I want to use this space to talk about something that's been weighing on my mind for a while now. Please keep in mind that this strictly my opinion, and I'm wrong a LOT so please feel free to tell me if you disagree! :) 

I'm a member of a number of photography groups on Facebook; I'm sure most of you are involved in at least one. Some are large and impersonal, some small and intimate, some friendly, some not-so-friendly. One thing I've seen come up a number of times in some of these groups, especially the larger and less friendly ones, is the implication (direct or indirectly stated) that

using presets or actions in your work somehow makes you less of an artist.

I'm writing today to tell you, respectfully, that this is a huge load of crap. Of course, I have a horse in this race. That's obvious. But that's not why this snobbery bothers me.

It bothers me because it's simply NOT. TRUE. 

Presets, actions, brushes, these are just tools. Period. Do they make editing faster? YES. Do they make it easier? Hopefully! But does faster and easier mean worse? I'm sure there are plenty of purists out there, keeping the art of darkroom developing alive, that would say yes. But let's face it, most of the people who talk down on photographers who use presets and actions, they shoot digital. And chances are, they shoot digital because it is both FASTER and EASIER than shooting and developing film. 

Don't get me wrong here; I do a lot of "hand editing" myself! Especially with brushes. Usually I find it's necessary to do quite a bit of detail work to get my images exactly where I want them. But I also have zero shame about finding the perfect preset for an image, loving it, and calling it done! And you know what? I don't think anyone could tell the difference most of the time, looking at the final images. 

So why use presets and actions? 

Presets and actions, when they are used well and knowledgeably, can save literally HOURS of time.

I can't even conceive of trying to edit 200 images from a wedding, starting from scratch each time, making the dozens of little adjustments to each image painstakingly by hand! Maybe some people really enjoy that, but as for me, I have a family and I like spending time with them. I love that I can run through my list of presets and know *just* which one will make my image sing. Then I DO enjoy doing all those little fiddly tweaks that make it perfect.

The other thing I've loved about working with presets is that sometimes (I'm sure you can relate) I just don't know which direction I want to go with my edit. That's when it becomes such a huge advantage to have a catalog of different looks I can scroll through and preview. I can't count the number of times that this process of experimenting has led me in new and exciting directions that I would never have come up with, had I just started from scratch. 

But doesn't using a preset or action make your work look exactly like everyone else's?

As far as I can tell after a year and a half of working with probably almost 100 different photographers on my beta testing team, testing presets on images from every kind of camera, under every kind of lighting conditions, and with every kind of artistic style imaginable, the answer is a resounding NO. It's almost laughable, really. I've seen the same preset used by a dozen different photographers, and it looked completely different on each of their images. The idea that your work will become some soulless copy of everyone else's work is just ridiculous--

because an artist's voice is made up of so much MORE than the way they process their photos. 

Sure, some people will use the tools as an excuse not to grow, not to develop their own style. That is a given with any perceived "shortcut." But in my experience, those people are VASTLY in the minority. The photographers I've gotten to know through this business are passionate, driven learners who are constantly trying new things and working on themselves. They, YOU, inspire me on a daily basis!

I guess what I'm getting at here, is that I hope the next time somebody gives you that speech about how THEY never use presets or actions, about how THEY do everything by hand for every image, and how THEY wouldn't be caught dead enhancing their work with something someone else made.....well....Let 'em! And move on. Know that you are every bit the artist they are. And you probably have a lot more free time---time you can re-invest in learning and shooting and perfecting your craft. 


If you feel like it, please leave a note in the comments and tell us why you use presets or actions---or don't! I'd love to keep the conversation going! 

(Note: ALL images in this article are by yours truly, Liberty Kifer....Some were one-click edits with presets, others have extensive brushwork and other adjustments, one has a Simply Action on it, and at least one is totally hand-edited. If you can't tell which is which...well, for the sake of the point I'm making here, neither will I :)) 


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7 comments

  1. Amanda

    I really enjoyed this article! Your lightroom presets are beautiful, I love the ones I have gotten from you, and feel they have helped me find my own unique style! I also love being able to hand edit with your killer brush sets!

  2. Belinda Fee

    Perfectly put! I absolutely agree with you, 1000%. These presets and brushes have not only allowed me to do things I thought impossible in lightroom but also things I didn’t didn’t know where yet possible of myself and my work. I found my individual style and silky presets had a huge hand it making that happen quicker and easier then it would have without.

  3. isla

    great blog post!! a working photographer needs ways to speed up their processing and if the presets fit your style, it’s a no-brainer! Best presets available!!

  4. Mandy Provan

    I totally agree with you Liberty! Presets and actions save so much time and are wonderful tools to use. Not using presets or actions that are available is like baking a cake and using a wooden spoon to beat the mixture together when you have a perfectly good electric mixer standing next to you!!
    As with anything in life you’ll always get those who think they know better and will look down their noses at those who use the tools available to them….. Most often you find that the people who are bad mouthing others have their own insecurities that they’re trying to cover up and perhaps they don’t even know how to use presets or actions, so they knock those that do.

    If the tools are there, USE them! And if you don’t know how, don’t knock those that do! :)

  5. Abigail

    I relied heavily on presets and actions when I first started photography because I didn’t know what I was doing. I thought that just because I did some post processing work on an image that it meant I was more of a “real” photographer. Using presets and actions have helped me to learn how PS and LR work. I would run one and then see what changes it did to picture and adjust them if I needed to. I’ve been able to use actions that I’ve purchased and combine them together to make actions for my workflow. I’ve even created actions of my own of certain adjustments that I do on almost every single picture. I still use actions and presets a lot in my work mainly because it saves me time. I’m still learning and still learn new techniques through actions that I’ve processed. If you have time to “hand edit” every single picture, great! If you’re like me, you don’t have that time and you have to find ways to make things more efficient while not sacrificing quality on your work. For me, this is by using actions and presets and I’m ok with that.

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