Lightroom Presets are a fantastic way to speed up your editing and create consistent, cohesive imagery. When I first started editing my photos in Lightroom, I purchased Sarah Beth Photography's presets and it saved me loads of time, something I needed after the birth of my first baby. I knew from that point on that presets would be part of my workflow.
I've since had several people ask me why I use presets, and if it ever feels like I'm 'cheating' by using them. But my answer is always no. A preset is a great starting point. It's one artist's vision for tone, clarity, contrast, saturation, and so on. But each of us see things differently - some photographers are the light and airy type, while others (like me) shoot moody, or do a mix of the two. When I use a preset, I'm beginning with the creator's base, and then tweaking things to suit my style.
Another preset company that I came across a couple years ago is VSCO, and I'm not kidding when I say this discovery was life-changing. Something about those green tones, the clarity, and contrast -- it really breathed new life into my work. After using the presets on a few client sessions, I knew there were tweaks I needed to make, but wasn't sure how, so I dove head first into learning the entire Develop module of Lightroom. I watched countless YouTube tutorials and tested my tweaks on hundreds of images. Whenever I found a formula that felt right, I saved those changes as a custom preset and began using it on all of my client sessions.
Fast forward to this past winter, when I discovered LXC presets, part of the Tribe Archipelago company. I love the way they utilize different aspects of the Develop module to achieve an overall desaturated image with soft, subtle tones. Once I had used these for a while, I went back to VSCO because I missed the deeper tones, but it didn't feel quite right. So I ended up creating a custom preset of my own that mixes my favorite aspects of different presets I've used in the past. I've been using this custom preset ever since on both my in-home and outdoor client sessions, as well as personal work. It feels good to have my own look, and to really love it.
So to review, here are my top 3 favorite Lightroom Presets, in no particular order:
1. Sarah-Beth Photography - I simply love this photographer. She's incredibly talented and fun to follow. I've learned so much over the years from her online mentoring group. I originally purchased her Sunset Collection and Matte + Haze set, but she's since put out an Indoor set, Old School film set, and a Black + White collection that looks amazing.
2. VSCO - My first purchase with VSCO was Pack 05, and I have yet to purchase any of the other packs, however if I did, it would likely be Pack 01. These two packs seem to be the most popular in the photography circles I'm part of, and they come with great tweaking tools within the pack, such as Contrast + or -, Fade Shadows, and Luminous + or -. These are the presets I recommend to anyone who's looking for a film look with plenty of versatility.
3. LXC - I purchased the original LXC presets, but they've since come out with LXCN, and if I had the choice between the two now, I'd probably choose the latter. The website states "subtle greens, rich skin tones, and above all a consistent variety of looks to help improve your work as a whole. Rather than overpowering your photos with saturation and contrast, these presets give your photos room to breathe." I'd have to agree with this. In some ways though, this set was too desaturated for me, and only worked well with bright indoor work. However, I made some great discoveries about my personal taste, and used some of their settings in my current favorite custom preset.
Whatever preset you end up choosing to purchase, remember to be patient... it can take some serious time to find 'your look'. Have an idea in mind of the look you're wanting to perfect before you sit down at your computer, and then keep practicing, watch YouTube tutorials, and play, play, play until you feel you've confidently achieved the style you were after.