model is not sustainable. The minute the camera can do what you do, cheaply, you're done. 

I go more in-depth in the video, but this isn't meant to be some haughty anti-computer rant. It's a wakeup call. I want us to succeed, but this shortcut to pretty images has an expiration date and it's time we wake up to that fact.

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12 Comments

Sedric Beasley's picture

Good subject to discuss. Technology in general can make people lazy. I like to work on my lighting and getting better at posing people. I do think that retouching is still a skill needed that takes computer know how. Makeup artist can help with how someone but; it is nice to be able to fix things in post production. I like composing photos also. That is not a simple preset but; the skill to do composites on the computer is niche. Those that do niche things have a better chance to set themselves apart from others.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Oh, absolutely! Skilled computer work and extensive retouching are skills that set you apart and will remain marketable.

Anonymous's picture

I never use presets because I'm a huge advocate of triage. I always ask myself what needs to be done and what do I want to do, in that order. And sometimes, rarely, the answer is "nothing". Then...I do that and nothing more. I can't imagine a preset or a top of the line camera, ten years in the future, being able to replicate that process.
I still can't wrap my mind around being able to select focus points after the fact. :-/

Vincent Morretino's picture

Starting out, I thought that presets you could download/buy were an easy way to edit faster but they proved to be obstacles for my process.

The only preset I currently use in Lightroom is the one I made myself as a starting point upon Import for all of my photos to match how they looked in the LCD display (I like vibrant colors, so I set my cameras to Vivid). Setting the Camera Calibration options just right are key. Some other settings are slight bumps or drops in exposure, vibrance, highlight, shadows, blacks, and whites.

Doing this has dramatically reduced my processing time. I like the final products of my process, and so do my clients :)

Kirk Darling's picture

When he said "pre-set" I first thought he was talking about the ring on old-school manual lenses that let you set the aperture, open it to maximum, then just before you take the picture, you can quickly spin it back to the set aperture without counting the clicks or watching the index.

"Pre-set" also referred to techniques that photographers had worked out for themselves that they knew worked in their images the way they wanted them to.

So a "Zonie" like myself in the 70s had already done hours and hours of painstaking testing to know that if a series of spot meter readings resulted in a certain range of exposures, then with a specific film given a specific development, he would have a negative that printed the way he wanted on a specific contrast grade of paper. We used Zone System concepts to learn how to make our own equipment create the images we wanted to create, and what we learned became our "pre-sets." We shot to create the proper fodder from which our pre-sets made the images we wanted.

These days, I have Photoshop "actions" I've created to do specific things, not a lot different from my Zone System "pre-sets." I still have to shoot to create the proper fodder which my actions can be applied to create the images I want.

I think the title of this article is rather click-baitish because "pre-set" isn't what he really means.

I think he's really talking about photographers who haven't done the work for themselves--like all the hours of testing we Zonies used to do to make the Zone System our own tool, rather than just getting the numbers from someone else and slavishly applying them.

Yes, there do seem to be photographers who think that if they just use exactly the same numbers as Celebrity Annie, they will get the same pictures. If they don't get the same pictures...well, they must not yet have all her numbers.

This is really like people who buy the paint-by-numbers kits.

But limiting oneself to SOOC is limiting oneself to the imagination of the camera designers. Just as the Zone System was a way to break out of the limitations of a film camera's single "click" and sending the film to Kodak. The photographers who could push the image farther in the darkroom had and advantage over those who could not.

Photographers today who can use the computer have an advantage over those who cannot and can always "bring more to the table."

Michael Rapp's picture

I guess pretty soon we'll see LUT's being transferred into the camera, or, better yet, you get to hook up your cell phone into your camera - to automatically include a touch screen, an OS you already know, own and hopefully love, social media automatically included.
But you're right, if you can be replaced by a machine, you will. No two ways about it, and the newspaper industry can tell a thing about it.
On the other hand, I see history as a big pendulum, swinging back and fro. "Movies are dead", said TV, "so is vinyl", said the CD.
But a lot of written off media has swung back, some even with more vigor than before.
My point? Oh, right! I think after a while of laying off pro photographers and hiring Uncle Bobs, there stands a good chance for the realisation that good photographs, that tell a story, require good photographers, dedicated to their craft and art.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Yes, sir! Craft is king and the cream will rise, just like always. I just genuinely don't want people to get left behind because they've found something that works in the short term.

dhani borges's picture

Story telling and good lighting, two things that you can only learn through years of dedication to the craft.

Kyle Medina's picture

Don't the a7 series have in camera filters like ND Grads? Also people are saying right now, "I can do that with my phone."

Stephen Fretz's picture

If I computer can do what I do, I deserve to be obsolete.

Hans, you make a good point. I have already witnessed what you are speaking of now; I came along in the era of film, where photographers were a kin to Merlin. Now that I am in the digital era, I still bring my film era sensibilities to the table which include: off camera lighting, film production, directing and a vision for the final shot. Presets are nothing but a tool in a photographers quiver. If rely to much on that tool then your product gets stale...

The answer is to constantly learn, learn, learn...

francis estanislao's picture

Presets = your photo looks like his photo and his photo looks like that guys photo and that guys photo looks like my cousins cousins photo. they all look the same.