Lightroom presets by the million

14 Jul 2017

It looks like nowadays you can’t go online without seeing an ad for Lightroom Presets.11,000+ here, 7,000+ there, some for free, some not so. By now I have some 70,000 pictures in my Lightroom Library and none have received a preset development treatment.  Does that make me a reactionary curmudgeon? Probably.

But here’s my take on it.

We live in a time where Facebook and Instagram rule. Instagram with its filters and funny treatments of pictures, overlays, textures and more. Mediocre pictures now go viral and reap hundreds of thousands of “likes”. Does that make it a good picture? Some call their preset collections “Classroom”, implying that these will make your pictures better than before. These will sell for a few dollars and promise to make you a better photographer. Or I should say “Image maker”.

Don’t get me wrong, creating a preset to apply to a set of pictures to create your own look and feel of your work is nothing to overlook. But that preset will more likely be made by you and not by some program that was capable of spitting out dozens of variations on the same basic theme. I tend to compare these presets with Photoshop Filters, blurring and darkening pictures to the point where they no longer represent what was captured by the camera.

If that was your intention, then by all means, use them. If the picture should have an artistic feel, then be an artist and do something original. After all, that is what an artist is supposed to do right? Applying a preset that makes your photo look like an old cyanotype copy is hardly anything original. Cyanotype prints have been around for decades.

That doesn’t mean that some prefabricated treatment of your capture is not going to do what you intended, some pictures crave a special treatment.

Installing 2500 or 11,000 of presets in order to find your own style? It will detract you from learning a great program by trying cheap shortcuts. Applying someone else’s style to your personal pictures in order to call it your own style has nothing to do with style, but more with showing that you are not capable of defining your own pictures..

Does this sound harsh? Probably. But take a look at what the possibilities are in a program like Lightroom. You will be passing up on 90% of them if you only try to use presets made by someone else. Granted, some of them may make your mediocre pictures look better, maybe even worthy of posting on Instagram. But is it really your picture and your vision you are showing off, or merely a quickly thrown together hodgepodge of effects that you will not know hoe to recreate if the make of the presets updates them?

I have nothing against presets. Presets that you will make yourself, presets that define your specific style and vision. With those, your style will be recognisable.

Applying free presets and call it a style? Nope, not for me.