Presets And Plugins, Creative Tools Or Creative Crutch?

I Love To Make Photographs…

As the Mad River in Farmington, NH, cascades over a bright green moss covered granite ledge, it shoots down a natural flume carved into the rock over the centuries. As it reaches the bottom of the flume, it enters a small pool and from there disappears into the forest beyond.

…but I hate the time spent behind the computer once the image has been captured. Time behind the computer is at best, time away from the camera, and at its worst, time away from my family. I’d much rather be out shooting or spending time with my wife and daughter, than working on photographs.

So, that is why I”ve tried to make my time in the “digital darkroom” as quick and painless as possible with presets and plugins. My photo editing software consists of Lightroom 3 (Lightroom 4 is the current version now available), and  Nik Software’s Complete Collection for Lightroom.  I have absolutely no desire to become a post processing wiz, in fact, I’m perfectly happy in my “photoshop ignorance.” I want to be in and out and done with a photo in 5-10 minutes, tops! It’s also why I’m brutal when it comes to deleting images, but that a story for another time.

Hi, My Name Is Jeff, And I’m A Lazy Post Processor.

An intimate portrait of a small section of Garwin Falls in Wilton, NH. Shown during the low flow of summer, with a few smoothed out round depressions in the rock, eroded over many years by the power of the water.

First, I have to say that I do not subscribe to the “I can fix it in Photoshop” school of thought. I believe in getting it right in camera as far as exposure and composition goes. I don’t try to “rescue” crappy photos, I delete them.

I do know how I want my final image to look though, but do I care how I achieve that look after capture? No, not at all. To me the end results are all that matters. That is why I rely so heavily on Lightroom presets, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of free presets available with a quick Google search*, and Nik plugins. Since I started using the Nik software however, my use of Lightroom presets has dropped considerably. Once I correct white balance, if I need to, set my blacks, lens corrections, and capture sharpening, it’s off to one of the Nik plugins. Usually, the first stop is Viveza 2. The control you have over every aspect of the image in Viveza is phenomenal. With Nik’s Control Point Technology, you can correct the color, brightness, contrast, white balance, and more, of an individual color and have the effect as locally or as broadly applied as you wish. Next, it’s off to Color Efex Pro 4. With 55 filters along with a long list of recipes(multiple filters applied together), there is no end to the look you can achieve.

Vertical image looking upstream on the Swift River in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Boulders strewn throughout the stream provide points of interest, while the autumn foliage lining the banks provide vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges to catch the eye. In the distance, can be seen a granite cliff.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Is mastering image editing software part of becoming a “complete” photographer? Or are you like me and just want to realize the image you envision when you press the shutter, as quickly and easily as possible?

Here’s a great source of free presets for Lightroom to get you started.

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29 thoughts on “Presets And Plugins, Creative Tools Or Creative Crutch?

  1. When there is no challenge you decide to go teaching? 😉 You know I love these tools, crutches and the whole idea of making something we took better and prettier and different… some people get a cick out of mastering PS, you are a more outdoorsy type – I am ok with both…. you know that I am impatient, but I also like getting lost for 4-5 hours editing 🙂 – the main point of all this is for each of us to find what gives us most fun….

    • Of course Paula 🙂
      I’ve actually had this idea for an article rattling around in the grey matter for quite some time. I’m kind of glad there wasn’t a weekly challenge this week. It gave me the motivation to write this piece.

      I know there are a lot of people who really like to do post processing, and enjoy mastering the various pieces of software out there. When I add a filter or recipe in Color Efex, I never just leave it at the default settings. I work the sliders to get just the look I’m after.

  2. I was just talking about film yesterday- and how beautiful it is to see your finished product untouched by any editing software. I think people should get back more into film..even though it seems so ancient with all our digital world wonders we have right now. There’s something about getting back to the roots of film makes photography so much more beautiful!

    Although don’t get me wrong, I do love my digital photography as well. I only edit mostly with iPhoto and some Photoshop (very beginner with this program). I’d rather my photo be the product of what I originally viewed through the lens than something completely constructed via an editing program.

  3. Sweet article, Jeff. I remember having this chat while sitting in the front seat of your car running a laptop off of your car battery hahah 😀

    Lightroom 4 was just given to me as a gift from a friend of mine. I havn’t had much chance to check it out yet, besides going around and installing some of the presets again. I’m looking forward to getting more of a chance to play around with it hopefully soon!

    p.s. – Saw your facebook post. Good luck shooting fall foliage. Hope you get the shot of Pondicherry that you’ve been hoping for and I can’t wait to see them.

    Nate

    • That makes perfect sense Katie. But like I mentioned to Chanel below, even Ansel Adams did extensive manipulations to his images to get his envisioned result. I wish I could find the link to the before and after of one of his most famous images, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. The difference between the contact print and the final image might surprise you. I did find this blog post that shows just how different the contact print, made from the original untouched negative, is compared to the final, finished print.

      • Wow I own none of those programs and have a hard enough time having enough room on old computer to download and do some basic crops and settings in Picassa (SP) I Love the link you provided here it tells me one thing WE CAN ALL DO THIS it is our love of capturing what we see that makes it all special. Thanks we judge ourselves harshly at times and seeing his UNTOUCHED ONE which was the event and then enhanced was great but it is how he marketed it that I bet mattered even more 🙂 I am not a good sales person and not good with BS so I will just take the ohhhs and ahasssss from family and loved ones 🙂 I shoot with an Easy Share and had it 2 years before I realized it had an icon for SPEED man that comes in handy as I soot lots of photos from 40 to 70 MPH lol

        • They are part of my every day processing.

          I’m not so sure that that it says “we can all do this.” “Moonrise, Hernandez” illustrates that it’s a myth that film images are a what you see is what you get deal. I firmly believe that Mr. Adams had a vision, in fact he was very big on pre-visualization, for his final print. He then used the tools available at the time to achieve that result.

          I still need to capture a well composed, properly exposed, compelling image, in order to have a good final photograph. The “fix it in Photoshop,” or “if I buy a nice enough camera I can do that” mentality is pervasive in the era of digital. The original capture is still the most important step to a great photograph. All the photoshop skills in the world wont change that.

  4. Good post Jeff. I, like you, prefer to be composing/capturing images. I also believe that you can’t really, and I wouldn’t want to “fix” a poor image in PS or Lightroom. But I do find that I need to post process in PS/Lightroom, to some extent, to get my images to meet the standard that I want and to accurately reproduce what I saw. I find that presets don’t quite do that for me. When someone comes out with a digital camera that can replicate the capability of the human eye then perhaps I may be able to reduce my post processing. So I only post occasionally.
    Nice images Jeff. I particularly like the first 2, which have a good range of light and dark tones and have a very “natural” look to them. That is what I aim for and find that I need to careful when occasionally using HDR software which needs to be “controlled” to maintain a “natural” look.

    • Thanks a lot Jim. I agree with you about the presets. Rarely do they work “right out of the box” on every image. I have found them, as well as any of the Nik filters and recipes, to be good starting points. But there is still a little bit of tweeking needed to get it “right.”

      As for HDR, I’ve found Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2 to be very good at producing as realistic, or as wild, an image as you might want. It all depends on your tastes and the subject matter.

  5. The introduction of Nik software brought “fun” into my post processing! Not a term typically associated with this workflow 😎

    Learning PS took months to even come close to mastering. Then, there was the amount of time it took to process a single image! Boy, all those layers 😳

    With Nik software my post processing time averages 5-10 minutes. The other side benefit is you can quickly be very creative and artistic with a few clicks of the mouse. In almost all of my blog articles I talk about how Nik software easily enhances the original image.

    If you are not using Nik software solutions you are working to hard!

    • You are preaching to the choir Rick! I became a Nik affiliate not for the small commission I’ll get if someone makes a purchase via my links, but because I believe in the product so strongly.

      “If you’re not using Nik Software, you’re working too hard,” that pretty much sums it up. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  6. I’m with you, Jeff. My computer gets super slow whenever I run PS, so I want to be done ASAP. I’ve had a love affair with Color Efex Pro 3 for about a year now, it works wonders on my sunset shots. I also use Viveza on my flower and pet shots – being able to process the cats’ fur and the background separately is a huge help. I remember how long it all used to take before I got the Nik plugins.
    I’ve seen some awesome shots that photographers claim to have made in post-processing in almost no time, and while I envy their expertise, I just don’t have the time to achieve it. And to me, the best part is, like you said, being out there with my camera, not home with the computer. That’s what rainy days are for :).

  7. Like you, I like to get my photos right in camera. However, I also believe that making the photo is only 50% of getting the final output. The other 50% comes from post processing. My workflow is import into Lightroom 4 and do 80% of my work there. I have recently been using the Nik software suite and started using Color Efex 4 more and more lately. I agree that the less time spent in the digital darkroom the better, but also feel that in order to get the most out of your images, one must learn how to effectively do post processing.

Comments and thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

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