Presets and What Makes a Photographer

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edited with some preset.

If you follow me on instagram, you probably saw my post about the Preset Drama 2k19.  In case you missed it, there was PRESET DRAMA.  

Since I began my business, back in 2006 (yeah, you read that right), I have used some form of photoshop presets to edit my images and achieve the look I love and feel emulates who I am as an artist.  Back in 2013, I discovered a pack of presets that promised to emulate the look of film.  Of course, now, that’s basically everyone.  One quick google search and you’ll easily find 50+ photographers touting their own film packs.  But back then, this was a relatively new concept.  

What sold me then was that they had worked closely with Richard Photo Lab (my Pro Lab and the film gurus I’ve been with since the dawn of time) to develop their presets to be as close to film as possible.  

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edited with some preset.

It took approximately 30 seconds to fall head over heels.  I integrated them into my workflow and that’s the end of the story.  Because it worked flawlessly.  It was seamless.  

Fast forward to January 3rd, 2019.  My old iMac, circa 2007, finally kicked it.  I replaced it with a brand new one.  I loaded Photoshop CC and immediately made moves to download and set up my presets for my workflow.  

Except…all I got was an error code.

I deleted them, reloaded them.  Error code.  I deleted them, restarted the computer, reloaded them.  Error code.  I spent a total of 5 weeks going back and forth with tech support and customer service.  I was on the phone with Apple, with Adobe, and I even set up a Skype call with the current head of my preset company.  

No one had any answers.  And with 2019’s wedding season breathing down my neck, I was in panic mode.

Fine.  If that wasn’t going to work anymore, there were hundreds of other preset options out there now.  

I downloaded all of them.

And all of them fell short.

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edited with some preset.

Past clients will attest to my speed in getting their images back to them.  That is all credited to an ease of workflow that allows me to batch images easily, making hardly any adjustments, and moving on.

I spent HOURS at my desk, comparing images; editing them with preset a, b, c… comparing them to the OG’s.  NOTHING was working.  Some were too blue, too yellow, too contrasty, not contrasty enough.  The amount of time I was spending tweaking color temperature and dragging the black sliders up and down was killing my workflow.  

I was looking at quadrupling my editing time per image…and that was on the fast side.

Enter: the brand identity crisis, and struggling to separate photographic artistry from a preset.

Artists have an ego (and I talked about this a little bit here).  And not in a negative way!  Artists create with their soul.  A small piece of them detaches with each creation.  And when that ego is compromised, and their creation isn’t coming easily anymore, or they’re forced to change their process, it’s a BIG issue.  Add on the emotions involved in wedding, and pleasing a client versus creating solely for yourself, and that hiccup just became something else altogether.

I immediately entered into a downward spiral.  My first thoughts were: this is the beginning of the end.  My clients are going to leave me.  No one is going to book me.  

My identity was SO wrapped up in this specific look I’d worked so hard to fine tune, to master, that I literally couldn’t imagine existing outside of that look.  And unfortunately, because that “look” had been achieved (so I thought) via a preset, it became NO PRESET = NO BUSINESS.

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edited with some preset.

I spent many, many days riding the rollercoaster.  I would move quickly from devastation to apathy to elation - thrilled to find a NEW way!  And then back to devastation when finding a new way didn’t go immediately my way.

And then I had a heart to heart with myself (a common occurrence as of late).  

Flipping through my old files, hunting for more examples of the “perfect” shot so that I could compare the color profiles and perfect this elusive look I could feel slipping through my fingers… I realized something.

No single image was the same.  No single image had the SAME color.  Consistency, yes.  But that PERFECT color profile didn’t actually exist.  It wasn’t until I released my grip and stopped clinging so hard to a non-existent ideal that I realized that isn’t even what matters.

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it's a preset.

My couples have NEVER ONCE booked me saying, “We fell in love with your color profiles”!  No one has ever said “Wow I love the way you balance your magentas”!  Or “Hey, I really dig the hint of blue in your greens”.  

You know what they DO say?

“I love the way you capture emotion.”

“I’m obsessed with the way you handle light!”

“You can literally hear the laughter in that image.”

“You managed to capture my grandpa’s genuine smile - not his camera smile.  Thank you for giving us a photo we can remember him by.”

A photographer is not made up solely of color profiles and presets.  A photographer is not made of clipped shadows and hue sliders.  

A photographer is made up of soul.  A photographer is made up of light and shadow and knowing how to harness both to bring someone back to an exact moment in time.  

A photographer’s purpose is capturing moments - grandpa’s smile before he leaves this earth - or the joyful tears of a son watching his parents say “I do” - or summer sunsets and spring rain.

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some preset.

Don’t make the same mistake I did.  Technology changes - rapidly.  Don’t lose yourself in shades of blue/green and yellow/red.  Your presets don’t make you who you are.  Presets are a dime a dozen.  Only you have your eyes.  Your vision is your own.  Stay true to that, and everything else will fall into place.