Lightroom Presets – GAME CHANGING!
I’ve processed all my digital files via Adobe Lightroom since developing my first unofficial MrLeica LR preset pack back in perhaps 2015. It’s been YEARS since I’ve tried to develop a RAW file directly through Photoshop. What happened today showed me how much I rely on Lightroom presets. It’s scary!
This article wasn’t planned but after having just finished going through a series of images in Lightroom for the first time I felt the need to share my observation. If you struggle with editing your photos and have never used Lightroom presets, this is for you. It may just change your editing process forever.
Stepping back to my pre-Lightroom preset days
When I first got into photography initially I shot JPEG only. Probably like all photographers when they start out. It was around the time that I was using my Nikon DSLR cameras that I switched to shooting in RAW format only. From memory, I batch processed my images in Lightroom and used it to fix exposure, add watermark and then exported to edit the file in Photoshop.
I wasted SO many hours trying to make my files look good. It wasn’t even funny. I would try to apply texture layers, I tried everything. Worst of all, most photos still looked below average when I finished. It finally pushed me to freelensing and shooting JPEG only.
Leica M9 days – No need to edit
When I switched from Nikon to Leica my first camera was the Leica M9 with its fantastic Kodak CCD sensor. For a period I shot B&W JPEG only as the files looked so good out of camera. Eventually I switched to shooting RAW and processing via Lightroom but the files needed minimal editing to look good enough to post. (That was the dawn of the MrLeica.com blog. Leica was officially awesome!)
Are you a Leica User?
Buying the CMOS sensor Leica M240
It was when I bought the Leica M240 with its CMOS sensor that I crashed back down to earth with a massive thump. The photos reminded me of my old Nikon D800 files. Boring, bland and completely lifeless. It took nearly 12 months for me to learn to love the M240 files and the solution was I developed my first MrLeica presets. Adding either a B&W or colour LR presets to the M240 RAW files transformed the images in a single click. Finally these flat dull looking images had character and a look that I was happy with.
Hello sleep, goodnight Photoshop
After years of painful Photoshop editing, long hours late into the night most evenings, then struggling to stay awake the morning after, propped up on tea strong enough that you can stand your spoon up, I could finally start going to bed at a social hour. No more silly long hours struggling in Photoshop. Hello to one click editing via my new Lightroom presets (and a quick polish in Photoshop after).
Photos looked good, I must be getting better
For the years that followed I continued to process all RAW files from all cameras via Lightroom. Even non-Leica cameras. I bought the Panasonic Lumix S5 and despite it not having a Leica magic logo, once I had developed Lumix S presets I loved the photos as much as my Leica images (which was a surprise!). I even liked photos shot with my little Lumix G series cameras that I bought for video once I’d make a preset pack for them. The M240 files now looked as nice as any other Leica camera and life was good again.
The ultimate test was a recent review of a Nikon Z6 camera. I was expecting the same pain and suffering as with my Nikon D800 files but no. Once I’d made a Nikon Z6 preset pack the photos looked as good as those with my Leica cameras. Scary stuff!
Why did I struggle so much for all those years?
I just couldn’t understand why I used to struggle for hours editing photos in the past, and the final result still looked rubbish. That was until an unforeseen event that happened a few days ago. I was not able to process my latest files in Lightroom and my Photoshop nightmares came rushing back. How could every photo from my recent model shoot in Spain look bad?
Unable to edit in Lightroom
If you’ve watched my latest YouTube video you’ll know I was teaching a model photography workshop/ Leica workshop to a dutch photographer/ awesome Patreon in Spain. Hidde kindly let me use some of his nice cameras but on the last day I departed and left my SD card in his Leica SL2 camera. Hidde being the absolute super star that he is, offered to transfer all full size 47MP RAW files to me electronically.
RAW photos on the cloud looked average
My computer was already almost out of storage capacity so for the next 3 days I downloaded individual images from the cloud so I had something to post on social media. I scanned through the photos trying to find something good enough to download to edit. Everything just looked meh so I just picked the best of the bad bunch and reluctantly posted to social media.
Back to editing via Photoshop
Why was I struggling? First I was viewing images without my MrLeica preset applied, and I rarely do that on the computer. Second, as I was only editing single files I just opened each RAW image directly through Photoshop. It was like the bad old days all over again. Trying various things in the hope the photo will look better after.
The problem with RAW files is they are kind of a blank canvas. You can take the editing in so many different directions. That leads to A LOT of time wasted trying to choose a look that might work, then doubting yourself, undo, try something else, repeat, cry.
I ordered a new 5TB external HD and today I managed to download the full set of Leica SL2 model image RAW files from Spain. I uploaded the set of 350+ images to Lightroom, I anticipated what preset might work for this model (I mix and match my MrLeica presets), and in this instance I applied my Leica Q B&W preset to the Leica SL2 files. I fine tuned the first image to suit the model, the light and the lens choice and then in ONE CLICK, pasted the settings/ look across all 350+ images. Done. Better than magic!
Nice photos afterall
I started looking through the preset-edited model photography shots expecting to perhaps find one photo that I liked (based on my previous viewing of the RAW files), but no. I starred my first image as a keeper, a second, third forth, tenth, twenth.. what the heck. How is it that I now like a lot of the images where previously they were a massive disappointment?
The power of presets
That’s the power of presets. Just develop a LR preset (or buy from photographers where you like the look of their work) to give you a style that suits your scene or individual. Presets work so well as they take away the uncertainty. They convert a RAW file that can be edited in multiple directions into a photo developed in a single direction. You can then fine tune the final look to taste but the work is 95%+ complete. Lightroom presets do the hard graft so you don’t have to.
Need Leica Presets?
I never realised quite how much I rely on my various MrLeica Lightroom presets that I’ve developed over the years. Without them it seemed I’m just as bad as I was a decade ago.
Most photos are wrecked in editing, not in camera
I’m just an average guy as you may know if you follow me but I’ve uploaded over 11,600 images since I joined the platform Flickr. I’ve spent a fair bit of time there over the years. When it comes to portraits in particular, there is such a fine line between good editing and terrible (over) editing. Great editing looks flawless, my minimal “preset-style” editing looks OK.. the girls still may have their wrinkles etc but at least they look like themselves, and then there are the massively over-edited photos.
A blurred face with two cut out sharp eyes. I started out my portraits doing just the same. Thankfully editing via Lightroom presets helps prevent me from going over the top in Photoshop and the final photos improve as a result.
Uniform look across your work
Finally, a further benefit of using presets (whether Lightroom or Capture One), is applying presets helps give you a uniform look across your images. Rather than have one sepia toned photo, one cyan toned image, one cross processed, one supersaturated, one bleached and a complete mish mash of styles, presets give you work a certain look or style. If you come to make a photobook or zine it’s so much nicer to view a body of work that has a consistent appearance.
Hooray for Lightroom!
Just my 2p worth but I now appreciate how much I need Lightroom! I’ll make sure I share what I learnt when I teach my next workshop. View more model photography images edited with MrLeica LR presets here.
..Or just cheat and shoot film!
The alternative of course is you just shoot film instead! Film cameras do the work of Lightroom presets and can give you a 90%-100% edit in camera (well on film). When I edit my film scans I edit individual images only with Photoshop. As with digital photography I try to shoot so I don’t need to edit (plus with film you can apply your look during film scanning).