What are presets and why you should consider using them?

First things first, what are presets?
Well according to most dictionaries, the word ‘presets’ means “to set beforehand” or “set in advance”. In context to how they are used, this is indeed a great definition.

So what exactly are presets used for?
Presets when talking in online terminology are usually referring to the software package Adobe Lightroom. Adobe Lightroom is a cloud-based photo editor that gives you everything you need to edit, organise, store, and share your photos. Presets within Lightroom are a way of saving a set of editing adjustments so that you can easily re-apply the same adjustments to multiple photos. In layman’s terms, a preset is a pre-configured look that you can apply to any number of photos with one click.

By the way, if you have never used Adobe Lightroom, I highly recommend you download it and play around for a little bit if you are interesting in editing any photographs. There are plenty of free (and paid) tutorials online about how to use it. There is even a free light mobile version you can download on most mobile devices.

Can you create your own presets?
The short answer is, of-course! If you do the same tweaking to your photos on a regular basis, then you are best creating that as a preset to save time in the future. Instead of manually adjusting lighting, exposure, colours, etc… you can make all those adjustments in one single click. The only downside is that not every photo is the same, so a one-size fits all ‘preset’ may not achieve the best result on every photo. This is why most photographers have a collection of presets that they can switch between to find the right style for their photo. The same setting can then also be applied to a group of photos for a uniformed collection.

And if you create some really amazing presets you may even be able to make some money by selling them.

Why use a preset?
I have struggled with this myself in the past, asking the following questions: Isn’t editing a photo changing its purity and originality? Does using a preset (or tweaking a photo) afterwards make a photographer lazy? In short, yes and no.

A guide called Editing Image in Lightroom CC guide (written by Mark Galer) that I recently read made me view editing of photos from a different perspective. Yes, a great photographer will be able to capture lighting, composition and clarity well, but no matter how great a photographer they are they still won’t ever be able to capture exactly what the naked eye sees. As Mark puts it, cameras do not see what we see and cannot record what we feel. Cameras are merely mechanical devices without a soul. Cameras can collect information, but their images do not communicate our memories and feeling without being edited. The unprocessed image file is the equivalent to the composer’s score, while editing the image is the performance. Editing images allows us to express our vision and tell a story.

Mark Galer Sony Digital Imaging Ambassador

Therefore editing of an image can help enhance it further, improve an image which was previously not appealing due to dull lighting, lack of clarity, etc. Presets are designed to shorten your workflow when editing. As previously mentioned, editing a photo can be extremely tedious depending on the look you desire. By using a preset you are able to adjust many settings at once.

Here are some examples of my edited photos:

Furthermore, another reason to use presets is to get uniformity across a collection of images. More and more photographers, influencers, celebrities and individuals are using presets to make their online social media accounts appear cohesive. Below is an example of two of my Instagram accounts, one using presets and one without. As you can see the one for my puppies doesn’t have much uniformity. The other account has a more cohesive colour scheme making it more appealing when viewed. Mind you, who doesn’t love a cute doggy photo?! LOL

Note: Since the screenshots below were taken I have started on a differing cohesive scheme on my feed using some tips & tricks suggested by Serge Ramelli (a well known photographer who is frequently sharing information with anyone who is keen to listen). I highly recommend you check out some of his free content on his social feeds as well as Aggie Lal. Both have resources available to purchase which are invaluable, but their free knowledge is equally as amazing. 😉

@keepsmilyn_photography and @patchnjackie

How do you know which presets to use?
There are hundreds of thousands of presets available online, not to mention some freebies included with Lightroom by default. Picking one that fits the style you’re going for can get a little overwhelming. The best step in picking suitable presets to use is define your style. Do you want your photos to look light and breezy, dark and moody, vintage or cartoon-like? The choices are almost endless. If you are unsure what style you like, try looking at other photographers or Instagramers and see what they have used.

Presets can also range dramatically in price. Some are free, whereas others can be hundreds of dollars.

Where to get presets, actions & more?
To help make things a little easier for you I have put together a quick list of places I have recently gotten inspiration or downloaded Lightroom presets and Photoshop actions from, Enjoy!

Where to get Photoshop Actions:

Further reading: