Digital Darkroom; Presets and Actions

The Digital Darkroom is a series of posts aimed at beginners and those interested in Digital Photography and Editing. In previous weeks we have looked at basic adjustments, curves, editing colour with the HSL/Color panels, black and white toning, split toning, local adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and Lens Correction and Camera Calibration in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Moving into Photoshop we have looked at the program’s layout,basic adjustments to light, basic adjustments to colour, basic black and white adjustments, Basic Sharpening, Basic Noise Reduction and this week how to combine all these basic steps into presets and actions.
If you wish to check out previous posts in the series you can do here.

Since we have covered the basic steps in Lightroom and Photoshop to edit an image, today I am going we are going to look at combining those steps into a workflow and how to save this workflow so it can be automatically applied to other images. These automatic adjustments are also known as presets and actions. Presets are saved adjustment settings in Photoshop and Actions are recorded steps that you can play back to have a series adjustments applied to an image. In Lightroom there are only presets and these can be applied to the whole image or to just one part of the images editing adjustment.

I find actions are best when they are general steps. Things like sharpening and noise reduction I leave out of an action, but creating a preset can be a good idea. For example Sharpening presets for high and low frequency images and noise reduction for high ISO.

If you are only interested in Lightroom Presets Click here to jump to skip Photoshop Actions and Presets

321 Action!

create-new-actionUsually I wouldn’t add sharpening and noise reduction to an action unless images were shot at the same time with the same lighting conditions. I would always apply your noise reduction and capture sharpening first and then have an action to apply.
When making an Action in Photoshop it records your all your adjustments, this means you need to know the settings that you are going to choose and the order you are going to apply them before recording.

To create an action you need to click on the actions pallet and then on the bottom of the pallet click- start new action (the icon next to the bin). This will open a new dialogue box asking you to name the action, which folder in the actions pallet it will live in as well as giving the action a short cut and colour for organization. My screen print and save action which creates all of my full screen screenshots is an action I created; I gave this action a keyboard shortcut, ctrl+shift+F2, because I use this action quite often. For actions that are not regularly used I would not give it a short cut.
Once you are ready hit record and all adjustments will be recorded until you click stop.

Playing an Action Back

Playing-back-an-actionOnce your action is recorded you will find it in the action pallet. On the left side there are two columns; one with a tick and another which a greyed out box is.
A tick means that this step will be played. If you don’t want part of an action to be applied click on the tick and it won’t be. Remember though this step won’t be applied for this action until you click on the tick again to activate it.
The greyed out box if clicked becomes a lighter grey, this says stops the action in the middle to let you make a specific change in the action’s step. For example with my print screen action export has been selected as a step where I can make a slight change. This enables me to sleelct the folder I will export the image to and name, otherwise it the same folder and name will be used as when I created the action.


Photoshop saving a curve preset.

Making a Preset For a Photoshop Adjustment

Presets are really easy to make and can be made for all adjustment layers. Once the adjustment had been made, click on the top right of the properties pallet and choose the option to save ______ Preset, in my case it would be curve preset.

Presets in Lightroom

In comparison presets in Lightroom are much simpler to make. Once you have created the desired effect with curves, the HSL panel, sharpening, etc. you can easily create a preset. Presets are created by clicking on the + at the top of the preset panel on the left.  A dialogue box will open and you can check which settings you wish to have as part of the preset. With this image I want to have the black and white treatment and mix, with split toning and tone curve; as it is these adjustments that I want to replicate in another image. Presets can also be created for brush, radial and gradient adjustments.

If you want to sync your editing settings with another image or series of images you can do so, by clicking on the image you have been editing and then shift + left click to select the images you want to change. You then click sync on the bottom left of the editing pallet to sync the settings and a similar dialog box as for creating a preset will appear asking you which settings you wish to sync.


Lightroom Preset Dialog Box


When To Use Presets?

Presets are great for repetitive actions and generally editing steps to have continuity between images, especially if they are in a series together. I have quite a few actions for resizing an image with different sharpening steps depending on output. I also have some colour toning actions when I am looking for a specific look or feel. The problem with presets and actions is that one size does not fit all. I am of the belief that a preset and action is the start of an editing process not the beginning and end.

This is where I clash with many photographers on the web who sell their presets/actions and say they will make your images look great. They are partially right but without understanding why such steps have been made and especially if the product of an action is a single layer, then I believe this is not editing and is the same as slapping an Instagram filter on a picture. If you however apply the preset/action and then continue to tweak  the layers leftover from the action or the preset adjustment this is a much better approach to editing.

Presets can be useful as a starting point that you can then tweak and or build on. Using File-Automate- Batch in Photoshop and Sync in Lightroom is a quick way to apply adjustments across multiple images.
When there are events Batch editing saves a lot of time, for example the end of year concert at school can leave me with well over 1000 images to sort through and then edit. Syncing and using presets speeds this up 100x as I can make a decent base edit and then sort and tweak the final selection of images.

Since we have now covered some basic editing in the coming weeks we are going to look at Cleaning images and making and using selections before we look at masking and making local adjustments in Photoshop.


If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, all are welcome as this series is designed to help people learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom.

Remember if you liked this post to; like, share and subscribe.

If you wish to get notifications when I post on my blog, you can follow me on Twitter@apertureF64, on or alternatively be emailed by subscribing below. All images are the Copyright of Benjamin Rowe , ALL RIGHTS Reserved unless credited to another photographer. For more information please read my Copyright Statement

7 thoughts on “Digital Darkroom; Presets and Actions

  1. I think it is probably better to create your own presets, rather than buying others. Everyone has their own style, in particular with how they view their photos and where they want to go with them.

    • I agree Raewyn, it is good to create your own because you don’t want to copy another’s style. Although I do have vsco presets that I use to get a certain tone that I then adapt to my style.
      Thanks for you comment.

  2. Great post, Ben. When I first started using Lightroom, I bought some presets and found that they do not work quite as expected. I have learned to tweak them which helps. However, I’m finding that each of us has a unique way of processing a picture. I’m fairly new to all of this and really enjoy stopping by your site to learn more :). Thank you for these posts!

Let Me Know Your Thoughts, I Know You Have Some

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s