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Lightroom is a fantastic program for organizing and processing your photos. It’s easy to use, but getting the exact look for your images still takes both time and skill. Fortunately, there’s a shortcut. Lightroom presets can give you pro-level results with just a few clicks of the mouse.
In this guide, we’ll show exactly how presets can help you, and guide you towards the very best ones. There’s more than 680 on offer, and they’re all free.
What Are Lightroom Presets?
A Lightroom preset is a saved collection of settings that can be re-used time and again with a single click. Most sections of Lightroom support presets. You can use them for the Export Settings, or to apply keywords to a group of images. But for most people — and for the purposes of this article — presets mean Develop Presets.
Think of a Lightroom develop preset as being like a supercharged Instagram filter. They transform your images with beautiful, distinct styles, giving you professional looking results with minimal effort.
You can use presets for one-click processing, or as a starting point for creating your own look through further tweaks. They can also be used for basic, repetitive tasks, from applying lens corrections to removing haze from your shots.
Why Use Presets?
Lightroom presets are mostly useful for three things:
- Saving time editing your photos. Editing your favorite handful of shots is a fun creative exercise; coming back from vacation with several hundred photos to process isn’t quite so enjoyable. Presets enable you to cut through the tedium by applying a very high standard of processing very quickly.
- Creating a consistent look across a collection of shots. Consistency in how you process your photos is important. It can help you develop a signature look, which helps you build your brand and get noticed. It also transforms a group of images shot at an event (wedding, party, wherever) from a bunch of random snapshots to a proper collection.
- Achieving a specific look. Everyone has seen photos and wondered, “How did they achieve that look?” It might be a vintage film look, a cinematic style, or a beautiful black and white. In all cases, you can get these looks with Lightroom presets, they are the shortcut to professional level photo editing.
Lightroom comes with a collection of its own presets for things like making black and white conversions, tweaking the colors, and adding grain or removing noise. With hundreds more available to download, you’ll always be able to find the style you’re after.
Not all presets are free. Companies like VSCO and Mastin Labs create expensive presets that faithfully recreate the look of different types of old film stock. Others design large bundles of premium presets for specific types of photography.
But you don’t have to shell out for quality. Many sites offer a few free presets as a sampler for their paid options, and there are hundreds of additional presets created and shared for free by individual photographers. Here’s our pick of the very best.
This site offers 10 Lightroom presets inspired by the filters in the popular mobile app VSCO Cam.
They all recall the matte look of vintage film stocks from the likes of Fuji and Kodak, complete with crushed blacks and added grain. There’s a preset for all occasions, from portraits to gritty street photography.
The Quantum Collection is arguably the best set of free presets you can currently get. There are 16 styles — 14 color, 2 monochrome — with 6 variations for each offering different levels of intensity. That’s 96 in total.
Mostly film inspired again, the collection includes a lovely cyan/orange option for a modern cinematic look. They’re available under a pay-what-you-want system so you can grab them for free, although they’re definitely worth paying for.
3. Lonely Speck
From the same team behind the Quantum Collection, Film Speck One contains 102 presets, also available as a pay-what-you-want download.
Pretty much all styles are catered for, both modern and vintage. With so many to choose from it may take you a while to find the ones you really like, but there should be something here for everyone.
This set of 34 presets has racked up over 1.7 million downloads to date, and it’s easy to see why.
The colors are styled after film stock, like so many other presets. But with a few high contrast options, you can achieve a far punchier look than you’ll get with many similarly designed collections.
By signing up with Shutter Pulse you get 20 free presets for Lightroom along with 20 Photoshop actions that will process your shots in the same way.
The set ranges from a very vintage film look — complete with fake light leaks — to a very modern dramatic HDR style, and many points in between.
6. Sleek Lens
Sleek Lens’ pack of 30 presets mostly contains tools that you can integrate seamlessly into your existing workflow.
So you get presets for adjusting things like highlights, shadows, colors, and contrast. They’re a great shortcut for making uniform corrections to all the images from a single shoot, without affecting the overall look of the shot. Oh, and there’s a handful of the pre-requisite vintage-look presets too, just in case you need them.
Contrastly’s 25 free preset sampler is a mixed bag of assorted styles, film sims, and tweaks.
With such a random selection the quality also varies. Some are a tad overdone for our taste. Others, including the very nice Desaturated Cinematic – 7 (in action above), are a more-than-worthy addition to anyone’s preset library.
ON1 created one of the best alternatives to Lightroom in the form of ON1 Raw. But the company’s website also offers a collection of 60 presets that work with Lightroom.
They’re a varied bunch. Some are designed to be stacked with other presets, adding vignettes or softening skin etc. Others completely change the look of the image and includes a small set of movie inspired styles.
9. Rock Shutter
You can get a set of 15 presets influenced by various modern cinematic styles from Rock Shutter.
You need to pick the right shots to use them on. We found they worked really well on landscapes and cityscapes, though they are less effective on portraits.
With more than 120 presets to choose from, Presetpro has something suitable for almost every conceivable need.
Whether you shoot weddings or astrophotography, want to add some 40s Hollywood glamor to your portraits, or need to recover detail from a cloudy sky, the solution can be found right here.
11. Lightroom Zen
There’s only a small number of free presets on Lightroom Zen, and you have to search through the Blog pages to find them. But it’s worth it, since the quality is good, and they tend to be designed for very specific purposes.
If you’re shooting the night sky, for instance, or fireworks, or need to fix the skin tones in a portrait, then these presets will help make your images shine.
12. Totally Rad
Replichrome, from Totally Rad, is one of the leading premium preset series. It faithfully recreates specific film stocks and retails for $99 per pack. The free trial gives you 53 presets for free.
Films included in the trial are Fuji Pro 800Z, Astia 100F, and Agfa HDC 200. Plus, there are a few presets that tweak curves to increase or decrease the contrast in your photos. The quality is fantastic and very authentic, but be warned: you may find it hard to resist buying a full set.
13. Presets Galore [No Longer Available]
Just five presets that serve as a taster for a very large paid collection, with a few extra ones that you can find under the site’s (apparently now defunct) Daily Freebies section.
They’re worth grabbing, especially “Touch of Drama”, which effectively removes haze and adds punch to your otherwise flat landscape images.
14. Cole’s Classroom
With names like Bitchin’ Summer and Cole’s Bangin’ B&W you might expect the 15 free presets from Cole’s Classroom to be a little wilder than they are.
In fact, they’re classy and understated. They lend themselves to a wide range of shots, and never leave your images looking overprocessed. The styles are mostly film-like, but there are some more contrasty and saturated options too.
15. Preset Love
Finally, a huge collection, totaling — at last count — 217 presets. The quality can vary because most of them are submitted by the site’s users. The variety is unrivaled.
Naturally, most are designed to achieve a certain look. Arguably the best are those that help with the difficult parts of photo processing, such as fixing skin tones or sharpening.
Get Started With Lightroom Presets
Once you’ve downloaded your presets you will need to install them. It’s easy to do, you just copy them into Lightroom’s presets folder.
Open Lightroom’s settings and select the Presets tab. Next, click Show Lightroom Presets Folder, then navigate your way to the Develop Presets subfolder. Now just copy and paste your presets into the folder. Finally, exit and then reopen Lightroom to finish the job.
You can use presets from two locations. In the Browse module, you can apply a preset from the Quick Develop panel on the right. For more controlled use, apply them from the Preset panel on the left of the Develop module.
Whether you can stack presets — to use more than one on the same image — depends on which presets you’re using. Some enable it while others will simply undo the changes another preset has made.
It’s a good idea to use a preset as the starting point for image processing. A little fine tuning of the settings enables you to get the best results for each individual image, while the preset itself guarantees a cohesive look across a whole group of shots.
Do you use Lightroom presets? What are your favorites and which sites do you use to get them from? Let us know in the comments.