Sleeklens – Strike A Pose Workflow for Lightroom

A not so positive review

About buying LightRoom Presets

 

The presets market and my truth about presets: sometimes the magic works and sometimes…

The presets market is about selling to photographers, who are not expert users, recipes to produce photos with a certain feel or recipes to fix problems that crop up regularly.  The thing is, to quote Chief Daniel George’s famous lines in the Arthur Penn movie ‘Little Big Man’, “Sometimes the Magic Works and Sometimes the Magic doesn’t.” These words in my view describe perfectly the simple truth  about presets: sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t and it can all seem very magical if you don’t really understand what the  different settings of LR do.Why is this ? Presets are stupid. And their stupidity is all the more evident when it comes to presets designed to give your image a certain feel. Presets don’t analyse a file, they just apply a bunch of settings to it. If the file you apply the preset to has little in common with the original file the preset was developed to enhance, the preset’s settings will not and cannot deliver a similar feel.Maybe one day, presets will become literate , read the original file they’re applied to, compare it to a template file and adjust the settings to deliver a final image as close as possible to that template . I’m sure brilliant  pixel -crunchers are working on that . I suspect one day smart presets will flood the market, they’ll get a cool name like ‘ smart/dynamic presets’.

Does that mean that all of today’s ready-made presets are a waste of time and money ? Maybe not . In my view, the ones that are the most helpful are what I call the ‘problem solving  presets’ ,  those for the local adjustment brush, especially when you’re a newbie or can’t be bothered to look into what’s going on. Nothing wrong with that. We don’t all have to understand the pros and cons of RGB and the impact of algorithms on pixels, like solving red skin and so forth. If you regularly touch up portraits in LR, these tools might prove useful to you until you feel confident enough to create your own.

Let’s not forget either that creating and exporting  presets is a feature of Lightroom and requires as such no particular programming skills. Making presets is child’s play and costs peanuts. Keep that in my mind when considering  their asking price. Are you paying over the odds for someone else’s set of tweaks that may or may not work for you ?

First  some general thoughts about presets in Lightroom .

LR is essentially a RAW editor. You can use it to edit most types of files but really the whole point of LR is to edit non destructively and quickly RAW files ( and export the results ).

‘Presets’ are a feature designed to do just that: speed up your workflow by allowing you to store and apply a setting or a bunch of settings in one click to any image .( Presets in LR are weak cousins of actions in Photoshop). Remember in LR there are around 90 or more adjustments you can make,( many overlap of course and have knock-on effects),so that is potentially a lot of information to input even with sliders and/or arrow keys , so presets make imminent sense to speed up work. Logically Lightroom comes with presets and is designed so you can easily create and save your own.

Let’s state the obvious : there is no preset to un-rubbish a rubbish photo! If your file is poorly exposed with respect to what output you’d hope to achieve, there are limits to the latitude offered by RAW files ,and if the info needed isn’t there, well it isn’t there and there is no making up for that. ( Maybe one day… but I shudder just to think of it !) A preset cannot deliver enhancements outside of the range inherent to LR. In other words, you’ll never find a preset on the market that boosts LR’s powers.

If you want to know precisely what a preset does, start by applying the LR preset ‘zeroed’ ( if you haven’t setup LR to do it on import), then apply the preset you’re trying, scan ( with your eyes ) for changes in the settings to see what the preset has done and use the ‘before’ and ‘after’ viewing options to visualise the impact on the image. No mystery there.

Presets are not fully stackable. They stack alright but stacking can give what appears to be weird and unpredictable results . It’s simple, every time you apply a preset after another ( stack them ), if the two presets each contain different values for an adjustment then it is value of the preset that is on top of the stack that is applied. If no values collide, then LR will generate an image where both presets’ settings will be integrally applied , giving the impression that they have been effectively stacked.

What’s being reviewed ?

Sleeklens – Strike A Pose Workflow for Lightroom .  Presets designed for the portrait photographer. It is comprised of  two sets : one to install in the LR Development Module in the  Presets Panel and the other set to install  presets for the Local Adjustment Brush tool. In other words, one set for blanket adjustments applied to the whole photo, the other set are applied locally via the brush tool.

You can go to their home page by clicking here or on the screen shot below.
sleeklens-home-page

 

Who is reviewing ?

Me, Christophe Chevaugeon , photographer. I have around 25 years experience in analogue and 7 years of intense use of digital. I photograph personal projects alongside offering wedding and portrait services. I just upgraded  software before trialling these presets  to  LR 6 with Photoshop 15.5  on a Windows 10 machine and of course my monitors are calibrated. I’m fairly proficient user of both PS and LR  but by no means an LR or PS gourou.

Why is my first-ever review a review of ‘Sleeklens Strike a Pose Workflow for Lightroom Presets’?

I was  toying with writing  reviews for some time now when Sleeklens reached out to me ( along, I suspect with loads of other photographers ) and offered me a free copy of their product in exchange for a review and link back to their site, so I thought, fair enough, let’s have a go at it. I’m grateful to the people of Sleeklens to have reached out. Not sure how they’ll receive this review, but hey, they asked me. ….

Factors that could sway my review one way or the other.

  • I’m not a ready-made preset fan.
  • My portraits are rarely of young people  who want , you know, ‘that studio look and feel’ they’ve seen in a magazine. I don’t run a studio. I work on location often in available light  but I am comfortable using good strobes ( Elinchrom and/or Nikon ).
  • I rarely stray from a classic palette in either colour or black and white.My wedding clients can see that at a glance in my portfolio. Those interested in a certain popular vintage look, or other popular looks like faded black and white, popping colours and so forth  will immediately pass their way: it’s not what I do. And as most presets are often about creating a look or a feel at odds with classic colours and classic black and white, I’m not usually tempted by what they’re supposed to achieve.
  • I’m a big LR user especially for weddings and to some degree for portraits.I’m always looking to improve my work and my workflow, so I’m game to try  new processes.
  • I think I’m a fair sort of guy. I’m not delusional about the merits and shortcomings of my own work: I think I’ve got enough experience to know when an issue stems from my technique rather than from my kit.

Target Market for these presets.

 I suspect Sleeklens are after people like me, the wedding / portrait photographer whose clients are most likely to be the general public. And of course, there is the hobbyist photographer’s market.

Owner’s manual and Sleeklens’ product  pitch

For once, I actually read the adequately brief documentation that came zipped with the presets and also the dedicated page on Sleeklens’ website. Other than suggesting that their presets are straightforwardly stackable, which we all understand isn’t entirely true, their pitch for their product is fairly balanced . Refreshingly, they do not make out presets to be a full-proof, or for that matter, a  fool-proof method of editing RAW files: they present them as a way of speeding up your workflow and make it clear that you’ll possibly need to refine some of the settings for best results.

Photos   / Model  :

Of course I didn’t use photos of clients ! Furthermore,  I’m tired of seeing tutorials or reviews illustrated by photos of  young people all endowed with young healthy skin ! It’s all too easy to make them look pleasing so I thought it was time to take a fresh and more challenging approach and used self-portraits instead . I’m a fair age now, have shiny old skin , don’t wear make-up, have a doubtful complexion at the best of times , am never perfectly groomed , don’t really know how to professionally smile at a camera and to make things worse, I sport real glasses !  What better model to test some portrait presets ! I did look at other images, from weddings and so forth, portraits of young people ( my grandchildren) indoors, outdoors, close-ups and so on but am not publishing them. They led me to the same conclusions . You’ll have to put up with my not too smiley ageing face.

Files used to test the presets

I used Raw files that were ‘reasonably’ exposed to start with ( not needing, if at all, more than 1 stop exposure adjustment either way to produce a histogram in line with what the final photo was originally intended to look like).

First steps: downloading and installing the presets along with documentation

Downloading via the supplied link was a doddle. You get a zipped file containing a folder with the general presets and another with the local adjustments presets. You also get three pdfs. One on how to install the presets with info for both MAC and PC users. Another with links to an how-to-install video tutorial and  to a Facebook Group. The third one is called ‘Strike a Pose recipe list ‘. It’s just that, a recipe list with ‘before’ and ‘after’ examples including a breakdown of the presets and individual tweaks used to generate the final images. Guess what, they’re all images of young women or images of children with nice skin ! There’s a surprise !

Install Minor issue

The instructions didn’t quite work for me. In the end, accessing the preset folder through LR preferences’ panel was easier to do than to find them myself on the program’s folder of my PC . No big deal; easily sorted. Open the preset folder to find two sub-folders : One is named ‘Develop Presets’ ( consider using the sub-folder ‘ User Presets’ to keep things tidy ) and the other ‘Local Adjustment Presets’  ( no sub-folder there). Copy the presets in their respective folders  , restart LR and hey presto, there they are !

strike-a-pose-screen-lrI found using the LR preferences panel the easiest route to locating the preset folders.

First impressions.

You get a heck of a lot of presets for your dollar : 70 general presets and 62 local adjustment ( brush ) presets;that is a lot of presets and in my view too many to make good of. Scrolling through them, be it the general presets or the local adjustment tool presets can be tedious. The navigator thumbnail does reflect the effect of the general presets but it’s so small that it is misleading. Applying every preset to see its effect in loupe view, without forgetting to zero it before applying another one is equally tedious. It certainly doesn’t beat seeing the real time effects of a manual adjustment in Loupe view. Of course, if you’re a regular user, I imagine picking the one you’re after becomes easier .

a-lot-of-presets-brush-tool

A lot of presets to choose from. Too many in my view….but I  found the brush tool presets more helpful than the general presets…

The general preset panel presets.

These are the ones that are applied to the whole image .They are regrouped in categories:

  • All in one
  • Base
  • Exposure
  • Colour Correct
  • Tone/Tint
  • Polish
  • and the inevitable ‘Vignette’

 

The ‘All in one ‘ presets have cool names like ‘Golden Shadow’ and so forth ( guess what that does ). A lot them produce outlandish results . Some seem to produce good starting points like the ‘Duo’ Black and White conversion.

‘Base’ has some equally outlandish names and some giving equally outlandish  results for some of its presets. Do we need an ‘auto-tone’ when LR comes with one ?

‘Exposure ‘ provides simple tweaks that are just as quickly set in the adjustment panel. Do we really need a preset to crank up, or bring down the exposure by a stop, or another to tweak highlights ( by manipulating the adjustment curve )?

‘Colour correct’ offers some interesting and fairly subtle tweaks by manipulating either the values in the HSL colour panel or, interestingly enough, by manipulating the values in the split toning panel ( for green and red skin correction ).

‘Tone/ Tint ‘ relies on manipulating either the values in the split toning panel or of the saturation values in the HSL panel.

‘Polish’ in my view is an entirely useless group of five presets that play on contrast, clarity, saturation, vibrance and sharpening values, all that can be set just as quickly by using the relevant sliders…

‘Vignette’ with its four presets is not for me: I sin enough with the two LR  built in vignette presets as it is. These vignette settings are too extreme for me.

all-in-one-beach-glowPreset :All in one beach glow : catastrophic on this file !

all-in-one-crisp-dawn

Preset: All in one crisp dawn..not too bad at a glance.

The local adjustment ( brush ) presets. That’s better !

These are the presets I imagine portrait photographers will really find the most helpful.The local brush is a great tool for 4 reasons: it’s local, it can be feathered, its flow can be adjusted and it can be erased. Speaking of flow, don’t forget to check its level : it is easy to inadvertently change its value. And of course , don’t forget to select ‘new’ before you change presets.

No matter the preset, the adjustments can only result from the manipulation of the values available to tweak in the panel: temp, tint, exposure, contrast and so forth…This begs the question, which is faster ? Fetching a preset by scrolling through the list of more than 70 of them ( Lightroom’s built in plus Sleeklens’) or setting the values yourself ? When the preset involves only manipulating one value, it’s a no-brainer: forget digging up the preset , change the value yourself and apply the brush . Presets like ‘fix redskin’ rely on manipulating sharpness  and clarity and applying colour and are real time savers, what presets are all about. Others like fix-circle-under-the-eyes also have their place (although the spot removing tool can now do a good job at this ).

I edited the image below twice, once with Sleeklens’ presets and the second time with out using presets…You can tell I’m not in to overly slick results .

preset-portrait-1-zeroed-7502425

            Original Raw File Zeroed: the original was underexposed by a stop ( tisk tisk chev )

preset-portrait-1-finished-7502425

Developed using Sleeklens presets and direct tweaks: Brighten + More highlights + WB set to Flash ( then tweaked :not a preset ) + Fix Redskin ( preset Brush Tool build up from flow at 30 ) + Remove wrinkles ( preset Brush Tool build up from flow at 30 ) + Enhance Eyes + Fix Under Eye Circle

setting-portrait-1-finished-7502425-2

Developed using adjustment panels setting values like exposure, colour temp, highlights and also brushing in local adjustments  like clarity, highlights, saturation and so forth. I used the heal tool to enhance the circles under my eyes. Overall: it’s cooler  in temperature and less glowy than my first go using presets but very similar and took me what appeared to be the same amount of time.

 

So ? At the end of it all , what do I think ?

I made it clear that I wasn’t a preset fan before trialling Sleeklens’ offering . And  this experience  hasn’t changed my view. Why ? Because many presets, and its inevitable, produce results that I find too fanciful and frankly unpleasing, or results that I can achieve just as quickly by using the development panels. By the way, this is also true of Adobe’s built in presets. It’s true for any preset under the sun whatever name its sold under. Remember: presets are stupid . But some of Sleeklens’ presets are keepers, especially when you’re starting out with Lightroom and can’t figure out how to get the results you want. As for workflow improvement, the sheer number of presets, many of them very simple that can easily be achieved using the adjustment panels, make them in my view impractical. And sorry to insist, they are not predictably stackable. I particularly appreciated the local adjustment brush presets for targeting well known problems ( skin colour ) and desirable enhancements ( eyes and so forth ) and delivering fair results that can be fine tuned by modifying the flow of the brush or the settings themselves. I think novices might find them helpful  and learn from them. As for me, I’ll only  keep a few. And remember that it costs nothing to create and export a preset,so think carefully about the asking price before buying .

So in a nutshell, if you buy presets, no matter who is selling them, don’t expect too much  magic,  don’t expect a sure-fired workflow to give any image the latest trendy feel ( vintage or other). What you might find is some useful tools.  And maybe they’ll simply help you better understand and use Lightroom: not in itself a bad thing .

Christophe Chevaugeon September 2016