Profiles have pretty much been around since Lightroom was released, but they have really been a critical feature since the spring of 2018. Ever since this shift in focus, profiles have been an important part of the Lightroom workflow, and they make life easier for editors of all levels. Of course, in order to integrate profiles into your routine and truly make use of all that they have to offer, first you have to know what they are and how to install them.
What Are Lightroom Profiles?
The way profiles work is a bit complicated, which is why Adobe didn’t highlight them right away; at first, they seemed like a feature that could be reserved for more advanced editors, who were likely to be able to figure them out without much instruction. Eventually, it became clear just how valuable profiles could be for everybody, not just highly experienced professionals.
Lightroom profiles essentially direct the way raw image files are interpreted by Lightroom, before you continue making adjustments. It’s not exactly like true “edits” that you might make on an image; profiles are more like different translations from the data captured by your camera to the image you see onscreen.
You’ve probably heard of raw images, but you may not know what the term really means. When you shoot raw images, your camera records more information that it would to shoot a JPEG, and this extra information needs to be processed in order to give you a comprehensible image. Most cameras that allow you to shoot raw have a default profile that is applied if you don’t select anything else, so if you use the raw image format, you’ve probably used profiles before without even realizing it! The next step is just figuring out how to make deliberate decisions about profiles.
Using Profiles in Lightroom
Lightroom has a handful of profiles that come with the program, but you can also download other profiles and install them into Lightroom to give you more precise options to work with. Once you’ve found the profiles you want to purchase or use, download them to your desktop, then (if zipped) unzip them to your desktop. The unzipped files can then be copied into the raw settings folder for Lightroom in order to make them accessible within the program.
On Mac, this folder should be under [UserName]/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Camera Raw/Settings.
On PC, it should be under C:\Users\[UserName]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\CameraRaw\Settings.
If you’re working with the latest version of Lightroom (and if you aren’t, you should update!), there will be a Profile Browser to help you navigate through your profiles. It should be in the Profile section, which can be found in the Basic panel of the Develop module. You should see your downloaded profiles as well as the default profiles in this section. Simply select the one you want to apply to your image, then adjust its intensity using the Amount slider at the top.
How Are Profiles Different from Presets?
Profiles and presets work through totally different mechanisms, but some people still get them confused because they can be used in similar ways. The simplest way to explain the difference is that profiles change the way raw image data is interpreted, while presets adjust the sliders in the Develop module to predetermined values in order to create a particular look.
Profiles aren’t better than presets, or vice versa, they are just different tools that can help you make changes to your images in the most efficient way possible. There’s no reason to compare or choose between them; you can use either tool individually, or use both of them together, depending on what you need in any given situation.
That said, a simpler or more neutral profile might be best if you prefer to use striking, emotional preset collections to stylize your work. Just like presets, profiles are a good tool to have on your belt, but it’s up to you to figure out exactly how they best fit into your workflow and how you can make them effective for your editing style. You can always start with the default profiles if you’d like to experiment without committing to buying anything.
Lightroom profiles are a feature that changes the way raw image files are interpreted to create the image that appears on your screen. Although this sounds a bit complex, which is part of the reason why profiles were not initially advertised for common use, profiles can easily be used by editors of any level to optimize their workflow. If you aren’t sure how profiles might fit into your editing process, you can test them out or even reach out to peers to hear about other photographers’ experiences with profiles. You may find that they are just what you need to elevate your photography editing to the next level.
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