Presets. You can’t spend a lot of time on either Instagram or Youtube, cruising the photography channels, without coming across them. Or more frequently being sold them. They’re the Coca-Cola bottle of digital photography, they’re everywhere, everybody seems to sell them and in their channel point out that the images were all processed using my ‘rusty zimmer frame’ preset (why do they all have such weird names?) which is available from the link below. I’ve never been tempted by this, mainly I think because I’ve never been convinced that I’ve got a market for a one-size-fits-all post processing solution. I take an image, decide what tweaking it needs and that’s that. So why might I want a preset? Why might I want to use somebody else’s processing choices on my images? It all sounded to me like a posh version of my favourite bugaboo: the Instagram or Snapchat filter.
The other week I was somewhere or other in the Internet, and the images were processed using ‘Earthy Moods’ from the Brixton Collection on Luxe Lens which looked sort of nice, and they were on special offer, so I thought I’d take a punt and see what I thought. So I installed them into Lightroom, opened a photo of Wayland’s Smithy I took years ago pretty much at random and saw what happened. I didn’t do any fine tuning, just clicked on the preset. Here is both my original and the preset version.
With Brixton Earthy Moods preset
I’ve got mixed feelings about the result. The first thing is that it was both my image, and isn’t. I liked the results with a lot of the presets in the pack, in some cases more than my own version, but it wasn’t ‘me’. However much it looked great, it didn’t look like anything I’d ever have done; even if I’d known how to achieve those results; it’s not how I want my work to look. That, for me, is the main reason against buying presets, that you’re essentially taking your vision of the shot and then adding somebody else’s vision to it, which may not match your shot vision. Picking an example at random, I love the work of Evan Ranft and watch all his videos. I get really excited about his urban photography style, but if he did presets they’d not work for me because we’re different photographers, his processing techniques are an extension of his photography, not mine. It might be fun to hand him some of my photos to see what he did with them, and vice versa (though probably not for Evan to be honest…), but the results wouldn’t be ‘his’ or ‘mine’. Evan did a video on what to do if presets don’t do what you want….
If you’re going to go down the route of presets I’d say you can take one of two approaches, either do what I did, pick one you like the look of and see what happens or find a photographer with a similar style to you who sells presets and try those out for size. I don’t think, having tried them, that presets are really equivalent to Instagram or Snapchat filters, because they’re more subtle than those. I’d put them on a par with Hipstamatic, which I really enjoy using now and again, because it makes me see my work in a different way, not always a good way, but different. Sometimes with Hipstamatic I find the genuine lucky accident, when a combination of lens and film produces an image which I really like and which does reflect what I wanted when I took the shot. Do I regret spending my pennies on the pack? Not a bit of it, I’m sure I’m going to have loads of images in future where it’s going to be fun to try them out, and I’ll probably like the result and print or share them. I might even buy some more preset packs if I see something I think is fun, but they’re not going to be a core part of my workflow.