It’s funny how using Photoshop Actions or Lightroom Presets can either be one of the coolest parts of the editing process….
Or the absolute worst.
And sometimes, even if you ‘do everything right in camera’ you can still find yourself in a scenario where no matter how many Presets you try, they just don’t quite cut it… Is it only me, or do you feel as though you enter an endless clicking cycle when trying to decide which style or Lightroom Preset to use?
This is my typical experience:
I usually find my indecisiveness shortlists 2 or 3 Presets that “look alright” and after about 15 minutes I forget what the earlier Presets looked like and the clicking cycle goes on… It makes me think whether the promise of ‘presets saving you time editing so you can go shoot more’ is genuine?
It’s not uncommon to abort the Preset selection process, wishing for a way to combine (or stack) the different Presets that you do somewhat like into a hybrid mishmash – taking the best elements from each.
If you’re hoping this is the part where I turn around and say, “well here’s how you can!” I’m afraid you will be temporarily disappointed.
I say temporarily because, well, instead, I have the perfect system to help you get out of the endless clicking cycle and edit amazing images with ‘stackable’ presets that actually save you time in the long run and help you to quickly build an editing style.
Lightroom Presets 101
Before we go any further, let’s spend a few seconds understanding how Presets work in Lightroom.
When a Preset is created, you have the option of choosing what adjustments get recorded/applied/saved to the Preset.
For example, If you:
- Set your exposure to +1 and leave all the remaining basic adjustments at zero
- Press Ctrl + Shift + N (PC) or Command + Shift + N (Mac) to create a new Preset
- Select the Basic Tone checkbox and Click ‘Create’
Lightroom will gather the adjustment values of the settings you selected and save these into a new Preset. i.e.
- Exposure: +1
- Contrast: 0
- Highlights: 0
- Shadows: 0
- Whites: 0
- Blacks: 0
This means that if you were to apply this Preset to an image with existing edits to the basic adjustments, it will change that image’s settings to reflect exactly those of the Preset – regardless what it’s previous settings may have been.
Regardless what the settings of an image are, when you apply a Preset, Lightroom will override the images current settings with the values of the settings that the Preset was created with.
Let’s take a look at one more scenario before moving on.
Staying with the example Preset, if you were to apply this Preset to an image that had existing adjustments including edits to Clarity, Saturation and Vibrance, what would be the outcome?
Just like before, Lightroom will update the basic adjustments to reflect exactly those of the Preset. However, it will not adjust the Clarity, Vibrance or Saturation. This is because when the example Preset was originally created, only the Basic Tone checkboxes were selected.
Therefore, the example Preset will only override the Basic Tone values and ignore all remaining settings.
As you can see, the way in which a Lightroom Preset is originally put together (i.e. what settings were selected when it was created) plays a huge role in whether it ‘plays nicely’ with your image’s existing settings or how well it combines with other Presets.
This also explains why you can’t necessarily combine or stack presets – because the settings are likely to be conflicting and will override each other.
So how do we get them working together? Well, read on.
Lightroom Presets 201 – How to Create a Series of Stackable Lightroom Presets
Creating a series of Presets that essentially allow you to stack them on top of one another is possible. And it all comes down to the way they are created.
As you saw in the example above, whenever you apply a Preset it will override any existing settings if there is a conflict. Therefore, if you create and organise your Presets in a way that breaks them down to target smaller, specific adjustments, you can avoid conflicting settings and can combine multiple Presets to one image.
Here’s precisely how you can do it.
Step one: Create a Preset Folder Structure
In this step, you’re going to begin by creating a folder structure for your Presets, where each folder will focus on a different set of adjustments. What do I mean by folder structure? Let me quickly demonstrate.
You see, the idea is to create a collection of Preset folders similar to these.
Inside each one of these folders there are several presets that target the same adjustment sliders, but vary in intensity.
Get started by opening up Lightroom and navigating to the Develop Module. Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Alt + N (PC) or Command + Option + N (Mac) to create a New Preset Folder. Rename this folder to “1. Exposure”.
Repeat this process, setting up individual folders for each of the following:
- Colour Strength
- Image Tone
Note: As you might see in the screenshots, I have gone on to create many more Preset Folders for individual adjustments such as: Light Leaks, Cross processing, Split Toning, Sharpening etc. But for the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll keep it short.
Step Two: Creating Specific (and Stackable) Adjustments
The aim here is to create a series of presets inside each Folder that:
- are focused on a specific adjustment (i.e. Exposure);
- use the same adjustment sliders; and
- vary in intensity.
Let’s start off by creating a Preset that lightens the Exposure slightly.
Here you can see the Exposure, Highlight and Shadow sliders have been adjusted to +0.35, +1 and +1 respectively.
Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + N (PC) or Command + Shift + N (Mac) to create a new Preset. Rename the Preset to “Lighten +1” and be sure to select your “1. Exposure” Preset Folder that you created in the previous step.
This bit is crucial. Instead of selecting all of the checkboxes, ensure that you only select the relative setting checkboxes before you click ‘Create’. This is key to creating Presets that you can later combine or ‘stack’.
In this example, only the Exposure, Highlight and Shadow sliders were adjusted. Therefore, these are the only checkboxes you’ll select (note: Lightroom may prompt you to check the “process version” checkbox – It’s a good idea to check this and I’ll leave the explanation as to why for another post). To finish, click ‘Create’.
You can now repeat this process, each time using the Exposure, Highlight and Shadow sliders to gradually increase or decrease the effect until you have several presets varying in intensity. Here you can see the Presets I created for my “Exposure” Folder.
When you’re happy with the variety of your exposure Presets you can then shift your focus to create the presets for your next Folder (“2. Contrast”).
For your “2. Contrast” Presets, start off by creating a Preset that increases the contrast slightly. Increase the contrast slider to around +10 and use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + N (PC) or Command + Shift + N (Mac) to create a new Preset. Rename the Preset to “Contrast +1” and be sure to select your “2. Contrast” Preset Folder.
Again, this is the crucial bit. Ensure that you only select the relative setting checkboxes when creating the Preset: in this case, you’ll only select the Contrast checkbox and click ‘Create’.
Repeat this process, each time using the contrast slider to gradually increase or decrease the effect until you have several Contrast presets varying in intensity. Here you can see the Presets I created for my “2. Contrast” Folder.
When you’re happy with the variety of your contrast presets you can move on, creating the Presets for your remaining folders.
Detail, Colour Strength and Image Tone Presets
In the interest of keeping this tutorial relatively short I’ll summarise the creation of the remaining Presets and Folders.
By now you probably have the idea. The Preset creation process is the same in all situations:
- Make an adjustment that only targets specific sliders.
- Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + N (PC) or Command + Shift + N (Mac) to create a new Preset.
- Save it to the corresponding Preset Folder.
- Ensure you only select the relative setting checkboxes in the Preset creation window before clicking ‘Create’.
- Gradually increase or decrease the sliders, creating several variations of the Preset with varying intensities.
You can set your Preset Folders up to target anything you like. For example, you may wish to create a Preset Folder called “Warming Tones” and create a series of presets that target the use of the white balance tool, in varying strengths, to warm up your image.
It simply comes down to preference. The type of Preset Folders and amount of Presets you want to create is entirely your choice. Just remember the key to creating stackable Presets is that you target different settings and sliders with each Folder of Presets. Doing this ensures the settings won’t compete with one another, which allows you to stack multiple Presets on your images.
In case you are wondering what sliders and settings to use for the remaining Preset Folders you created in Step One, here are some suggestions.
– Create several Presets in the detail Folder targeting the Clarity and Dehaze sliders in varying degrees of intensity.
- Colour Strength
– Create several Presets in the Colour Strength Folder targeting the Vibrance and Saturation sliders in various strengths.
- Image Tone
– Create several Presets in the Image Tone Folder using the Tone Curve to apply different tones and styles.
Ultimately, you’re aiming for a collection of Presets organised within a Folder structure where each Folder targets different settings in the develop module (Screenshot below).
Creating your presets in this way enables you to stack multiple presets from different folders which makes the editing process more systematic, streamlined and actually saves you time. It’s also a great method to quickly build an editing style and give you an excellent starting point for your images which you can then fine tune.
Is this guy serious?
You’re probably thinking… “Will… I thought you said this would actually save us time!? It will take months to create several Presets in all the different Folders!”
If so, then here is where you can rejoice. I have made all of my stackable Presets available for you to download for free inside the Library. Yes, that means instead of spending your time creating the individual folders and presets, you can simply login to the library, download the presets, load them into Lightroom and send me a virtual high five.
However! Just before you click that little blue button, I challenge you to fight the temptation to ‘download and flee’.
Yes, I’d like you to download the Presets so you can go forth and create something magical. But what I’d really like is for you to read on… not necessarily because I want to woo your internal voice with my dulcet English tones. Rather, I really want you to understand exactly how the Presets work. For two reasons.
- So you know how to use them; and
- More importantly, so you can continue to develop them: adding your own style and building a powerful Preset collection that will help you to produce beautiful edits every time.
The choice is yours.
Accept the challenge and read on to look at two examples that use this exact method to quickly and easily create two separate editing styles.
How to Edit Images and Create Different Styles with Stackable Presets – Example 1
That’s the spirit! Let’s dive right in. Here’s our first collection of images from a lifestyle photoshoot at the beach.
For this collection, we will use the stackable presets to create a high key Black and White style with a warm undertone. Flick through the gallery below to see exactly how I achieved this look.
To finish this collection off you can batch process the remaining images by synchronizing the settings. Flick through the gallery below to see how its done.
Here you can see the final images after what took approximately 8 minutes to edit.
Let’s move on to the final example.
How to Edit Images and Create Different Styles with Stackable Presets – Example 2
Here’s our second collection of images from the incredible Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Tasmania.
If you have ever visited you’ll know that the museum represents some pretty moody and gloomy dark art. So, to keep in theme, we’ll try and recreate that dark and somewhat grungy feel using the stackable presets. Flick through the gallery below to see precisely which Presets I stacked to create a fitting look.
Following the same method in example one, you can now synchronize these settings across the other images in the collection. Here you can see the final images after what took approximately 12 minutes to edit.
All this talk of Lightroom, Presets, Folders, Settings, Synchronizing and batch processing probably has your undies in a twist. I can see why. Here’s a snapshot of all that we have covered:
- Lightroom Presets 101 – Here we had a look at how basic presets work and learnt how to create a Preset.
- Lightroom Presets 201 – in this section we learnt how to create a Preset Folder structure and took a look at creating Presets with specific settings that you can combine.
- And finally, we used the ‘Stackable’ Presets to quickly create two editing styles and learnt how to synchronize these across your collections.
I know the editing process can be a confusing and intimidating one. Especially when starting out. But keep at it. Because being able to create your own Presets, specifically Presets that work together, can make your editing workflow so much quicker. It also removes the headache from what can be a very overwhelming and clueless process.
So, it’s over to you. What will you create? Share it with me, I’d love to see it.
PS. It’s Fun!
PPS. Here’s that link again so you can Login to the library to Download all 11 Preset Folders (with over 70 presets) that I use in this article for free. Don’t have a library login?