Using Lightroom Presets for Portraits

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Lightroom presets

Old Polar Lightroom preset

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about processing portraits (you can read that article here). I touched on using Lightroom Presets, and today I want to explore that topic a little more deeply.

One of the biggest advantages of Lightroom 4, for me, over other software such as Photoshop CS or Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) is the ability to save the settings that I used to process an image as a preset.

Here are some of the benefits of including presets in your workflow:

  • Presets save you time. You can use them to automate tasks that you perform regularly.
  • If you come up with a ‘look’ that you like, you can save the settings you used to obtain it as a preset. You can then use that preset to process other images or pass it on, or even sell it, to other photographers.
  • You can use presets created by other photographers to automate some tasks or process your images. This lets you benefit from the processing expertise of other photographers. It forms part of the learning process too as you can see the settings used and learn how to apply those functions to your own images.
  • You can use presets, whether your own or somebody else’s, as a starting point. You can change as many of the settings as you wish in order to adapt the preset to your images.

Automating your workflow

There are two ways that you can use Lightroom presets to automate your workflow:


1. Applying presets upon import

You can select a preset to apply to Raw files at the import stage. The preset becomes a starting point that you can work from.

You could create several presets just for this purpose, and select the one that is most appropriate for the subject. For example, I have a preset that I use for portraits. It sets Picture Style to portrait, White balance to daylight, enables lens corrections and zeroes the Tone and Presence sliders.

The aim of this preset is to automate these tasks, and bring me to a starting point from where I can edit the portrait.

This screenshot shows where you can select a Lightroom preset to apply during import:

Lightroom presets


2. Automating tasks during processing

You can also use presets to automate certain tasks during processing. First, you need to create a new preset:

1. Go to the Develop menu and select New Preset.

Lightroom presets

2.In the New Develop Preset window, select the settings that you want to save in the preset. If you are saving a preset to use that stores most of the settings used, then the boxes ticked would look something like this. The only boxes left unticked are the ones which will differ according to the composition of the image (such as Graduated Filters and Post-crop Vignetting) or the ISO settings (Noise Reduction):

Lightroom presets

Alternatively, you can select a single setting. The idea is to automate part of your workflow to save time. For example, you could create vignettes, or graduated filters, or even a set of presets that apply different contrast settings or exposure adjustments.

The preset applies the settings whose boxes are ticked. If the only box ticked is Split Toning, as in this next example, then using this preset will alter the split toning settings and nothing more (I use this to store split toning presets to apply to my black and white portraits):

Lightroom presets

Gavin Gough explores this idea further in this ebook The Photographer’s Workflow, which includes a set of Lightroom presets to help you automate your workflow. Click the link to read my review of his ebook.

Other people’s Lightroom presets

There seem to be quite a few photographers and companies providing Lightroom presets. Some are free, others you will have to buy. These can be fun to experiment with and the better ones should help you improve your processing skills. Feel free to Google ‘Lightroom presets’ and see what comes up. There are also links later in this article to Lightroom Presets that I’ve found useful. They are a good place to start.

Once you have obtained some presets you need to add them to Lightroom:

1. Open Preferences (Lightroom > Preferences on a Mac, Edit > Preferences on a PC).

2. Click the Presets tab and then the Show Lightroom Presets folder button.

Lightroom presets

3. Copy your new presets to the Develop Presets folder and restart Lightroom.

With Lightroom open, you will find the presets in the left-hand panel in the Develop module. Hover over a preset to see a preview in the Navigator panel. Click the preset to apply it to the image. If you are happy with the result, you can stop right there. Or you might like to go to the develop settings and tweak them to bring the best out of your image:

Lightroom presets

Lightroom presets in action

Let’s take a look at what you can achieve with Lightroom presets. I’ve selected a portrait to demonstrate. This is the original, processed in Lightroom 4. It’s good enough to be considered a final image, but I thought it would be fun to see how many different versions I could produce using Lightroom presets, and how they differ to the original:

Portrait processed in Lightroom 4

Portrait processed in Lightroom 4 (no presets)

Lightroom 4 presets

Let’s start with some of the presets that come with Lightroom 4. You don’t have to do anything to obtain these – they are already there:

Colour Lightroom presets

Aged photo

IMG_0098-[original LR Video Colour Pop]

Video Colour pop

IMG_0098-[original LR Video Cross Process 2]Video Cross process 2

Black & white Lightroom preset

Black & white look 5 IMG_0098-[original LR aaCreamtone]


IMG_0098-[original LR aaOrange Filter]

Orange filter IMG_0098-[original LR aaYellow Filter]

Yellow filter

IMG_0098-[original LR abSepia Tone]

Sepia tone

IMG_0098-[original LR abSplit Tone 4]

Split tone 4

OnOne Software’s free Lightroom presets

OnOne Software provides some free Lightroom presets – The Signature Collection. I really like these, there are some interesting effects that you can play with. You can download these presets here:

OnOne Lightroom preset

Glow – Subtle portrait

IMG_0098-[OnOne Gritty Daylight]

Gritty – Daylight

IMG_0098-[OnOne Gritty Warm]

Gritty – Warm

IMG_0098-[OnOne Movie Looks Clarity]

Movie Looks – Clarity

IMG_0098-[OnOne Tinting Red]

Tinting – Red

IMG_0098-[OnOne Toners z B&W High Contrast]

Toners – Black & white high contrast

IMG_0098-[OnOne Toners z Light Mocha ]

Toners – Light mocha

Presets Heaven vintage presets

A set of seven free vintage presets that you can download here:

Preset Heaven Vintage Lightroom preset

Vintage III

IMG_0098-[original PH Vintage V]

Vintage V

IMG_0098-[original PH Vintage VI]Vintage VI


The Mastering Lightroom ebooks

Mastering Lightroom ebooksMastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module  shows you how to use the Library Module to import, organise and search your images. This important task lays the foundation for the work you do in Lightroom. Mastering the Library module and learning to use Collections to organise and sort your photos ultimately saves you time, which you can spend either in the Develop module or with your camera.

Mastering Lightroom: Book Two – The Develop Module explains how to use the tools in the Develop module to get the most out of your Raw files. It builds on the lessons learnt in Mastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module and shows you how to use Lightroom’s powerful features to creatively process your images. You’ll be amazed how easy Lightroom is to use once you’re familiar with it and just how much it speeds up your workflow compared to other applications.

Note: Both ebooks are written for Lightroom 4 and Lightroom 5.


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