The honest answer as to whether Lightroom presets are worth it is…it depends. Lightroom presets can be an invaluable tool in a photographer’s editing toolbox. But if they aren’t used correctly, they can be a huge waste.
Full disclosure, we offer Lightroom presets here on Photography Goals. But despite that, I am going to do my best to talk honestly about the benefits and pitfalls of using Lightroom Presets (plus we think ours are very well designed and quite helpful).
Why Presets Are Worth It
There are a lot of benefits to using presets and purchasing presets from reputable sources.
Here are some of the ways that presets can be a big help to your photo editing and help you get professional results and speed up your workflow…
Probably the most common use of presets is to save time while editing in Lightroom. Being able to do a bunch of edits with a single click is probably the primary reason Adobe started including presets in Lightroom.
There are many many sliders in Lightroom (and more being added all the time).
If you do a decent volume of editing then you know that there are certain edits that you do on every single image. Things like adding contrast and saturation to a RAW image, increasing the base sharpening and the sharpen masking, and perhaps even adjusting the color calibration based on your camera’s specific RAW file characteristics are all examples of these types of edits.
But you can also save time with more unique creative edits. Maybe you aren’t sure if you want to add something like our Sunset Glow look or the Cinematic style. Even if you know all the settings to get to that look, having a preset let’s you just hover the mouse over both, take a look at the result, and make a quick decision. Even if the image ultimately needs additional tweaking, having a handful of presets can help you make style decisions very quickly.
Once you choose the style, a well designed preset can get you started off most of the way there. Even the best presets (like ours…shameless plug) aren’t going to make your image perfect. There is always some finishing touches that need to be done. But imagine being able to start your editing already 70% done.
Consistency of Style
Now let’s get into some of the benefits of using presets that you may not have considered.
Whether you are building a personal brand or simply want all the images from a single session to have a similar look and feel, presets can be a huge help in creating consistency of style.
Many photographers, especially those just dipping their toe into the world of professional photography, overlook the importance of consistency.
Right now you might be yelling at the screen, “but I want to be unique.”
I get it…but that’s not what I am talking about. Having a consistent style across a number of images doesn’t detract from your uniqueness, it enhances it.
You can always let your style grow and evolve over time. You can even change styles from shoot to shoot or even have multiple sets of images within one shoot that each have their own style.
Presets are a tremendous way to not only develop that style but to ensure that you stay consistent within that style when you want to. Being able to start each image with the same “look” without having to remember the settings can be a huge advantage to building that recognizable style.
Everyone has those days when you look at an image and have no idea what to do with it.
One of the huge benefits of presets is that you can have a library of your favorite ones and cycle through them on any image to try and give yourself some ideas.
Learning New Editing Approaches and Techniques
This one is specifically geared towards purchasing presets that you find interesting.
Everyone approaches photo editing in their own way. In Lightroom alone, there are dozens of different ways to accomplish your goals. Jump over to Photoshop and there are a magnitude of more ways to accomplish any given thing.
So back to presets…
Whenever you download a new preset, take some time to apply the settings to different typs of images and take a look through the sliders in the develop module.
What did the preset creator do to accomplish the look?
What adjustments did they use?
What happens when you make some changes to those adjustments or add adjustments to sliders that weren’t used in the preset.
I guarantee you’ll learn something by taking the time to deconstruct every preset you download. Even though we develop some very helpful presets here at Photography Goals, we are still learning new techniques all the time.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and taking the time to try a variety of new presets will show you all kinds of new things that you don’t know. That knowledge alone makes purchasing any preset worth every penny.
When Presets Aren’t Worth It
Despite all these benefits, there are plenty of examples of when presets are actually not worth it. It usually comes down to how you use the presets. If you aren’t using them the right way, then they certainly aren’t worth adding to your editing workflow.
Here are some common mistakes I’ve seen people make with presets…
1. Using Crappy Presets
At this point, every IG “Influencer” has their own set of presets…even if they have absolutely no photo editing skills or much experience even using Lightroom.
Presets are extremely easy to create, but quite difficult to create in such a way that actually makes them valuable to a wide range of images.
What ends up happening is that someone with a big following might spend a little bit of time playing around with the sliders in lightroom, find a “look” they like and then save the preset. Then they show you the series of photos they used it on, they all look great, and you pay for the preset.
Except the preset doesn’t work the same on your photos at all! That’s because it wasn’t designed or tested to be useful on a wide variety of photos.
How To Identify Bad Presets
The creator isn’t a photographer/photo editor
Avoid “influencer looks” and stick with presets designed by professionals.
The preset uses all the sliders in the basic panel
Presets shouldn’t be adjusting exposure issues, they should be designed to work off of a properly exposed image and use almost exclusively the secondary editing tools in Lightroom.
They have names that don’t actually describe what they do.
It may sound cool but “epic travel presets” could really be just about anything.
2. Setting It and Forgetting It
If you are simply using presets by clicking once and not doing any other editing in Lightroom, then you won’t get much benefit from the presets.
BEFORE applying the preset, you need a properly exposed image to work with. If you can accomplish that straight out of camera…good job! Otherwise, use the exposure adjustments on the basic panel (or even the “Auto” button to get a balanced exposure).
AFTER applying the preset, make sure to check the image to see if it looks like you want it to. Some color grading can affect things like contrast, so you may need to make small adjustments to the contrast, or the blacks and whites sliders to retain some detail in the shadows and highlights.
3. Ignoring Other Editing Skills
This kind of goes with the last one.
Presets are NOT an alternative to learning photo editing. They are, however, extremely useful as a tool in your photo editing toolkit.
Learning at least the basics of using Lightroom will allow you to use your presets more effectively as well as allow you to accelerate your learning by using new presets and learning how they work.
4. Assuming It Will Work On Every Photo
Not every preset will work on every photo.
For example, here at Photography Goals, we have a preset pack called Sunset Glow. They are all variations of a color grading effect that gives outdoor images that golden hour look. But, I don’t reccomend using that on an indoor photo because it’s going to look weird.
Some (like that example) are easy to figure out. But other presets will require some trial and error to learn what type of images they work best on.
What have been your experiences with Presets? Do they work for you? Are there things you struggle with when it comes to presets? Let me know in a comment below?