Presets: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

The photography world is awash with presets. Companies like Luminar and Nik offer great presets. I’m a big fan and use presets from both companies.

Yet, I think photographers need to learn how to use presets.

Just because you can use a preset, doesn’t mean you should use a preset. We used to say the same about the saturation slider, by the way. Just because the slider goes all the way to the right, doesn’t mean you should move it all the way to the right.

What’s a preset? Presets are “pre-made” formulas for processing an image. The various sliders in a software are “pre-set” to give a specific look. Presets are a bit like using the Auto mode on your camera. Auto mode is okay but it’s better when you really learn how to use the camera.

I’ve used presets for years to process HDR image. It was simple to scroll through the presets in Photomatix back in the old days to get the HDR look I wanted. Critics were screaming “HDR looks so fake!” because photographers were overdoing the presets in Photomatix.

HDR looked great, though, if the processing was in moderation. A photo editor once asked me to send “more of those dreamy-looking photos” for a project. Those “dreamy photos” were HDR images with moderate processing.

Today we have presets from big companies, small companies, and individuals. A photographer recently told me that he only uses Pentax presets because that’s how Pentax files are designed to be processed. Turns out someone has made presets and is marketing them to Pentax users.

I recently watched a photographer accept gushing praise for an image that I know was processed with a preset. The processing wasn’t that great. To the uneducated eye, though, the photographer appeared to be on location at the exact right magical moment when the light was perfect. Nope! The magic came from a preset.

Photos entered in a recent contest were passed over by the judges because the presets were so exaggerated. These were possible winning images but the processing was too much. The photographer needs to learn where, when, and how to use presets.

I’m not suggesting that presets go away. I’m suggesting photographers learn how to process. We should understand what’s going on with the software and use it when and where it’s needed. Exaggerate all you want but tone it down when it’s appropriate.

Below I’ll show you my photos that are reasonably processed and then exaggerated with presets.

Yes, I use presets to enhance my creativity. I use presets sometimes to show me the potential of an image. Presets can support our creative vision as well as ruin it.

Below are some images that I processed with presets — and was thankful for the power of presets.

Great companies like Luminar and Nik make presets. Photographers should learn where, when, and how to use use them.

Macphun Intensify versus NIK

Lightning Storm KAC6786_1
Here’s the image processed with Adobe Camera Raw.

Lightning Storm KAC6786
Same image as above then processed with Macphun Intensify.  The clouds really pop with drama.

Lightning Storm KAC6786nik
I stared with the first image and then did a little post processing with Google’s NIK Color Efex Detail Extractor.  

This comparison illustrates that Macphun Intensify can give us the great results we loves with Google’s NIK Color Efex Detail Extractor.