To be honest, I don’t download a lot of presets from the internet. I personally have limited mental bandwidth for add-ons, and there are so many out there that they can be hard to sift through. However, I agree that done right, they can add great value. It can be very efficient to use a good creative preset or set of presets, since I can get 90% of the way towards making a photo look great with just one or a handful of clicks in one panel rather than having to sift through all of Lightroom’s Develop sliders, plus I can get cool looks that I never would have thought of creating myself.
Occasionally I hear about some presets that I just have to check out, including X-Equals XeL Black and White Toolkit of over 300 presets. They are designed to emulate the look of 54 classic black and white films, as well as 4 antiquated processes, and the workflow ingeniously follows the traditional black and white darkroom workflow (as I understand it — truth be told, I only had a couple months of film/darkroom experience):
1. Simulate black and white capture:
- Choose your film type from 54 choices (with a set of presets for each, covering black and white mix, tone and grain)
- Choose your color filter or color mix
2. Simulate darkroom work:
- Choose your paper contrast grade
- Adjust your contrast (with “curve kicks”)
- Dodge and burn (with graduated filters)
- Solarize / special effects
- Toning (Sepia, Selenium, and 5 more)
The toolkit also has a cool set of presets to reproduce four antiquated processes ( Tintypes, Daguerrotypes, Cyanotypes and Ambrotypes).
For people with extensive film experience, these presets allow you to replicate films and processes that you know and love. For people like me with little or no film experience, it allows us to achieve looks that we wouldn’t have known to create otherwise. And for everyone, it can help you to get much closer to a great black and white with just a handful of clicks using just the Presets panel. Here are some samples, where I just applied Xel presets, without further fine-tuning:
When I first downloaded this set of over 300 presets and started playing without reading the directions, they overwhelmed me quickly. However, once I read the directions and realized that the idea is to use groups of presets, and that they are ordered into a carefully thought-out workflow, I was able to work much more effectively, and really enjoy the creative process. Nevertheless, there are a lot of choices, and particularly for those of us without film experience, it can take time to experiment and learn what film types and other choices we like. To me this process of learning what I like is great for late-night creative exploration, and I enjoy it.
As with any presets, I think you should apply and then fine-tune your develop settings to taste. They are a great starting point, and may be true to the film type used, but some photos will simply look better with some fine-tuning (this is not a flaw of the presets). For example, in the Ilford Pan 50 example above, my next steps would be to use the B&W panel to further darken the sky, and back off a bit on Clarity. This is where presets can get you started, but are not a substitute for understanding the rest of the Develop module!
In the end, I really like this set of presets and am happy to recommend it, because
- It exposes me to many more creative possibilities for my black and whites. I particularly like the antiquated processes and more grainy films, as they really push the envelope for me.
- The workflow is very well thought out.
- The presets clearly have been tested on a wide variety of images, and were built on measured film responses.
- They have been carefully designed to only affect what they need to affect — so they don’t wipe out adjustments you have already made unless they really need to in order to achieve the look.
- It is a great value, at only $19.99 (current website price – may change)