This is why you should or shouldn’t use Lightroom presets

Jan 2, 2020

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

This is why you should or shouldn’t use Lightroom presets

Jan 2, 2020

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Presets for Lightroom and other applications are often the centre of controversy. Some people can’t live without them and actively panic when their software updates and no longer reads their old presets accurately. The other extreme puts those that use presets in the “you’re not a photographer if” category.

In between, though, there is some middle ground. Things are rarely this black and white. Mango Street, who happen to sell some presets of their own, weigh in with their thoughts in this video on why you should or shouldn’t use presets, and what to keep in mind when either buying presets or making your own.

In the video, they discuss four of the biggest arguments against the use of presets within Lightroom to give the appearance of an unbiased point of view. Of course, as I mentioned, they sell presets, so ultimately they’re going to find in favour of presets, but with some caveats. And although they do sell presets, they’re not trying to sell theirs in the video, or even convince you that you should use presets. They just want you to stop you moaning at other people for using them.

  1. Presets create photographer clones
  2. Lighting and colour are too photo-specific for presets to work well
  3. You won’t learn how to actually edit
  4. If you use presets, you’re lazy

They don’t think you should just blindly slap presets on images, and there are definitely things that make for bad presets, which they talk a little about in number 2. Less is often more when it comes to presets. Once you start messing around with hues and colours, your starting images are going to need to look a particular way for the preset to have its effect or it’ll look terrible. It’s a little like corrective vs creative LUTs in the video world. You need to have your starting point at a specific and consistent place, visually, before you apply a creative LUT because every camera and lighting situation is different.

I can see both sides of the above arguments, and it is fun sometimes to sit back and watch both sides of the debate duke it out, especially in Facebook groups.

I have to admit, I’m not really a big preset user myself. I use them occasionally, but only ones I make myself. I create them in Adobe Camera Raw with my first image edit from a session and then apply those changes to the rest of the images from that session. I don’t have a “go-to” range of presets, though, that I use across the board for all my work. For me, working in that way just doesn’t really offer any benefit. For you, it might.

How about you? Are you for presets or against?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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11 responses to “This is why you should or shouldn’t use Lightroom presets”

  1. Juan Martin Gerardi Avatar
    Juan Martin Gerardi

    It’s a tool..like many other things.

  2. Daniel Scott Avatar
    Daniel Scott

    Anyone who says they don’t use presets is either lying or has an inefficient workflow. Presets, whether self made or bought, save precious time, and helps keep things consistent.

    1. Conny Wallstrom Avatar
      Conny Wallstrom

      I’m not, and I am definitely not a liar. I make a look for each image series and it’s fast.

    2. Conny Wallstrom Avatar
      Conny Wallstrom

      Presets are for beginners.

  3. Vincent Reyna Avatar
    Vincent Reyna

    Anyone that shoots digital isn’t a real photographer…in fact, only people that build their own cameras are true photographers.

    1. Vincent Reyna Avatar
      Vincent Reyna
    2. Edward Lai Avatar
      Edward Lai

      and create their own emulsions and develop their own

  4. Andrus Chesley Avatar
    Andrus Chesley

    But I make my own mostly!

  5. Shawn Byron Danker Avatar
    Shawn Byron Danker

    This is idiotic

  6. Marco Peixoto Avatar
    Marco Peixoto

    Make your own presets.

  7. Whatdoyknow Avatar
    Whatdoyknow

    Its only in very specific circumstances that I use u preset and then I make them myself. Just about every photo needs it’s specific attention. Supplied presets never seem to work for me.