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Lightroom Presets vs. Instagram Filters

An Instagram influencer recently asked me, “So why should anyone bother with Lightroom Presets when they can just use an Instagram filter?”

If you’re a photographer, a question like that hits you like an arrow to the chest. I could go on a rant about the value of a photographer and the skill needed for editing and how Instagram filters are garbage.

But none of that would be helpful. There are some real benefits to using Lightroom Presets over a simple Instagram filter. But there are also times when an IG filter may be a better solution (yes, I know other photographers are going to hate me for saying that).

So let’s talk about some of the most important differences and why and when you should use presets instead of filters.

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1. Presets Are Adjustable

Probably the most important distinction between Lightroom presets and Instagram Filters is the adjustability.

Sure, you have a lot of choices when it comes to IG filters, but once you choose a look, whatever the result is, that’s it. Sometimes (often?) the filter will cause unwanted results in certain portions of the image even if it looks good in others. Some common results include too much contrast, blown out highlights, lost detail in shadows, and weird skin tones.

Presets on the other hand are simply a series of sliders set to specific positions. You can pull back on some of the more aggressive presets or add more adjustments if the result is too subtle.

The Photography Goals Lightroom Presets are created by professional portrait photographers and we completely avoid using the “Basic” panel in Lightroom so that you can use it to make the necessary luminosity adjustments.

We accomplish that through use of the HSL Panel and Split Toning Panel for color toning and use of the Tone Curve panel for any contrast changes. That allows you to make the preset work for any photo without affecting the overall look and feel. After all, that’s the reason you chose our preset pack to begin with, right?

2. Presets Are Unique

Everyone that has Instagram has access to the same filters. Sure, you could use some of the popular apps that also use filters, but everyone has them too.

When it comes down to it, filters are just making your images look like someone else’s.

On the other hand, the infinite adjustability of Lightroom Presets make them unique from any Instagram filter. You can easily put your own spin on top of any preset and create a variant that is uniquely yours.

3. Presets Are More Consistent

So this may sound like the opposite of the last section, but keep reading to find out what I mean.

Lightroom is a powerful photo editing program. It allows you to have just about complete control over the look of your images. It also allows you to create a well exposed and clean base edit. From that base edit, you can apply your favorite presets with much more confidence that they are going to look consistent from image to image.

On the other hand, if you simply take every image and put the same Instagram filter on it, you are starting off with wildly different degrees of exposure and even quality. As a result, you’re less likely to create consistent images.

If you are a photographer, a social media influencer, an entrepreneur, or even just someone that wants to build a following on Instagram, having a consistent look to your images will go a long way to growing your brand.

4. Presets Are Higher Quality

We touched on this earlier. Lightroom is a more powerful program, gives you more control, and the results are very often of a much higher quality.

Sure, there is a trade off on the time and effort you need to spend to unlock this quality, but there is no denying that in the hands of anyone from a skilled editor to even a Lightroom beginner, edited images generally have a much higher quality level.

So let’s talk a little more about those trade offs though…

When Filters Are Better…

This is the part of this article that is going to get me in trouble with the other photographers.

There are times when slapping an IG Filter on an image may be the better option.

It’s all about how much time you need or want to spend on an image.

If you are out on a trip and take a photo with your phone that you want to put right up on Instagram, then sure, try a filter.

If you don’t have the time to load the image into Lightroom and use a preset, you may want to think about using a filter.

You can even try the filters first, see if the result is passable, then decide whether or not the image needs a little more of the high quality touch before posting.

This is especially true of images that are meant to be more candid spur of the moment snapshots. No one expects every image from your feed to be carefully curated and professionally edited. Having a goof mix of “snapshots” and professional looking images can be a really solid way to build a brand.

I’ll add a word of caution for photographers here though. The filters may be fine for your personal Instagram account, but if you’re posting to your professional account and featuring your own work…maybe skip the filter.

Pete LaGregor

Pete LaGregor

Pete is a photographer in New Jersey and specializes in portraits and commercial photography, but loves shooting landscapes and video for fun. You can check out his work on his website.

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