By Chris Malinao
Do you absolutely have to buy those Develop presets? The short answer is no.
In the course of teaching Lightroom (for 12 years now since 2008) at the FPPF, I have encountered countless requests for presets. It’s the first thing some students ask for, like it’s a magic potion that can instantly turn their photos into great works of art without much effort. It’s no surprise: many online tutorials market those presets like they’re requisites to good image editing. I can imagine they’ve made tons of money from selling those presets. Do we need them? No.
What are presets, you ask? These are canned edits; a preset is a series of steps in photo editing that have been saved in Lightroom. When you click on a preset, you instantly apply all those series of steps with just one click. Sounds convenient? Yes, but…
Presets almost always don’t hit the mark. It can sometimes be too intense, or a bit underwhelming, or it may go to some other direction that you don’t really want. You still need to tweak your image anyway, so, what’s the use? The maker of those presets developed them with his own images, not yours. You still need to adjust your edits to your own images. Don’t get me wrong. Presets are useful, they save us time. But the best thing to do, ultimately, is not to use other people’s presets but to develop and use our own.
The best approach, if I may recommend, is to understand image editing in Lightroom first. Then you can come up with your own presets that will almost always apply correctly with your own images according to how you normally shoot your pictures. Because presets are easy to make. And because your own photographic style should evolve from your own way of shooting, not with other people’s style.
We’ll get to developing your own presets in a while. But first, how do you edit your photographs in Lightroom? What should I do first? What am I looking for? What am I aiming to achieve? To a seasoned photographer, these may seem trivial. But for a new photographer these can be daunting. Where do I start? We address this article to new photographers who are also new to Lightroom.
The Editing Workflow: What is wrong with my photo and how may I improve it?
- Framing. Do I need to crop the image to strengthen its composition?
- Is my photo sharp and its subject clear? Discard blurry photos right away.
- Is my white balance correct? Aim to achieve correct colors first, then color grade later.
- How about exposure? Am I underexposed? Overexposed? Should I bump up Contrast?
- Do I need to touch the Saturation slider or the Vibrance slider?
Most of the editing that you can do to a picture can be done with tools on the upper right panels of Lightroom: the horizontal Tool strip at the top where you see the Crop tool and the Adjustment Brush tool, and the panel below it where you see Temp and Tint, and the sliders for Exposure, Contrast, and all the other sliders there. Then there are additional panels in Lightroom for Tone Curve, HSL, Color Grading, Detail, Lens Corrections, Transform, Effects, and Calibration. Use them as required.
Editing in Lightroom is mostly done with sliders; move a slider to the left to diminish its effect, move it to the right to have more of it. That’s what makes Lightroom easy to use. The big question is: How much do I move a slider? The quick answer is: By how much your image needs it. Don’t be afraid to experiment; pull it all the way left or all the way right until you see where it looks good, to see where you want it to be. Don’t worry, Lightroom’s edits are non-destructive, they never touch your original images. If you’ve screwed up your edits, you can always go back in the History panel to where it was still pleasant, then pick it up from there again.
Your Own Presets: How to Make Them
- In the Develop module, edit one photo as you see fit, applying the steps described above.
- Do only global adjustments, i.e., edits that apply to the whole frame like exposure, contrast, white balance (Temp & Tint), saturation, etc. Do local adjustments later, when you have to deal with your photos one by one.
- Once you like what you see, save your preset. Go to Presets > Create Preset. Alternatively, you can go to the menu ribbon then go to Develop > New Preset. The New Develop Preset dialog box appears.
- Give your preset a name, save it in the User Presets group, or make a new group for it.
- In this same New Develop Preset dialog box, tick the checkboxes for the edits that you did, uncheck those you did not.
- Click Create. That’s it, you have made your own Develop Preset that can be used over and over again by going to the Presets panel in the Develop module.
Other People’s Presets
You know what? Presets abound in this wide wonderful world. Search the Internet and you’ll have so many choices to download, many of them free. Even from Adobe itself, there are many presets that you can download for free. Lightroom also came with its own presets already installed. The good thing about presets is that when you see one you think you’ll like you can apply it to your image and tweak it further – meaning you edit it some more – then save it as your own. Yes, it’s legally yours now.
So, look for presets from photographers you admire and download their Lightroom presets. You might have to pay for some of them. But treat these presets as instructive about how they edit their images, and from there, develop your own style.
How to install presets?
Presets that you can download usually come in zip files. Inside these zip (compressed) folders are xmp files, those are the actual presets with their names. Download these, you don’t have to unzip them. After download, go to Presets > Import Presets. Locate the zip file your downloaded and double-click on it. That imports and installs the presets in that zip file and you can see them now in your list of presets.
But then again, treat other people’s presets as instructive or inspirational. They developed their presets with their own images. Develop your own presets from your own images and you’ll eventually get to a place where you will have developed your own style. In that journey, you will have learned a lot about editing your images in Lightroom, you will have understood the whole editing process, instead of just clicking on a preset made by someone else without understanding anything along the way.
Oh, one last thing: We’ve been talking about Develop Presets here, canned edits that you can apply with one click to your images. In the language of Lightroom, there are many other presets: IPTC or copyright presets that you can embed in metadata, export presets for when you output your pictures, identity plates, and watermarks. These are all also presets. You make those, too. Ciao bella!
[Chris Malinao teaches digital post-processing methods such as the Lightroom workflow software and Photoshop editing software to photography students at the Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation (FPPF), a non-profit organization that offers year-round workshops in Comprehensive Digital Photography, Lighting Essentials, Wedding Photography, Strobist Lighting, Food Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and other specialty photography workshops. For details of FPPF workshops, please visit www.photoworldmanila.com.]