How to use Lightroom Develop Presets to Learn Processing Tips


DEAL: this week only our very own 101 Lightroom Presets and 101 Landscape Lightroom Presets are 60% off.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

In my previous article you learned how to create a vintage effect using Lightroom. I started by showing you some Lightroom Develop Presets you can use as a shortcut, and finished by demonstrating some techniques you can use yourself. The hidden message in the article was that one way to learn how to use Lightroom is to buy some Develop Presets (or download some free ones) and analyze them to see how they work. You can then apply the same techniques to your own photos, and even create your own Develop Presets.

Today I’m going to give you some tips on analyzing other people’s Develop Presets. I’m going to do it using some presets I downloaded from onOne Software. These are free presets that anyone can download and use themselves (just follow the link), so it is easy for you to follow along.

Preset: onOne Instantastic – Daisy

The Daisy preset, part of the onOne Signature Collection Presets (Vol. 2), gives an Instagram filter effect. There is a slight matte effect and a blue colour cast.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

A. Original photo B. Daisy preset

Vibrance and saturation adjustments

This preset uses two techniques to create the colours. The first is applied in the Basic panel. The preset increases Vibrance to +20, and reduces Saturation to -20.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

To understand the effect of these tweaks you need to know the difference between Saturation and Vibrance. Saturation affects all colours in the photo evenly. Reducing Saturation to -20 has a uniform effect on all the colours within the frame.

Vibrance, on the other hand, affects the least saturated colours in the photo the most. The net effect of decreasing Saturation and increasing Vibrance is that the strongest colours in the frame are desaturated while other colours are not desaturated nearly so much.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

A. Vibrance 0, Saturation 0 B. Vibrance +20, Saturation -20

Tone Curve adjustments

The rest of the colour adjustment is carried out in the Tone Curve panel, with two adjustments to the blue and red Tone Curves. Here’s what the adjustments look like.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

Raising the blue curve on the left creates a matte effect and a blue colour cast. Pulling the right hand side of the curve down adds yellow (the opposite of blue) to the highlights. This comparison shows the difference.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

A. Blue curve lifted on left. B. Blue curve lifted on left and pulled down on right.

The red curve adjustments are also a subtle colour and tonal adjustment. Moving the bottom left corner to the right adds cyan and makes the shadows a little darker.

Moving the top right corner to the left adds magenta and makes the highlights a little brighter.

This comparison shows the difference the red Tone Curve adjustment makes. The difference is subtle, so you may have to look closely.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

A. Blue Tone Curve adjustment only. B. Blue and red Tone Curve adjustments combined.

Preset: Nicolesy Matte 3

The Matte 3 preset, part of the Nicolesy Matte Presets for Adobe Lightroom 5 set, creates a subtle matte effect and a red colour cast.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

A. Original photo. B. Matte 3 preset.

The Develop Preset does its work in the Tone Curve and Split Toning panels. Let’s take a look at each.

Tone Curve adjustment

The Tone Curve adjustment combines two adjustments in one to the RGB curve (the colour curves haven’t been touched). First, the bottom left corner has been moved upwards to create a matte effect. Second, the center of the RGB curve has been pushed gently upwards, making the mid-tones brighter. The net effect of this Tone Curve adjustment is to add a matte effect and make the mid-tones brighter at the same time. This comparison shows the difference it makes.

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

A. Linear Tone Curve. B. Adjusted Tone Curve.

Split Toning

The colour has been added to the photo using the Split Toning panel. The preset adds hot pink to the Shadows, and a luminescent green to the Highlights, with the Balance slider pushed to the right to give prominence to the green tone. This comparison shows the difference the split tone makes:

Learn Lightroom from Develop Presets

A. No Split Tone. B. With Split Tone.

Putting it all together

In my last article I wrote that buying Lightroom Develop Presets made by other people (or downloading free ones) is a shortcut to creating effects like these. One benefit of using other people’s presets is that you can take advantage of their knowledge and hard work and use the presets for yourself.

But the main advantage is that other people’s presets can introduce you to new and creative ways of processing your photos, using techniques that you may never have thought of by yourself. The real benefit comes when you take a close look at the settings altered by the preset and take the time to understand how they work. Your understanding of Lightroom will become deeper as you do, so that you can use these techniques in your own photos.

For example, in this article you have learned how to use the Tone Curve panel to create a matte effect and change the colours in your photos. You have also learned how to use the Split Tone panel in combination with a Tone Curve adjustment to create another type of matte effect. The rest is up to you.

Can you come up with ways to use these techniques creatively on your own photos? What Tone Curve adjustments can you make? What Split Tone combinations can you apply? Have fun, experiment and good things will surely follow.

Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos ebookMastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos

My new ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos takes you through ten beautiful examples of photography and shows you how I processed them step-by-step in Lightroom. It explores some of my favourite Develop Presets and plug-ins as well as the techniques I use in Lightroom itself. Click the link to learn more.

DEAL: this week only our very own 101 Lightroom Presets and 101 Landscape Lightroom Presets are 60% off.

Read more from our Post Production category

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

  • Akash Mjumder

    Thanks for this article Andrew. Though for sometime I have been using lightroom but I never gave a thought about using the presets on the way you described. Now definitely I will learn something more from this presets works.

  • Keith Starkey

    Thanks very much. I’m still yet to be sold on taking the time to work with third-party presets; I can’t grasp how it is that a preset can be applied (globally) to any photo. I mean, just because a preset made one fellow’s photo “vintage” looking, does that mean it will work on all photos? If not, why should I spend time going through third-party presets? Why not, rather, just learn how to control the settings enough to effect a vintage look suitable for my photo(s)?

    I guess if I can get a handle on how it’s possible for third-party (or all) presets to work consistently in the global aspect that I understand they are to work, then I might be more inclined to look into them. As it is, I don’t even save what I do as presets because it just seems like it would be more work to have to wade through them, looking for what I need rather then just dropping the exposure, raising the clarity, or raising the vibrance myself. (And that’s why I greatly appreciate you explaining the behind-the-scenes of these presets. Thanks very much).

  • Great information.. Surely lead good help for the photographers.

  • You’re welcome, glad it helped.

  • Hi Keith,

    That’s a great question. The thing to bear in mind with presets is that they tend to come in sets of 20 or more. Out of those, you might find five to ten that work with a particular photo. So, perhaps one preset will work well with someone else’s photo, but not yours, and another will work well with yours but not somebody else’s. But with 20 or more to choose from there are usually at least a few you can use.

    Once you understand how the presets work, you can of course do these things yourself, or even make your own presets. The main advantage of buying someone else’s presets is that someone has done all the hard work for you, saving you time. They will also probably do some things that you wouldn’t come up with yourself.

    Hope that helps.

  • Keith Starkey

    I will definitely look into them more after I get done editing my eighty-pages-plus of Lightroom notes I’ve taken over the last six months. Once that ridiculous project is out of the way, I’m free!

    Thanks again.

  • Thanks for the tips!…now please stop ruining good photos.;-) Instagram is a plague on photography.


    I agree with the comment below. We invest thousands on equipment and for what? To make pics look like they came out of an iPhone? No sir! I don’t think so!

  • Paul Killeen

    Admittedly its a free world to interpret images as we see fit and techniqiues (fads) like Lomography, Instagram, Snapseed or any of these filtering actions may have a place in time and art. But I agree with others that the trend to be different (and this only lasts until everybody is doing it) is like fashion when we will look back in the future and wonder “How did we think this looked cool to turn our carefully photographed images into low resolution bleached, cross processed tinted looking photos. Suits some but not for me.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    I create my own preset by specific location and specific lighting, with specific camera and lens settings after experimenting the best settings i could do, and speed processing hundred of photos with a few clicks.. ;). Many times, I have only 3 hours to take photos, let clients to select photos, edit photos, montage, and give them prints.. much rush than wedding photography.

  • Mark

    Vintage wedding photos? . Nice tips though. As always I love this site!

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