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Work Smarter, not harder – with presets.

Work Smarter, not harder. I’ve heard this phrase a thousand times but I still find myself unable to follow that advice. I hear it so often it’s hard to avoid it.  It’s thrown around a lot in the creative field but to me, it doesn’t feel genuine.

I’ve never been a fan of presets for post processing – it’s always felt like.. cheating. I realize I am a unique breed of person, so when the kind people over at Sleeklens asked me to check out what they can do, I took the bait.

My work flow consists of importing all the photos from a shoot, marking the keepers straight away – those that dazzle me, a composition that was perfect and without “surprises”, light so yummy I could eat it all day long, and shots so beautiful people will want to savor them forever on the walls of their home or office.

After I come down from the buzz of great photography, I make a second round and find the “good enough” few that could use some jazzing up before finally locking away the outtakes, those never to be processed in post, and stored in a folder that are likely never to be looked up on again.

I imported a bunch of my outtakes to see if the Sleeklens Lightroom presets and brushes could somehow breath new life (& perhaps a little magic) in photos that would otherwise never see the light of day. I took on this project with an open-mind and open heart.

This is the “Through the Forest” collection, specifically made for Landscape Photography. These are simple screen shots from the editing process. On the left, the “before” is SOOC. The “after” is using the one-click preset called “Extending DR cripsy and sharp and Sharp.” This was my favorite preset on the photos that I tested. It gave a lot of oomph in literally a second. The light was more true to what I remember on our hike that day. I must say I am impressed at what it did.


Below is a close up of all of the wonderful things this preset did after waving its magic wand. The quality loss wasn’t as bad as I had expected. I really love this preset. screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-10-23-59-pm

Here are some more side by side comparisons. The “Brighten Shadows” preset works really well, but it’s not perfect. For small viewing or looking online the images look great. The parts of the photo seemingly lost forever in the shadows are swiftly resurrected but the quality suffers. This is not a fault of the preset, this is the nature of photography. So while it does look nice on the screen if you get in there and start pixel peeping like me – you might be astonished or disappointed.  I can see this preset being used in some dire situation, for instance if you have a photo of someone or something but the detail has been lost to the darkness.. and only you can save the world with the code of the shadows, then this is a real life saver.


I’ll show you what I mean. Below is another before and after. As you can see nearly pitch black on the left, the before, you have no idea what might be lurking in those shadows. The preset REALLY “shed some light” on the area, but it can only do so much. These photos were captured in RAW and it really pushed the limits of the data saved for this image. But for  large format exhibiting, sadly, this would not pass my quality check.


This is the same photo but this time I didn’t mess with the shadows. Instead I was able to try the “Deep Blue Skies” preset which performed exactly as promised! A total win. The dramatic difference created a more pleasing silhouette of the trees, bumping up contrast and not ruining the beautiful setting sun peeking through the cypress. screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-10-25-23-pm


Overall, I’m happy with what I saw. Although, I think some of the presets in the bundle are things that I would never use – some were way over the top to the point I felt as if it was more photo manipulation – it’s great little collection for a beginner.  The quick edits were real time savors.


  • PROS: 
    The presets deliver as promised. Certainly cuts down on post time for common mishaps or situational events that could not be captured perfectly in camera.
  • Both Clarity + Contrast presets were amazing, they yielded perfectly balanced edits in one click.
  • Black and White presets are acceptable for quick blanket processing but need additional tweaking.
  • CONS: 
    Most of the presets get the job done quickly but added too much grain and artifact for my taste. This sort of thing isn’t a problem for most people who only plan to share and view photos online. I specialize in large format photography, and the quality, albeit doing what it is supposed to do, some photos were just not capable of being brought back to life simply because they were captured wrong in camera but the presets try really hard and produce results that most would probably be super happy with.
  • A lot of the presets in the collection are too strong for my taste. The ones that work are totally worth it. This is subjective to the photographer, type of image,  aestetic and purpose, however.

Most of the brushes are very subtle changes. So subtle I could hardly see any difference after applying.  While they do save a lot of time and add a little magic to the photo – you still need to know what you’re doing in order to use them unlike the presets. The brushes often needed to be adjusted and used multiple times to amplify the effect. Because they are used only in certain areas of the photo you need to know where to paint light in order to get the best results. So, there is a slight learning curve for the those not savvy with post-processing and  “seeing light,” but a great tool to play around with to add spark to your photographs.


About PixelGrin

Photography. Punk Rock. Art. Travel.


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Hi Hello I'm Jennifer Jackson. ...and the world is my oyster...



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