Nicole S. Young: Using Presets & Actions

Nicole Young is a full-time professional photographer and an accomplished author based out of Portland, Oregon. She has published numerous books and eBooks on a wide variety of subjects ranging from food photography to landscape photography.

Besides selling her work through various stock agencies, Nicole also offers a variety of educational materials through her online  Nicolesy Store. These educational materials includes eBooks, presets, actions, videos, and more. In this article, she sits down with the InFocus Magazine to give her insights into the role of presets into post-processing workflow.

  • nicolesy-5-before

    Before – Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens, 1/15 sec at f/9.5, ISO 100

  • Trillium Mist

    After – Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens, 1/15 sec at f/9.5, ISO 100

What are presets and actions used for?
From my perspective, presets and actions are used to help inspire the photographer. They are also a way to develop and stylize images quickly.

How does one go about using them? Is there a wrong and a right way?
I don’t believe that there is a wrong way to use a preset or action. Most of the time, they are as simple as clicking on the preset to add it to the photo. Other times, you can select the preset to get your photo off to a good start and then customize it further to suit your own style and vision.

  • nicolesy-1-before

    Before – Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 100mm f/2.8L II Macro lens, 1/1500 sec at f/4, ISO 400

  • nicolesy-1-after

    After – Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 100mm f/2.8L II Macro lens, 1/1500 sec at f/4, ISO 400

Do presets and actions harm your creativity? By using them, aren’t you are using someone else’s recipe for processing your images?
I don’t think that creativity comes only from what sliders you use in Lightroom or Photoshop. If someone likes a certain look, it doesn’t matter what method they go to creating it. Personally, I find that experimenting with different filters and presets can help me discover ways to make my photo look its best. I also rarely select a preset and use it un-touched; most of the time I make several changes to my photo after applying a preset.

Using ONLY presets and action will not help me understand WHY I am making changes?
What you learn from using presets is completely up to you. If you just want an easy one-click answer to your post-processing, then you can add presets all day long and never learn anything. However, using filters and presets can actually be a very good way to learn what the sliders and settings do in a photo.

  • nicolesy-3-before

    Before – Fuji X-T1, Fuji XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, 1/60 sec at f/16, ISO 200

  • Tetons Barn

    After – Fuji X-T1, Fuji XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, 1/60 sec at f/16, ISO 200

Can you share your workflow for Preset & Actions?
I use presets in a lot of my work, but most of the time the preset is just a starting point. For example, if I am working on a photo in Lightroom, I’ll hover over the presets in the Develop module and watch the thumbnail in the Navigator panel change. When I find one that I think works, I’ll click on it to apply the settings to my image. (Note: Oftentimes I am using presets I have created myself, and when I make my own presets I never create them with changes to the White Balance or Tone settings in the Basic panel. This way I know that I can make these adjustments before applying the preset and it will not affect my image.)

The last step is to fine-tune the other sliders using the panels on the right to refine the photo. A preset is never going to be my final adjustments; each image is unique and requires different settings, but it is nice to have a good starting point to get the creative juices flowing.

Feel free to share some of your preset workflow in the comments below.


Nicole S. Young

Hi! My name is Nicole, a.k.a. “Nicolesy” (Nicole S Young) :). I’m a full-time photographer and author living in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon, and I thrive on inspiring and encouraging photographers to improve their craft and grow as artists.

I have books published through Peachpit Press, eBooks published through Craft&Vision, and also several self-published titles. My photography specialties are food and landscape, and I also create stock images for my portfolios over on iStockphoto and Getty Images.

I also have an online store, where I sell post-processing tools, such as preset, actions and textures, along with some of my own self-published eBooks, all at very affordable prices. To take a look, please head on over to the Nicolesy Store.

I love to teach, learn and share what I know through my blog, articles, podcasts, interviews and training materials. I love Lightroom and Photoshop, and I’m an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) in CS4/CS5/CS6. I also contribute regular articles to Photofocus, and I also have several articles in magazines such as Photoshop User and Lightroom Magazine.

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