Lightroom Presets: How to Install and Use Them

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Lightroom Presets—How to Install Them, Use Them, and Make Your Own

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My favorite presets are now this huge bundle from Contrastly:

Get the Contrastly Complete Lightroom Preset Bundle Here - Discounted for my Subscribers
These presets work on both JPG and RAW photos.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Phil Steele. Lightroom Develop Presets can save us a huge amount of time in editing our photos or in giving a group of photos a consistent look and feel, and they're just plain fun! In this video we're going to look at everything you need to know about Lightroom presets, from how to install them, to how to use them, and even how to make your own.

Let's start with how to install Lightroom Presets. Usually when you get presets, whether you buy them or download them from a free site, they typically come bundled in a Zip file. If you want to pause right now and get a Zip file containing some presets so that you can follow along with this discussion. I'm going to put a link down below this video to a good set of presets that I recommend. There are several different ways to install Lightroom presets. I'm going to show you my favorite way which I think is the simplest and the most foolproof. First, when you download the preset .zip file to your computer you have to put it somewhere. Where do you put it? In my method for installing presets it doesn't matter where you put it. You can download it to any place on your computer, but you should note where you download it so you can find it afterward. If your computer is setup to automatically download things into a Downloads folder and that's probably where it will go. If you have any doubt about where it's going to go when you download it, make a note of the filename before you start downloading so you can search for it afterward. For example, I'm going to download some presets that I bought on the web and I'm going to click on this link to download it and you can see the file name that's going to download is called So that's the name I would want to make a note of if I wasn't sure where I was going to find this after it got downloaded. In my case, I have my computer setup to allow me to choose where my downloads go. I'm going to choose to put this Zip file on my Desktop and inside a folder on my Desktop called temp where I put things that I'm just temporarily storing. Stuff that I intend to delete later because this is going to just be a temporary storage location for this file. After I import the presets into Lightroom, I won't need this Zip file anymore and I'll go back and delete it just to save space. So I'm going to save it. Now that I've downloaded the file if I go into my computer's Finder or the Explorer if you're on a PC: here it is it's in my Desktop in the temp folder and here's the file that I just downloaded right where I expected to be. Now that I've got this Zip file my computer, the next step is to unzip it. A Zip file is an archive that contains lots of files inside it and we need to get them out. Since I'm on a Mac I can just double-click to open the Zip file. If you're on a PC, you'll need to right-click on the file and then choose Extract All from the right-click menu, but since I'm on a Mac I'm just going to double-click on the file to unzip it. You can see what happened when it unzipped. It created a new folder called ‘The Complete Preset Collection' because that's the name of this preset product that I downloaded. If you have a different product, yours will be called something else. In this case, you can see that inside that folder there are four more sub folders here called: the 'Hacking Photography Black and White Collection,' the ‘Hacking Photography Color Blast Collection,' and so on and so on. There's also a PDF document here with installation instructions and it's very nice that the creator of these put those instructions inside there. Now let's look inside one of these sub folders and what you see here is a bunch of files all with the filename extension .lrtemplate. Those are the actual presets. They're grouped into subfolders because they do different things. Some of them are for black and white photos, some are for color photos, so the creator of these categorize them into subfolders like this for us. If you have a different product, yours may just be in one folder.

Now we have all these presets and we know where they are in the computer and it's time to go into Lightroom and import them. To do that, we go into the Develop module because these are Develop presets. To import the presets you actually have to have a photo selected for some reason. So I'm here in the Develop module and I have a photo selected. Now what I'm going to do is create a new folder here in the presets list. To do that, I need to right-click anywhere in this existing folder list in the presets panel. I'm just going to right-click right here and I'm going to pick 'New Folder.' To name this folder, I'm just going to make it match the names of the folders in the preset collection that I downloaded. They already have names so I don't need to reinvent the wheel. I'm just going to go check one of those was. The first one is called 'The ‘Hacking Photography Black and White Collection,' so I'm just going to call this 'Hacking Photography B+W.' I don't need the word collection, I know what that means, and I'll say 'Create.' Here in my Presets panel you can see the new folder that I just created. I'm going to click on it once to select it, and now I'm going to right-click on it to get the right-click menu, and I'm going to choose 'Import.' Now I'm going to go find that collection, I know where I put it. It was in my Desktop in the temp folder and in the Complete Preset Collection, it is ‘Hacking Photography Black and White Collection,' and now I need to select all of these little preset files that are named .lrtemplate, so I'm just going to click on the first one and I'm going to shift-click on the last one to select them all, and then I'm going to say 'Import.' We can see that Lightroom has imported them. For some reason it likes to apply one of the presets to the photo that's currently selected. I don't know why it does that, but you usually want to undo that: on the Mac it’s command-z or on a PC it's control-z, just undo the fact that it applied a preset to the photo that we have selected. Here in the Presets panel we can see the list of presets that came into this folder, into this Hacking Photography B+W folder. Here's all the presets listed right there. So now I have one of the four folders of presets imported, and now I would just repeat that process for the other three folders in this set. I won't make you watch me do that, I'll just do it and let you skip ahead.

OK, now I have imported all four of those folders of presets and you can see them listed here in the Presets panel. Maybe you're curious about where Lightroom has actually put these presets in their permanent location on the hard disk of your computer when you imported them. If you'd like to see where Lightroom stores them, you can go up to the Lightroom Menu and pick Preferences, pick the Presets tab and then pick this button that says 'Show Lightroom presets folder.' That will open up your computer's Finder or Explorer and show you where these things are stored. I'll expand it out here so we can see that see the whole path. On my system they're stored in my user account inside Library > Application Support > Adobe > Lightroom and then inside Lightroom there's a folder called Develop Presets and then you can see the ones I just installed right there, these Hacking Photography Preset Collections and if I click on one of those you can see the actual presets are stored in there. So that's where Lightroom actually keeps them in it's own little system but I find it easier to use that Import command and let Lightroom put them where it thinks they need to go rather than me trying to figure out this whole path. Now you can see why I can go back and delete that original Zip file, because Lightroom has copied these presets to this permanent location, the original batch that unzipped is now redundant. So I'm going to go back there and delete it because I don't really need it taking up space. That was here on my Desktop in the Temp folder and here's the Zip file and here's the folder that it unzipped to. I'm just going to delete both of them. You don't have to delete it, maybe you want to keep the Zip file around in case you ever want to reinstall these, but I'm kind of neurotic about disk space so I just got rid of it.Here's one last thought while we're on this Preset tab here in your Lightroom Preferences Panel. You can see this check box here that says 'Store Presets With Catalog.' I do not check that box because if you do you'll discover that when you make a new catalog all your presets get left behind. I find it simpler to just leave this box unchecked.

Now let's look at how you use Lightroom presets. First of all, Lightroom comes with a number of presets already built in. That's what these are here in the panel that have the word Lightroom beside them. You can see some are for black and white, some are for color effects and so on. Let's open up the black and white folder. If you want to get a preview of what each preset does, just move your mouse over the name of the preset in the list and you can see in a navigator panel above you get a preview of what the effect would be. If you want to apply one to your photo you just click once on it and then Lightroom applies it to the photo. Here's a little habit that I try to follow: if I change my mind and want to see a different preset now, I always undo the first one before choosing a new one. On the Mac the keyboard shortcut is command-z on a PC its control-z. I just undo it and then I can apply a different one. The reason I do that is in some cases the changes made by the presets can be cumulative. Not always, but if the first one changes certain sliders that are not then changed by the second one, you can be seeing mixture of both presets. So to be safe I just undo one before applying another. If you forget and you're confused and don't know whether you have been stacking presets on top of presets, you can always scroll down to the History panel and then just pick the last state before you applied any presets and go back to that state, and then you're back to square one.

There's another habit that I like to follow when I'm working with presets to make sure that I don't accidentally change things that I don't want to change on my master photos. For example, in this case I'm thinking of applying a preset to this whole set of photos to give them a consistent look and feel, but I'm a little nervous about applying something that changes all of them all at once, because if I don't like it I would have to go back and undo them all one by one. So to avoid worrying about things like this, I like to make virtual copies of the whole set of photos and then apply the presets to the virtual copies. That way my master copies are untouched if I make a mistake or change my mind. As you can see, I already have these photos in a collection. I always try to work with in collections rather than in the original folders because it's much more flexible and more forgiving. I'll show you just how easy it is to make a virtual copy of all the photos in this collection. First, I'll just select them all: I'm going to click on the first one and shift-click on the last one. Now with all of them selected I go to the top of the Collections Panel and click on this little plus sign to make a new collection. I pick 'Create Collection' and I'm going to give it a name, I'll call it 'Rooftop Models 3.' You can see right here, two options are checked 'Include selected photos' - which means it's going to include all of the ones that are currently selected in the new collection - and most importantly 'Make new virtual copies' which is checked and that means when it creates a collection there will be a fresh set of new virtual copies in there. I'm just going to click 'Create' to make it, and now my new collection contains virtual copies of all those photos. You can tell these are virtual copies because the thumbnail has this little folded corner icon. These are independent copies and any changes I make to them won't affect the master copies. So now I have a sandbox that I can play in. My goal here is to give this entire set of photos a consistent look and feel by applying a preset to all of them. So my next task is to find a preset that has the right look. I'm going to go back up to my presets panel and since these are color photos I'm going to open up this little folder of new presets I installed called 'Color Blast Collection.' I'm going to start sort of moving over them and looking at the preview up in the Navigator panel. These were shot on a on a dark, cool day and I'd like to find something to give them a warmer look. I'm just checking out the previews . I actually see there's one here called 'Warm Sun' - that sounds promising, so I'll click on that. I kind of like that. let me see how it looks if I apply it to another one, like this one. Here we go, 'Warm Sun.' Notice something that happens very commonly here, it looks good but it's over-exposed now. So I'm going to bring the exposure down a bit. One of the things you find when you're applying presets that commonly needs to be adjusted after applying it is the exposure. If you think about it, this makes sense because the preset can't tell what the exposure on your original photo looks like. It's not that smart. It's just a dumb set of instructions and one of those instructions might be to increase the exposure to +5, but since it can't see your original photo then that may be too much or maybe too little. So you need to look at your photos after applying the presets even if you apply it in bulk to a whole bunch of them, you need to go through and make sure it looks all right. The exception would be if you were working in controlled shooting conditions like in the studio where every photo has exactly the same exposure and color temperature and all that. Then you can safely apply presets to a whole set of them without even checking them afterward. But these photos were shot outside under varying conditions of light, so I need to look at them. I'll do it to the next one and I'll put that same preset on there and again it looks a little over-exposed, bring my exposure slider down. Then let's try this one... that one actually looks pretty good because it was a little under exposed in the first place. But let's say I don't want to go through one by one applying them, I'd just like to apply in bulk across this whole set. Let's see how you do that. I've already applied it to the first four so I don't need to do those again. I'm just going to select the rest: I'm going to click on the first one and the last one. Here's the tricky little step: to get the preset to apply to all of these all at once, I need to move this little toggle on the sync button here, I need to toggle it so instead of 'Sync' it says 'Auto-sync' that will allow it to apply to all of them all at once. Now I'm going to go click that 'Warm Sun' preset again and – boom! Because these were shot under varying conditions I would want to make a quick pass just looking at each one, maybe adjusting the exposure on them or making any other adjustments that you see that you think they might need. Exposure tends to be the typical one. I'll just go through these quickly, I won't make you watch, and then I'll upload them to my web gallery. Here's that set of photos on my Squarespace web gallery. You can see they all have a consistent look and feel. They look like a set that belongs together, thanks to the use of that Develop Preset.

Finally, let's take a look at how you can make your own Lightroom Presets. It's pretty simple but there is one tricky bit that you need to watch out for. The simple part is just making the adjustments. Let's say I want to make a black and white preset, I want to make this a black and white photo and I want to be able to apply a similar look to lots of other photos. First I'm going to make the adjustments to this photo. I'm going to start by turning black and white by clicking here and then I need to adjust the parameters until it has a look that I like. I want it kind of contrasty, I'm going to push up the contrast, maybe bring the highlights down a little, brought the blacks way down and let's push up the clarity to make it sort of punchy. It's kind of a high-contrasty, punchy, black and white look and I like that. Now I'm going to save those changes by making a new preset. I come over here to the Presets panel and click this little plus sign to make a new preset and I'm going to call it 'Punchy black and white clarity' because that's a description. This is better than just giving it some name like “Cool black and white,” this helps me remember what this will actually do if I go to apply it to something in the future. I could make a new folder but I'm going to let it go into my existing User Presets folder. Here's the tricky bit. You don't want to save any changes other than those that you just made to the photo. I don't want to accidentally include other adjustments I might have made to this photo in the past. Sometimes when you come into this panel it might look like this, where everything is checked off. Sometimes it might look like this where nothing is checked off. Sometimes you get lucky and Lightroom has already caught the adjustments you just made and applied them in here. In this case we're gonna have to do it by hand. I know we did the black and white treatment, all the tone controls that I applied I would want to apply, and the clarity. I don't think I touched anything else on this little round of adjustments. So now I simply click 'Create,' and now you can see in my user presets I have this new one that I made called 'Punchy BW Clarity.' If I wanted to apply that to a different photo like this one, I can just apply it.

Now let's say you want to share one or more of the presets that you've created, or maybe even make a set that you want to sell. How can you share the presets with others? There are two ways. First, if you just want to share one or two of them, it might be easiest to just export them to a location where it's easy to find them. For example, if I wanted to share this preset that I just created I can right-click on it here in the Presets panel and choose the Export command . You can see it's already got the name filled in with the name that I gave it, and the .lrtemplate extension. In this case I can just save it to my Desktop and then I could go out there and I could move it to another computer or I could email it to somebody or whatever. But if you're working with a large number of them, exporting them like that would be tedious. In that case you might want to go back to where we saw the presets stored earlier. I'm going to go to the Lightroom Menu > Preferences > Presets tab > Show me my Lightroom presets folder, and dig all the way down here to the Develop Presets, and then let's say I had them in my User Presets I could go in here and copy all the ones that I wanted. I could bring them to a different computer or put them on a thumbdrive or package them up into a Zip file to sell them or whatever I wanted to do.

Finally, I'd like to point out that if you're trying to learn Lightroom and if you liked my teaching style in this tutorial, then you might want to check out my complete online video course called Lightroom Made Easy! which is available on my website at and you'll also find more free tutorials like this one on the website including many that are not on YouTube. Alright, that's it! I hope you found this helpful and I look forward to talking to you again soon.