To Preset or Not to Preset, That is the Question… / by John Clark

It was a fun process of experimentation that led to this image during post-processing

It was a fun process of experimentation that led to this image during post-processing

Let me start right off by saying I have a love/hate relationship with presets.

I love to collect presets. Anytime they are given away you can pretty much count on me for a download. Like most photographers, I have so many presets downloaded and installed that I really have no idea how most of them will adjust the photo. And it’s not just for one post-processing program; I collect presets for Lightroom, ON1 RAW and most any other software I’ve played around with over the past few years.

But despite this large (and continually growing) library, I hate to use presets. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word… I dislike using presets, for the most part.

Occasionally I might get a whim to start out using a preset when developing an image and – now that we are in the circle of truth – often find something that I like. A lot! And there are a couple of presets that I used to use with some regularity.

But for me, post-processing is half the fun of photography. Certainly I get a thrill being out in the field taking the shots, but my journey to the final image really starts in the digital darkroom.

Sometimes I will head into processing knowing exactly what I want. I may have a vision while shooting that an image will look fantastic converted to Black and White, or perhaps some form of desaturation (Bleach Bypass, anyone?) as a vignette around the edges is what I had mentally envisioned while on location.

But more often than not, my post-processing is a journey in itself. Moving the sliders, adjusting the colors and playing around with the effects all take me on a fun trip until the final image is where I like. I may not always know the destination, but half the fun of a trip is the experiences along the way.

Now I know that a lot of people simply don’t like post-processing. I get that. I respect that. And I totally understand how a single click on a preset will transform your images into something that you love. It can even define your photographic style. Hundreds of photos from your vacation can all be “finished” in the blink of an eye.

But that’s not for me. I may be the oddball who loves the computer darkroom, but I am also the oddball who doesn’t process every snap of the shutter. There must be something “there” in the image that captures my attention and makes it worthy of spending time to process. The amount of frames captured versus those I actually take the time to process is very low so I can take the time to really create something that I like and want to share.

So, what about you? Are you a “preset and forget” type of post-processer, or do you enjoy the journey of transforming a photo like I do?