If you’re a camera company or camera software developer, I’m your dream customer. I love technology, gadgets, and software. Each time a new camera, photo editing software, or photo management system comes out, I take a hard look at it. As if I can afford all this stuff. When I got into photography and editing, I was consumed with going the easy route in making my photos look good, especially my vacation photos. Using Lightroom presets to edit Disney vacation photos was a good idea then, and still is.

I’ll try to keep this short, but before I get too far into this, let me say this: whatever software, plugins, and add-ons you use – those are tools in your photo post-processing toolkit. Pretty much the same as lenses, speedlights, or light reflectors that are tools in your camera bag.

If you go way back, you can read about my experience with data loss, backup and recovery, and moving from iPhoto to Lightroom. The point is, I pretty much only edited photos to remove red-eye. But after I moved from iPhoto to Lightroom, I started doing some “real” editing.

And just like any new camera gear, software is a shiny new (virtual) gadget that can help. But you can overuse software, just as you can overdo photography techniques. I won’t show you my “rejects” tagged photos in Lightroom, or my over-processed photos where I got too crazy with Lightroom presets.

Just like the “Auto” setting on my camera dial, I wanted to use one or two clicks of my mouse to turn my photos from ok to great. Become an online photography celebrity, quit my job, move to Orlando, and send all of you photos of my lunch every day.

But first, what are presets, and what do they do? Here’s the short answer: presets are a one-click way to apply multiple adjustments to a photo.

In the partial screenshot below, you can see individual adjustments you can make in Lightroom. Exposure, temperature, white balance, color adjustments, you name it. If you’re editing without any kind of automation (presets, Auto tone, etc.), you’ll probably make adjustments one slider at a time. Nothing at all wrong with that. But presets do pretty much what the name implies: applying multiple slider adjustments all at once, and the preset is usually named something that lets the user know what general effect to expect. In Lightroom, you access presets by going into the Develop module, then looking at the Navigator area at the left.

Lightroom presets

here’s where you can access Lightroom presets

Lightroom adjustments

here’s where you can make individual Lightroom adjustments

To me, the main advantages to using Lightroom presets are the time savings from the repeated one-click editing, and taking advantage of someone else’s work in helping you achieve the desired effect without having to go through all the slider adjustments.

And presets aren’t just limited to Lightroom. There are presets out there for Photoshop and all mainstream photo and graphics editing programs, even if those programs don’t call them presets.

The first shot below is from my trip in March. I wanted to get a shot of the Imagination Pavilion silhouette as the monorail passed by. The first image is straight out of the camera. Not bad, but it’s definitely hard to tell what you’re looking at unless you’re a Neurotic Disney Individual. The image below that is after I applied a Golden Hour preset from Serge Ramelli.

Golden Hour Monorail - unedited

straight out of camera

Golden Hour Monorail

a big difference with only a few clicks

Honestly, I like both images. I like the sense of mystery and approaching darkness in the first image, but I also like the warmth and the light shining through the Imagination Pavilion (and a bit of sunburst beneath the monorail!). Other than cropping both images, I got the effect the second image shows with only one click. So if you’re editing multiple images, or you want to repeat the same look, using Lightroom presets to edit Disney vacation photos is a great way to go.

I have to mention that I’ve been back and forth with presets. Not because there’s anything wrong with using presets, or not using them. The problem was me and overusing presets. When I first discovered HDR (High Dynamic Range) images, I fell in love with the look. The details, the colors that pop, the surreal look of an image.

So when I discovered a one-click method of getting that look, I was all in. But not all images are well suited for that post processing method. I wound up with cartoon-like images with halos and fringing at edges, all sorts of problems. The good news is, when you look at many of these images on a small screen like a mobile device, the problems aren’t that apparent. But they’re there. And when I became aware of them, I couldn’t unsee them.

I then went through a phase where I rarely, if ever, used presets. I made adjustments using the individual sliders, and if I wanted an HDR look, I made sure to bracket exposures in camera. And I was pretty happy with that. Check out the image below – that’s the result of bracketing exposures, then merging to HDR in Lightroom. Nothing too over the top.

Golden Hour Monorail Reflection HDR

bracket of 3 exposures

The image below is from the HDR image, but with another Golden Hour preset applied. Just like the Imagination Pavilion shots, I like both. The great thing about post processing digital images is you can try a lot of things, keep what you like, and discard what you don’t.

Golden Hour Monorail Reflection Glow

I like both

There are so many great articles and YouTube videos out there on presets – free presets, paid presets, how to use them, and how to create your own. My best advice on this is to find photographers that you like and admire and check out what they do and use. Chances are they offer free and paid presets on their websites, or they are a paid endorser for someone who makes Lightroom presets (and other software and camera gear).

Here are some of my favorite Lightroom presets:

The Lightroom defaults. Yes, those. Even though simplistic, you can go a long way in improving your photos by using the Auto preset, or if you want to try black and white, the built in black and white presets. If you’re unfamiliar with them, or uncomfortable, try a few clicks and see what you like. Remember, Lightroom adjustments are non-destructive. And you can save snapshots that remember the current image adjustments. Another great feature is using virtual copies – that allows you to edit the same photo in different ways, so you can have different versions of the same image without increasing the amount of disk space.

Here are some other Lightroom preset sources:


Serge Ramelli

Matt Kloskowski

I have presets from all three, and last I checked, they offer free Lightroom presets, and expanded Lightroom preset packages you can buy. They also have video tutorials (website and YouTube) on a variety of topics, and I’ve learned a lot from them. By the way, I’m not affiliated to any of them – I watch their videos, use their presets, and use the techniques I like, but I’m not affiliated with them in any way. Yes, they’re hoping you’ll like their free stuff enough to buy something. But I’m sure you know by now that’s a common web marketplace business model. I’m here to tell you though that their free stuff isn’t some bait and switch gimmick to lock you into buying something.

Or if you want to strike out on your own, you can create your own Lightroom Presets.

Do you use Lightroom presets to edit your Disney vacation photos? Or do you use another method? Tell us in the comments, or share your images and we’ll get them posted!

What do you think?

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