Some people consider it a point of pride to avoid using shortcuts of any kind in their work or their art, but it can be useful to learn to let go of that impulse. Even if it feels like “cheating” to make use of a particular tool, the reality is often that the tool just supplements your efforts; instead of making you lazy or doing the work for you, tools like this can make the process faster and help you get a better end product from doing the same amount of work.
When you first start out as a photographer, presets are one of the tools that you might feel hesitant about using.
“If I use presets on my photos, then the preset creator is doing the editing, not me! If I want to be taken seriously, then I should do it all myself.”
I understand where that sentiment comes from (believe me, I’ve been there), but there’s a reason why that kind of thinking tends to stop as you gain experience. To get to the bottom of it, let’s address a very important question: do professional photographers use Lightroom presets?
The Short Answer
Yes, of course! No matter what your initial impressions of the idea are, Lightroom presets are ultimately just a tool like any other; they can transform a good photo into an absolute work of art if used properly, or they can turn it into something garish if used poorly. Part of being a good editor is having the skill to use presets in the right way and at the right time. Professional photographers know this, and they learn how to best use presets for their work.
The Long Answer
Computer programmers don’t make a new language every time they need to write a program; dancers don’t create new steps every time they need to choreograph or perform a piece, and you shouldn’t adjust each Lightroom setting for every single photo you edit. Instead, learn how to make Lightroom presets work for you and get the most out of your editing sessions.
Lightroom presets can be handy in a lot of different situations, but they are essential for large batches of photos. If you have thousands of photos from a single event or shoot, then using presets will exponentially speed up the editing process. This frees up more of your time for selecting the best photos from the session and performing individual adjustments after applying the preset, to take the finished look from great to perfect.
Presets also allow you to quickly try on a handful of different looks so that you can pick the settings that fit best on the batch of photos you’re editing without having to create each look from scratch. Making individual adjustments for a look that you end up throwing out can be disheartening as well as time-consuming, so presets are really a lifesaver.
Work done by hand is near impossible to replicate exactly. That fact may be what gives “character” to handmade jewelry or glassware, but when it comes to photographs, inconsistency isn’t so charming. A photography client receiving a large number of images from you is going to expect them to look alike; consistent editing across a session looks infinitely more professional than what you’d end up with if you edited every photo in a different way.
Applying the same Lightroom preset to an entire batch of photos gives them a uniformity that you’d never quite find by editing them manually, no matter how much time you spent on them. If you use the same or similar presets across all your work, then this consistency can even have the added benefit of making your work recognizable at a glance. Finding a distinctive look (perhaps created by personalizing a well-made preset) can be an important step in growing your brand as a professional photographer.
One really nice thing about presets -- good presets, anyway -- is that they can affect the mood or tone of photos in a very subtle way. This can be hard to do with manual editing, especially when you’re still learning. Lightroom setting adjustments that feel minor can make glaringly obvious changes to the photo.
Sometimes, the best editing is the editing you don’t notice. At the very least, the editing shouldn’t be what jumps out at you. Presets can accentuate the parts of the image you want to emphasize or change the emotion it gives the viewer, without making it so that they see the editing before the image itself.
Professional photographers use presets because, in the hands of a skilled editor, they are always better and easier than manual editing. If you feel unsure about how to get started, check out this Lightroom editing course to learn more about Lightroom skills, like using presets. If you’re ready to jump right in, you can find some of my favorite presets here and start editing in a faster, more consistent way in your next session.
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