The Pros and Cons of Using Presets

What are the pros and cons of using presets? I’ll tell you why I love using Lightroom presets and which downfalls you should look out for when using presets to edit your photos.

Why Using a Preset Isn’t Enough

Does this story sound familiar?

You finally take the plunge and purchase Lightroom presets you’ve been eyeing for a while.

Excited from seeing the before and after images, you rush to open them in Lightroom and, with bated breath, you go to apply the preset. You expect your images to turn from raw to gold but then… oh, that’s… it?

You try another preset from the pack, then another, and you end up feeling frustrated and let down. Presets were made to make your life easier and instead, you’re disappointed that your images still fall flat. 

Many of us have spent hundreds of dollars over the years on presets from our favorite photographers so we can achieve the same look. We idolize the tones, the textures, the feel of the images and we hope a preset is the magic solution that will take our images from average to show-stopping. 

So, why don’t the edited images look like the examples provided by the person making the presets? 

Often, we need to remember what a preset actually IS. 

What is a Preset?

Instead of thinking of a preset as a magic wand that instantly makes your images perfect, think of a preset as a photo filter, like the ones you use on Instagram.

Depending on the look you’re going for, it’s a filter that (combined with the light, composition and tones of your image) will add an overall aesthetic look.

Presets are predefined settings that let you edit photos with that desired aesthetic in a single click. But, as we all know from social media, that little one-click filter doesn’t work for everything and we need to make adjustments along to way to make our snaps pop!

So what’s the benefit of using a preset if we have to still edit our photos?

These are My Main 3 Pros of Using Presets

1. Presets can speed up your workflow

Lightroom presets make photo editing go WAY faster. They can apply several of your frequently used operations at once.

Presets keep you from having to set the same sliders to the same values again and again; it all just takes one click.

There’s no wasting time searching around and trying to figure out what each tool does just to make even simple edit or enhancement.

If you want to apply the same effect to a batch of images for a consistent look, presets make it fast and easy to work in batches.

After the main batch editing is done, you can go in and make minor adjustments to individual images which saves time.

2. Presets can help you find your style

Finding your own personal style and voice is a journey that every photographer will have to take in their career. Finding presets that really speak to you, combined with your own personal touch, is something that will cause others to recognize your work just by seeing it.

Building that personal style is a combination of the poses, the light you are drawn to, the emotive energy your snaps radiate AND how you edit the images.

You will often hear phrases like ‘dark and moody’ or ‘light and airy’ as ways to describe common editing styles.

3. Presets can help create brand recognition

Finding the right preset can also help to create brand recognizability. Depending on your photography speciality, you might want to brand your look by repeating specific effects.

For example, some photographers specialize in vintage-looking images while others work only in black and white.

Presets offer a variety of looks making it easier for you to find the one that works for you and your branding. Then, you can use that preset easily throughout your work while still being able to make individual adjustments if necessary.

Editing presets are just one of the means to help you come to your personal style.

Couple during elopement wedding ceremony in Lake Como, taken by photographer who knows the pros and cons of using presets

Pros and Cons of Using Presets

So here’s the flip side, my friends. While presets are amazing for speeding up your workflow, discovering your style, and creating brand recognition, they are not a magic wand you wave or pixie dust you sprinkle on images that suddenly make everything perfect.

Presets cannot be the ONLY way you edit your photos! You still need to learn how to use Lightroom and embrace all that it can do for your editing.

Throwing a Lightroom preset onto your images and calling it a day is not going to yield you the results that you desire. There are cons to using presets however these can be avoided with a little time, patience and education. 

3 Pitfalls of Using Presets

1. One size doesn’t fit all

Since every image will be shot with different exposure levels, white balance, highlights and more, it’s virtually impossible to just throw a preset on an image and have it look exactly how you want.

Once you apply a Lightroom preset, you should still take the time to make adjustments to the white balance, exposure, grain and more depending on the final look you are going for.

Remember, a preset is like a filter. To make a filter really work, you need those adjustments!

2. They prevent you from learning how to use Lightroom properly 

There is a fairly large percentage of photographers out there who use Lightroom every single day to apply presets to their snaps but they have no idea what 90% of the Lightroom panel tools are meant for or what they do!

If you have used editing presets your entire career, chances are that you have never taken the time to learn what is within each Lightroom module and how it can work in your favor when editing images.

This makes you over-reliant on something designed to assist you. It wasn’t until I learned to master the basics behind great photos that I started getting the results I was after. It took time, practice and lots of trial and error. 

 Once you learn Lightroom, you’ll even be able to make your own presets for your beautiful snaps.

3. Short-term results with no long-term gain

Presets can be a handy shortcut, but an overreliance on them risks making you lazy. If there’s a very specific look that you’re after that a preset helps you attain, there’s no problem!

But, as soon as you are in a different setting for a shoot or you take on a new client who wants something different, you may realize your old faithful presets just don’t cut it.

The short-term results from the use of quick and easy presets can end up hurting you long-term if you get sloppy with your own skills.

Ideally, presets should help you learn how to use Lightroom for your desired impact, almost like training wheels on a bicycle before you master your own editing skills.

Presets definitely have their place in editing but relying on them without learning Lightroom can do more harm than good.

When you purchase Lilly Red presets, we make sure to take the time to show you how to use them so you’re not disappointed with your purchase.

That means showing you what the tools do and how to tweak them for your unique and stunning style of snaps. I want you to buy the presets, love the images you create, then end up being so flawless in Lightroom after developing your own style that you don’t even need them anymore! 

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Lilly Red editing checklist for Lightroom Classic

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