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Over the years, Lightroom has become the most important tool for my photography. I use it for organizing and editing my photos, as well as publishing them to various channels. But, this hasn’t always been the case.
When Adobe introduced Lightroom years ago, 100% of my editing was done in Photoshop. But, gradually over the years with every new version or update of Lightroom, it became a one-stop destination for all of my post-processing activities. Today, Lightroom meets 90% of my photography needs with Photoshop meeting only 10%.
Compared to Photoshop, I love Lightroom because of its nondestructive RAW editing and speed. But, if I had to choose my favorite Lightroom feature, it would be the ability to create presets.
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Preset functionality drastically changed the way I approach photo editing and helped me accelerate the development of my personal style. Yet, when presets were first introduced in Lightroom 3, I initially overlooked the feature until I decided to put an extra effort toward increasing the efficiency of my editing.
When I started analyzing the way I take and edit photos, I noticed certain patterns. I recognized that the way I take pictures directly affects the way I process photos in Lightroom.
For example, when shooting landscapes and cityscapes, I always set the exposure for the highlights (sky) that results in underexposed foreground shadow areas. Then, as I begin editing, I start by opening up the shadows, recovering details in the highlights and adding a graduated filter to the sky area. I boost contrast and clarity, increase the saturation and vibrance. This usually results in an oversaturated sky so I only desaturate the blue hues. I also ensure that the vegetation in my photos is not electric green by shifting the green hues toward the yellow spectrum. In the final steps, I add vignetting, increase sharpening and reduce noise.
Though these steps soon became second nature, it also meant that I performed anywhere from 20 to 30 identical adjustments to every edited photo. When I realized this, it quickly became obvious that if I recorded the common edits and adjustments as a Lightroom preset, then I could reuse them again and again more efficiently.
When I finally saved the edits listed above, my first preset was born. I named it “Natural” because it fully reflected my photography style in achieving a natural and well-balanced look, with rich colors.
I then created two more presets, based on the first Natural preset. I shifted the color balance toward warm colors (yellow, orange) to emulate the warm hues of the early morning. I called this one “Sunrise.” Another preset I created was “Overcast” in which I decreased saturation and boosted contrast to imitate cloudy and darker days.
These three presets – Natural, Sunrise and Overcast — were the foundation of my Landscape collection.
Over the years, I gradually created new presets while making sure each of them reflected my taste and photography style. At some point, I looked back and realized that I was actually defining and perfecting my own artistic style while also exploring different artistic directions and the future of my work.
Today, I have three main preset collections that cover the different aspects of travel photography: Landscape Collection, Cityscape Collection and People Collection.
I use the preset-based editing approach on a daily basis because it not only saves me an enormous amount of time editing, it also keeps my artistic style consistent. But, at the same time, I am also able to continue experimenting with new approaches that can be saved as new presets that reflect my evolving style.
I highly recommend that you try a similar approach with your photography.
Here are some actionable steps that can help you jumpstart the process of creating your own presets:
If you’ve been using Lightroom and have a decent sized photo collection, select your favorite photos from the archives and create your own presets based on the edits and adjustments of the selected photos. Continue refining your presets over time to make sure that they are generic enough to work with a variety of photos. Also, keep growing your preset collection, and be sure to organize them by topic and/or style.
For photographers who are just starting out and don’t yet have a sizeable archive, I recommend using someone else’s presets as a starting point. It is fairly common that well-established photographers are willing to sell or give away their Lightroom presets to help budding photographers. Simply find a photographer whose style you like, and use his or her Lightroom presets as the foundation for your future collections.
You can even try to reverse engineer them to figure out how certain effects were achieved. Also, don’t be afraid to modify the presets until you come up with something exciting and unique to you.
Developing your personal artistic style in photography is a long, and sometimes chaotic and uncontrollable process. By recording your artistic tastes and versions as Lightroom presets, and by using them as the foundation for your preset-based editing routine, you can accelerate, simplify, and streamline an otherwise extremely complex process.