How to Find the Best Lightroom Preset for an Image

If you have acquired some preset collections, it may not be easy to find the right preset for a given image. Usually, you will start at the top of the preset list and try each one. If you do this by pure intuition, you may quickly decide in favor of one preset, ignoring the rest of the list and then perhaps make some adjustments.

However, if you are more systematic, you will want to optimize the outcome of this entire process and find the best preset for a given image. But how do you keep track of the good ones, and how do you narrow them down to find the one you like the most? If you are after the best preset for a particular image, you need an approach for culling the list of presets and reducing it to the best candidates.

In this article, I will show you my favorite method for doing this. It involves creating a number of virtual copies of your image and applying the best candidate presets to them. This way, you can compare the candidates side-by-side and choose the one you really like best.

Using Virtual Copies to have a side-by-side comparison

The cleanest and fastest way to do this is to use the Quick Collection mechanism in Lightroom. The Quick Collection lets you add images quickly and directly in order to work on them as a set. We will exploit this as a quick way to add our virtual copies and inspect them in one place.

Step1Set the Quick Collection as the new Target Collection (Figure 1). To be able to add images with a single click, you have to make the Quick Collection the new Target Collection. Once you have done this, a plus sign will appear behind the Quick Collection in the Catalog


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Figure 1: Set the Quick Collection as the new Target Collection. Right-click on the collection in the Catalog panel and choose Set as Target Collection from the popup menu.
[from the book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘]

Step2To prepare the Quick Collection, switch to the Library module (G on your keyboard). Locate the Quick Collection in the Catalog panel (Figure 2). Right-click on the Quick Collection and choose Clear Quick Collection from the popup menu to remove all current images from the collection. Make sure it is safe to remove them (i.e. you do not have any interest in keeping the current images in the Quick Collection).

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Figure 2: Clear the Quick Collection (1) by right-clicking on it and choosing Clear Quick Collection (2).
[from the book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘]

Step3While you are still in the Library module, locate your image in the Grid view, right-click on the image thumbnail, and choose Create Virtual Copy from the popup menu to create your first copy (Figure 3).


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Figure 3: Create the first virtual copy of the image you want to find presets for.
[from the book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘]

Step4Hover your mouse cursor over the new virtual copy, and click the little circle in the top right corner of the image thumbnail (Figure 4) or press B on your keyboard. This will add the image to the Quick Collection.


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Figure 4: The virtual copy (1) will appear next to the original image (2) in the Grid view. The little dog-ear icon in the lower left corner (3) helps you identify it as a virtual copy. Click the circle icon in the upper right corner (4) to add the copy to the Quick Collection.
[from the book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘]

Step5Click on the Quick Collection catalog to display the image inside the Quick Collection (Figure 5).


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Figure 5: Switch to the Quick Collection catalog by clicking on it.
[from the book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘]

Step6Make sure your first virtual copy is selected. Then, switch to the Develop module (press D on your keyboard).
Step7Reset your virtual copy (click the Reset button shown in Figure 6 or press Ctrl+Shift+R) to avoid the carryover effect.


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Figure 6: The Reset button lets you reset all the Develop settings to their default values.
[from the book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘]

Step8Create a number of additional virtual copies of your image. You can do this as shown in Figure 3 or, more quickly, by using the default keyboard shortcut Ctrl+. The number of copies you need depends on the size of your preset list, but you should create at least a handful. You can always create new ones when you need to, and you can easily delete any or all of them at any time.

Step9Select the first virtual copy in the filmstrip at the bottom of the Lightroom window. Hover your mouse cursor over the presets and watch the Navigator panel to see which ones may fit (Figure 7). Whenever you find a good one, click on it to apply it to the selected virtual copy. Then, continue with the next virtual copy. Proceed through the list of presets until you find the next good candidate, and apply it. Do this for the entire preset list and apply the best candidates one by one to your virtual copies.


020 - virtual copies in the filmstrip - 01

Figure 7: Go through the presets (1) and watch the Navigator panel (2). When you find a good preset, apply it to the selected virtual copy (3) and select the next unused copy (4) in the filmstrip (5). Step-by-step, you will get a collection of thumbnail views of the best candidates (6).
[from the book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘]

Step10When you are finished, select all the copies in the filmstrip (click on the first one and Shift-click on the last one). Then press N on your keyboard or choose View > Survey from the main menu to activate the Survey view (Figure 8). Lightroom will automatically switch back to the Library module, and all your virtual copies will be displayed bigger in the main preview area.


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Figure 8: All your virtual copies with the different presets applied to them, shown in the survey view. Select your favorite and continue working on it.
[from the book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘]

Step11In the Survey view, select your favorite copy and continue working on it. You may keep the remaining copies if you feel you still need them, or you may delete them (select the copies and press the Delete key on your keyboard). This will only delete the copies, not the original image.


Being able to find, use, and customize the best preset in a set of possibly dozens or even hundreds of presets is vital for making effective use of the entire concept of Develop presets. If you do not adopt any such method, your use of any preset collection will be suboptimal. Therefore, you should approach this process systematically.

Unleash-the-Power-of-Lightroom-Presets-iPad-Cover-800pxIf you want to learn everything about Lightroom presets and how to take your post-processing to the next level, check out my new book ‘Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets‘. It has 210 pages, 11 chapters, and 140 figures to help you unleash this power.

Download the Light Version for free

The 72-page Light Version of Unleash the Power of Lightroom Presets, contains the first two chapters of the book. You will find some of the tips from this post fully covered in this Light Version. Have fun with the book!


Download Light Version for free

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