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How To Correctly Use Lightroom Presets For Your Travel Photography

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  • Post last modified:November 23, 2020

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Purchased Lightroom presets and disappointed with the results? You’re not alone. Though Lightroom presets can significantly speed up the editing process, and provide interesting effects, most people don’t know how to correctly use them.

Selling Lightroom presets has become big business in the travel blogging world. It’s a great way for bloggers to help their readers get the most from their travel photography, while making a little money for their time. However, there’s not enough focus on helping readers understand what presets actually do, and what they don’t do.

We’re going to break it down into six key tips on getting the most from your Lightroom presets. We’ve also put together some Free Lightroom Presets for you to practice with. Just follow the link to our other post to grab your free set. Happy editing! 

How to use Lightroom Presets Correctly For Your Travel Photography Pinterest

1) It All Starts With Your Photo

How well a particular Lightroom preset works for you really depends on the photo you’re trying to use it with.

Lightroom presets won’t auto-correct a “bad photo.” If the image is overly blurry, or has bad lighting for example, it’s very unlikely a preset will fix these issues for you, but they may help it.

The thing to realize is, presets typically assume photo standards are met. For instance, many quality presets don’t actually adjust the exposure of an image. When you apply the preset your photo may look too light or too dark. That’s okay, you can adjust this; which leads me into my next point.

2) Lightroom Presets Are a Starting Place

Many people don’t realize, presets rarely give you the final product.

Think about those paint and sip classes. The artist will give you a pre-drawn canvas as a starting place, but you have to finish it in your own style. Presets are a little like this. They give you the starting template, now you have to adjust and tweak to produce your vision for your specific image.

Standard adjustments I make after using a preset include Exposure, Temperature, and the Color Panel. However, I also adjust shadows, blacks, highlights, or anything that works best for my vision.

Here's an example.

In this first image, I applied our Fall Day preset. This preset works well for fall photos taken on a sunny day, but since it was cloudy, the preset made everything a little too blue.

In the second photo, all I’ve done is increased the temperature of the Fall Day preset to add a little warmth to the colors. Even with this very small adjustment, the clouds, and greens at the bottom look more natural, and the fall colors in the trees start to pop.

Fall Trees in Valley, Blue Ridge Parkway, Expert Explorers, Fall Day Preset Original Image
Fall Day preset applied
Fall Trees in Valley, Blue Ridge Parkway, Expert Explorers, Fall Day Preset applied, adding warmth
Fall Day preset applied, tweaking temperature

Editing Tip: Applying a preset is the first thing I do when editing a photo in Lightroom. Presets often override most settings, so there’s no point adjusting your photo until after you’ve applied the preset.

Some artists prefer to adjust exposure first, which works well if your preset doesn’t override the setting.

3) Use Lightroom Presets For Fine Adjustments

When most people talk about Lightroom presets, they mean the preset adjustments made at a global level for a photo. However, under the fine tuning tools, like the brush, radial filter and graduated filter, there are also presets.

Lightroom Classic comes preloaded with a bunch of presets for these tools. My personal favorites are the dodging and burning tools. Use the “effect” drop down to browse the many options.

At the bottom of the drop down list, there’s an option to create your own presets for these wonderful tools.

Lightroom Fine Adjustments tools

4) Lightroom Presets Don't Work For Every Image

Presets are designed with a specific type of image in mind and a specific look for those images. What works well for a beach photo taken on a sunny day, is unlikely to work well for a cloudy day in the mountains. There’s different lighting, different dominate colors, it’s just a completely different photo.   

To demonstrate, I’ve applied one of our Free Lightroom Presets, called Spring Pink, to the Cherry Blossom photo below. You can see that it softened the image, brought out the pinks, and added a brightness around the edge of the photo to draw the eye to the flowers.

Pink Cherry Blossom, Expert Explorer, Spring Pink Preset, Original Image
Original Photo
Pink Cherry Blossom, Expert Explorer Free Lightroom Preset Spring Pink Applied
Spring Pink Preset

Now, let’s apply that same preset to my Finland snow scene. There are some really nice pinks hidden in the sky, so let’s see how the Spring Pink preset looks.

Yikes! What a mess. The sky is not quite the pink I was imagining. It also applied pink to the rest of my photo, a white vignette, and a soft dreamy haze. This isn’t a great starting place for where I want to take this photo.

Snow Tubbing Path in Snow Finland Expert Explorer, Spring Pink Preset, Original Image
Original Photo
Snow Tubbing Path in Snow Finland Expert Explorer, Spring Pink Preset Applied
Spring Pink Preset

However, if instead, I applied another of our free Lightroom presets, Winter White, I’d get a much better starting place. It has really brought out the white in the snow. Now I would just need to tweak the exposure, and work specifically on the sky, using my fine adjustment tools, like the graduated filter.

Snow Tubbing Path in Snow Finland Expert Explorer, Winter White Preset Applied

Editing Tip: I love the English expression, “it does what it says on the tin.” This rings so true for presets. I hate all the super cleverly obscure names some creators give their presets. What the heck does the “Chickamunga” preset do?

It’s easy to rename presets to something meaningful; however, I always leave the creator’s name attached so I can find them again.

5) Be Careful Layering Lightroom Presets

Remember when I said, I typically don’t do my edits until after I add the preset, because it will override the settings? Well, there’s a bit more to it.

When creating a preset, the creator can choose which adjustments are included. For example, our presets override all settings except Exposure and Transform (cropping and scaling). Technically, this means you can adjust exposure first because our presets won’t change it, but our presets will override any other changes made to the photo.

Sometimes you’ll want to use adjustments from multiple presets, but using them in order is important.

Generally, great preset layering candidates only affect one or few adjustments, such as the tone curve, vignetting, or sharpness.

For example, using a vignetting preset prior to using our presets would eliminate your adjustment, but adding it after, gives a lovely effect. One of my favorite Galapagos residents demonstrates layering using our Good For Everything preset, followed by a Heavy Vignetting preset.

Galapagos Lizard, Expert Explorers How to use Lightroom Presets Correctly

6) Pick Your Favorites And Group The Rest

Once you get a good collection of Lightroom presets going, you’ll start to notice your favorites. Presets that work well for the types of photos you take and your style of editing. Group these into your favorites by right clicking on the preset and selecting “add to favorites.” This will group these presets at the top.

Next, consider grouping your other presets into categories. What presets look better for landscapes, color selection, or black & white? What presets are best for layering?

Lightroom presets aim to speed up your editing workflow. Trolling through 100 presets for the right fit is not going to save you time. However, checking the preview window while scrolling through five or six presets in a category, may yield better value.

Editing Tip: Did you know, Lightroom’s mobile app is free and gives you a lot more editing controls than the average phone editor?

Free Lightroom Presets

Okay, are you ready to get started? Jump to our Free Lightroom Presets page to learn about the presets we have for you. We explain the presets, what they work best on, and how to download and install them.

Which of our Lightroom preset tips did you find the most useful? Do you have your own Lightroom preset tips?

If you have any further questions on how to use Lightroom presets correctly, leave them in the comments and we’ll be happy to help.

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