Let me start by saying that photographically I'm a bit of a Luddite. I'm all for new technologies and things that will make my job easier but when it comes to ready made development actions and presets I have, until now, stayed well away from them.
It's not that I'm afraid of using them, it's just that when it comes to processing or developing my images I like to do it myself. I've always held the belief that using preset actions that someone else has developed is a bit like letting them decide how your final images should look. Also, and I'm on record for saying this, I always said that using automated processes helps you stay stupid. You may get nice looking images at the end of the process but unless you know and understand what steps have been taken during those processes you haven't actually learned anything or developed any new skills.
So, when I got the chance to try out the Sleeklens 'Strike a Pose' portrait workflow I decided this was the opportunity I needed to see for myself just how useful (or not) automated workflow tools are and how beneficial (or not) they might be.
Installation was easy and simple. I would normally just dive in, try to do it myself and then turn to the instructions when things don't go as they should (I'm a man, it's what we do). However, as I was testing the system, I decided to break with tradition and follow the instructions first. Instructions were clear, concise, well documented and even included screen-grabs of pop-up windows that you are likely to experience. All done, restart Lightroom and away we go.
When Lightroom opened, all the presets and brushes were installed and located exactly where the instructions said they would be. So far, so good.
Step 2: Process an Image
I had recently done a 1940s style vintage portrait session and, as a lot of my work falls within this genre I decided to try the presets and brushes on one of the images from that session. I had worked with two people who were both award winners at the 2015 National Vintage Awards; model, Scarlett Luxe and hair & make-up artist, Bethany Jane Davies of The Vintage Beauty Parlour. When you're working with people of this calibre it's hard to get a bad image and Scarlett was presented to me with perfect hair and make-up. In honesty, this did reduce the amount of post production work required, but there is always something to do to add that final 'je ne sais quoi'.
Initially, working habits kicked in and I started to make manual adjustments to things like exposure and contrast. However, I quickly stopped myself and made myself use the presets. At first, I did find the presets a little overwhelming. There were just so many of them to choose from! (69 in total).
I made full use of Lightroom's Navigator window to see a preview of what each preset would look like when applied. Then, when I found one that suited the image, I applied it.
My initial fears about 'staying stupid' where immediately relieved. As a preset was applied I could look at the develop settings on the right-hand side and see which tools had been used and what settings had been applied. And what's more, I could even further adjust them! This changed my attitude to using presets straight away. Although initially I was applying development processes that someone else had created, I actually had full control over those presets and could tweak them until I found them to be what I was looking for. Plus, if I didn't like the presets when applied, I could easily 'undo' them and start again.
I found the '4-tone tint - golden glow' (but manually reduced the saturation) and then the '4-tone tint - warm up' worked for me. The finishing touch to get the vintage effect I was after was to add a 'black dreamy' vignette.
That is another nice feature of the workflow presets - they are stackable! You don't have to make do with just one, you can add several together to get the desired result.
Although I do use the local adjustment brush quite often, I don't normally use any of the brush presets, but today I was determined to.
As with the presets, I was a little overwhelmed with selection to choose from (62 this time). However, they are all clearly labelled and it is easy to see what each one does. Also, as with the presets, the brushes are all configurable. So, if you don't like how a particular brush works, you can tweak it to your satisfaction.
I did find the brushes very useful and I think these will save a lot of time when editing. Many of the tasks that I normally switch over to Photoshop to complete can now be done while staying within Lightroom.
The most useful brushes I found were the 'reduce shiny skin' (my light was reflecting a little) and 'define hair' brushes. Bethany had done an amazing job with Scarlett's hair and I felt that my image didn't necessarily do it justice. However, a couple of quick swipes with the Define Hair brush and the detail just 'popped'! The texture and highlights that I remember seeing during the shoot were now restored.
I had already created an image that I was happy with but I wanted to play some more (yes, I was enjoying it that much). I decided to try out one of the black and white conversion presets. I tried a couple of them before I found the one I liked, but when I applied the 'Greyscale High' preset, BOOM! - the image was finished. The beauty of using the presets is that they don't necessarily undo what the previously applied presets have done. Yes, the greyscale preset converted the image to black and white, but it didn't remove the subtle sepia tones in the shadows that were present from one of the previous presets.
I tried my best to keep an open mind when using these presets and brushes and I think I achieved it. I started out with a fairly negative view of automated image processes but after working with the Sleeklens set I do think I've changed my mind. They definiteley do simplify the process but they don't take any of the control away from the person doing the edit. I do feel that they will speed up my workflow as I tend to jump between Lightroom and Photoshop to achieve the results I want. Now, however, I can complete many of the tasks within the Lightroom environment.
So, I started out as a bit of a sceptic. Am I now a preset convert? I guess I would have to say 'yes'.
Terry McNamara is a Manchester based freelance commercial photographer. Here you can keep up to date with the projects Terry is working on and whatever he may be currently thinking about.