June 24, 2020

All About Presets

What’s the buzz around presets?

You know those Instagram accounts you click on and you think, “Woah… their page looks so put together! How do they do it?!” The answer is probably presets. Most bloggers and influencers use presets to achieve a uniform style in their photos. It’s also becoming more and more common to see personal accounts using presets, too. And most of the time, it’s really easy! Work smarter, not harder, right?

But influencers and bloggers aren’t the only ones who use presets. Photographers use presets, too! And they also create them.

So how do presets work?

Let’s pretend you’re editing a photo. Ehhhh, let’s say the photo’s a little dark, so you bump up the brightness–or exposure–a few points. Then let’s say the colors look a little dull, so you decide to play around with the vibrance. But wait! It’s really important for the trees to pop, so you decide to bring out some green. 

You can spend hours getting every little detail justright on a photo; you can play around and adjust the details until your eyes cross or the cows come home. And once you’ve done all that work, and the photo looks PERFECT–I mean absolutely stunning–you remember that you have 37 more photos you have to edit to look exactly. like. this. one. 


Editing this one photo alone took two hours to get everything perfect! And now you have to remember every single little thing you adjusted so you can do it to the other 37?! That’s like 72 hours! No thank you, not today Satan. You will not steal my joy.

But wait just one second. In walks this tall glass of water called Preset, and he says in a silky voice, “Hey there. You look stressed. Let me help you. Let me give you some much needed YOU time.” And that is basically how a preset works. 

Okay that’s not really an accurate depiction of my main man, Preset. But it is an accurate description of how you feel when you realize how much time you saved. In reality, when you are done editing a photo, you can choose to save alllll those little adjustments you made, and it might look something like this:

Exposure: +0.23

Contrast: +70

Highlight: -39

Shadow: +68

White balance: +12

Temperature: -6

Tint: -5

Clarity: +43

Vibrance: +60

Once you save all of these changes, you can name this new look you have created. Let’s name it “Radiant Joy” for the sake of the example. Boom. You just created your first preset. And now you want the other 37 photos to look just like this one, so you open the photo in Lightroom or whatever you use to edit photos, and you click on ol’ “Radiant Joy”. And what is this? All of your photos suddenly have the same style with the click of a button. Pretty awesome.

Choosing your style

It’s very important to first determine the style you would like to achieve in your photo. How do you want people to feel or how do you want to feel when you see a photo? These are both very important questions to ask yourself when choosing a preset. To break it down a little further, I’m going to give you a visual of what I mean by style. I’m going to show you an example.

The photo on the left makes you feel like you’re in a cozy coffee shop on a rainy day, while the photo on the right makes you feel like you’ve just picked up these delicious snacks, and now you’re off to a glamorous pool party with your gal pals. That’s what I mean by style. Both of these photos are featuring donuts, but they make you feel very differently. How do you want to feel? Now choose or create a preset to embody those feelings.

When should you use them?

There’s no rule on how often you should use presets. They are incredibly helpful, so use them as much as you’d like, but keep in mind presets are not a safety net. They are not a one-size-fits-all situation. This is not Sisterhood of the Traveling Presets over here. You cannot slap the same preset on every photo and expect it to look better than the original. You need to keep an open mind–and an open eye–when using them. 

Presets are meant to be a guide. They kindly eliminate a lot of running around aimlessly in circles. They give you a general idea of the style of photo, so that hopefully all you have to do is tweak it here and there. For example, say you had a Golden Hour photo shoot, and that Golden Hour quickly turned into sunset. When you edit your photos, you can’t slap “Radiant Joy” on all of the photos because the sunset pics are darker than the Golden Hour pics. It’s important to keep a sharp eye when using presets, so you can still adjust your brightness or other aspects of the photo as needed. 

How does your photographer use presets?

Photographers put on their pants just like everyone else, one leg at a time. And they also use presets just like everyone else… sorta. 

You know that feeling when you take a photo, and then you go back and look at it like, “Darn. This photo really didn’t do ___ justice.” That kind of mentality is not accepted by most photographers unless it’s a photo of the grand canyon (because how in the world can you fit that vastness into a photo?!). But for most things, photographers face the challenge head-on to make sure that photo indeed does justice to your Aunt Suzan’s dress at your wedding.

The difference between photographers using presets and your average Joe using presets is the photographer is thinking ahead while taking photos. With a trained eye, they are already thinking about what edits should be made in order to capture the beautiful moment. Paying close attention to their surroundings, they are noting the atmosphere and taking a mental photo in order to recreate the moment in a still-shot for you. Photographers have an eye for beauty, and they are often able to bring out and enhance the beauty already present in a photo, and sometimes this is achieved through a special preset they created just for this scene. 

How do photographers create presets?

We’ve already discussed how presets work. Remember the Radiant Joy example? Photographers create new presets the same way we saw in the Radiant Joy example above, except they tend to do less wandering around aimlessly in the early stages. With their trained eye, photographers are usually able to tell pretty quickly what needs to be corrected in a photo, or what aspect should pop and be brought to the viewer’s attention. This eliminates a lot of playing around with the editing software they are using. In reality, they create presets the same way anyone would; it just takes them less time.

The other main difference is most people use already-made presets in apps to edit their photos or some apps even let you create your own presets. But photographers use editing software like Adobe Lightroom to create very personalized, very unique presets. 

Do you want to become a preset master?

There are tons of online courses and videos you can watch to beef up your preset game if you are interested in becoming a master of presets. Don’t be afraid to sign up for a free trial of editing software, watch a few videos, and play around creating your own presets. You will quickly gain a new respect for photographers and the time they spend learning the ropes of presets. 

If that’s not in your wheelhouse or maybe you’re not just not interested in becoming a master, don’t worry! There are still other ways you can get your Insta feed looking neat and clean and cohesive. Several bloggers and influencers have their own presets they’ve created available for other people to download, too! That way you get all the benefits without having to invest so much of your time wandering around in editing software. 


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