In this post, I give you some tips on how to build a preset collection and what to avoid when you do. There are no hard rules for this, and everybody does it differently, but you may want to use some best practices to make your new preset collection easy to understand and use.
If you want to sell a preset collection, its success depends on many factors. Of course, you need to have a high level of proficiency with Lightroom and with editing images to be able to deliver high-quality presets. Creating a themed collection also helps a lot. This means that your presets should have a specific use case, e.g. landscapes, portraits, black and white, architecture etc. In this way, you create a clear case for buying them.
But even if you are able to create high-quality work in Lightroom and you have a theme in mind, there’s still one aspect to consider: usability. And that’s what this article is about. I will give you 5 tips for optimizing the structure and organization of your preset collection such that people will actually find it useful and enjoy using it.
1. Do Not Go to Extremes
If you want your presets to be useful for more than just a single photo, do not go to extremes. In most cases, extreme settings are a telltale sign that something is wrong with the image you are working on. For example, if you need to boost the Exposure setting to +1 or above, your photo is probably underexposed.
It is hard to give you a general rule as to what is and what is not extreme. Just keep in mind that you want to maximize the number of photos to which your preset can be applied, especially if you plan on distributing it. The more extreme the settings in your presets are, the less likely the preset will be usable for any given image.
2. Be Careful With Exposure Settings
Be extremely careful when changing the Exposure setting unless you are creating presets that are specifically designed to solve exposure problems. Presumably, most of the photos to which your presets are going to be applied are decently exposed. Cameras have become so good at determining the right exposure that most exposure problems are the result of wrong camera settings. Any changes in the Exposure setting will most likely throw off the exposure for most well-exposed images.
Tip: If you want to make sure the exposure settings are set automatically when a user applies your preset, check the Auto Tone check box in the New Develop Preset dialog (Figure 1).
3. Include All Settings in Your Presets
Once you have finished making all the settings for your new preset in the Develop module, you move on to actually creating it. In the New Develop Preset dialog box (Figure 1), you need to decide which of the settings to include and which not to include. Unless you are deliberately building presets that can be combined with other presets, select all the checkboxes in that dialog box.
If you leave some settings unchecked and the user is unaware of this, it can cause major confusion. Not selecting a checkbox in the New Develop Preset dialog box when saving a preset means that the respective setting will be left as it is at the moment you apply the preset. Especially when the user goes through your presets clicking one after the other, this will effectively create a mix of two or more otherwise unrelated presets with unpredictable results.
If you want to reset some settings in your preset, reset them in the Develop module and then include those settings in the preset.
4. Give Your Presets Descriptive Names
The first thing users see of your preset collection is the names of the presets. This is their reference, and this is how they try to determine what the presets do. Try to think of names that are descriptive (Figure 2). Of course, using the name to describe the preset in detail is not practical or feasible. But you should try to give users an idea as to what they can expect.
5. Organize Your Collection Properly
If you create a large collection of thirty presets or more, you should organize them appropriately. Folders and preset naming are two excellent organizational tools. If you have different categories of presets in your collection (e.g., black and white, color, HDR, portrait), create a folder for each category and name it appropriately. Then put all the presets that fall into a category inside the corresponding folder.
Note however, that all these folders will end up on the same level with all the other folders in your Presets panel due to the restriction to a single hierarchy level (no sub folders). To allow the user to identify the folders belonging to your collection, use a common prefix in all folder names (see Figure 3).
To organize the presets within each folder, you can use prefixes and suffixes. Suffixes can be used to create subgroups inside a folder. For example, you may have a folder called “Landscape” where all your landscape presets are stored. Inside that folder you may have color and black and white presets. You can organize those by appending the suffix “(B&W)” to all black and white presets. Furthermore, prefixing all presets with a running number (Figure 4) allows you to enforce a custom order. Note that Lightroom always displays presets in alphabetical order.
Finally, to increase the usability of folders containing a lot of presets, you can insert dummy presets that function as separators (Figure 5). Such a dummy preset is empty (no settings stored inside) and has a name that acts as a visual separator enabling the user to clearly identify the different preset categories. When the user clicks on one of these separator presets, nothing happens because they apply no settings to the image.
You have to decide for yourself whether separator presets are beneficial in your case. They do add structure, but they may also be slightly confusing because they are presets with no effect. This may also be something you want to describe in your documentation.
Whether you are creating a preset collection for your own personal use or for distribution to others, following some basic principles while creating it will ensure your collection is easy to use, effective, and manageable.
In this post, I provided some vital tips for shaping your presets and for organizing your preset collection properly for the public. If you follow these basic guidelines, your preset collection will become an effective tool.