Why presets won't save your photos

Anyone who produces their own images-- whether for fun or for business-- has probably found themselves on an editing journey. It's no secret that I'm passionate about helping people figure out their unique editing style (grab my free aesthetic guide here if you haven't already), but that's only because I myself have been on a long journey of discovering myself as a photo-editor.


We tinker with different editing tools and stare longingly at the "perfect" Pinterest photo that looks EXACTLY the way we want our own photos to look. But despite our vision boards, when it comes to our own images we can never. quite. get there.

Enter: preset packs. *queue sound of a majestic trumpet and a preset pack, prancing into your life on a white horse*

After spending far too much time editing our images with sub-par results, many of us (myself included) turn to preset packs to save us. We see these BEAUTIFULLY edited images in the sponsored posts on our Instagram feed-- images that have the PERFECT balance of brightness, warmth, glow, and moodiness.

"That's IT," we think to ourselves. "TA-DAAA! That's what I need!"

We eagerly drop £50 (or $$) on these packs from popular Instagrammers who have beautiful grids because we truly believe that the preset will be the hero to solve all of our problems.

But friends, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: preset packs aren't the hero that you think they are. They can't save your photos. At best, they act like a band-aid over your frustration-- but they're never a cure.

Now I'm not saying this out of some purist view that we should all become Adobe experts. I fully believe that any tool that can simplify our work flow and make our lives easier is WORTH IT. My problem with preset packs isn't because they aren't a good idea-- it's because I think they don't ACTUALLY deliver what they claim to on the box.

So I'm going to give you three things to consider before you buy a preset pack from that gorgeous Instagram ad that's been nagging your feed:

1) MISLEADING ADS: What kind of images are being used to advertise the preset?

You have to remember that someone trying to sell their preset pack has applied those presets to IDEAL images. They've been tailored for SPECIFIC lighting scenarios, textures, tones, and even camera settings. When you see a beautiful, perfectly-lit, professionally photographed image to advertise that moody vibe preset, you're not getting an accurate idea of how those settings will look when applied to your images. If the ad photo is shot on a Canon 5D Mk iii in a misty forest at dawn and you're trying to apply the same preset to an iPhone6 photo of your dimly-lit kitchen in the afternoon, you might find that the warm, rich tones suddenly look bright yellow or the soft, cool tones suddenly look dark purple. In short, different presets are created for specific environments: they're not a one-size fits all solution to make your images look the way you want. But when ads try to sell them as if they ARE a perfect solution, it's not only misleading but its discouraging for the newbie editor who is just trying to figure out how to make their images match that uniform aesthetic in their head. I say this from first hand experience:

2) LACK OF ORIGINALITY: Do you REALLY want your Instagram grid to look EXACTLY like someone else's?

There's a couple of Instagrammers who literally advertise their preset packs by saying "Your grid can look just like mine!" And I just think that's a darn shame. Because actually, I wouldn't want someone to scroll through their news feed, see my customer's image, and assume "Oh, that's obviously Christina" before they look at the account to see that it's not actually me but someone who bought my preset.

Now let me clarify here: I am NOT bothered if someone edits in a similar way to me. I do not have the market on moody editing. And truly, there are only so many aesthetic styles that can exist in the world. We are all going to take inspiration from each other. And that's GREAT! But I do think that if you're too preoccupied with your images looking exactly like someone else's, then it really limits your opportunity to step into your own unique space as a creative. It limits the breathability of your brand. And ultimately, it takes away your chance of having your own distinct presence in your follower's feed. By all means, take inspiration from others, but then dig deeper and make it your own. A preset pack can't do that for you unless you start tweaking with the settings. Which brings me to...

3) LIMITING SKILL-DEVELOPMENT: What happens when you know what you want, but you don't know how to get there?

Now I'm saying this as someone who was completely guilty of leaning too heavily on preset packs to solve my problems. Ultimately, the presets DID get me a little bit closer to the look I wanted, but because I was over-dependent on them, it took me a long time to work out how to fix those elements of an image that I didn't like after a preset was applied. If you depend too much on the single click of a button, then you'll never be forced to learn the controls of your editing suite. And sometimes, learning those controls is the difference between an edit that you are just settling for and an edit that you LOVE.

These aren't the presets you're looking for.

Now remember, I told you I wasn't a purist about being an Adobe expert. And truly, I'm not. But if you're someone who truly cares about how your photo edits reflect your brand, then you do at least need to learn a little bit more about how your editing tools function. Only then can you land on that perfect edit that is EVERYTHING you were ever hoping for. And then? Well heck! Make that landmark edit a preset of your own! Remember, I'm all about the short cuts that make our lives easier. But I am NOT about compromising. A shortcut shouldn't force you to settle; it should simply help you get to your ideal destination a little faster.

If you know someone who is bonkers frustrated with editing their photos, then please share this post with them. AND if you want more specific tips on how to improve as a photographer and photo editor, then you'll LOVE being a part of my email fam. You can sign up here, and you'll also get a free guide to help you work out your own unique editing aesthetic in case you're still stuck on articulating it.

Never settle, dears. You can capture that beautiful image that your heart is longing for.

- Christina