*Presets! Less talk, more rock! Or, one easy way to streamline your workflow.

Presets, a key to streamlining your workflow. (*using a New York Times Mag Aperture3 preset by Zurli) - image ©tyson robichaud photography2010

Alright alright now.  No matter what your stance is on post processing, love it, hate it, meh, one thing that is hard to deny is that for the average photographer, digital photography requires a bit more time than shooting film on an image by image basis.  Yes, our feedback with digital is instantaneous, yes we are able to immediately adjust on the fly but one thing that has crept into the equation is the amount of time needed after shooting to upload, catalog, tag, process and archive all of your images (not to mention, many of us tend to take quite a few more images per outing now that we get more than 24 exposures a round).  One helpful tool is the use of presets, or actions.  These are a series of repeatable adjustments and instructions applied to your digital file so that you don’t have to manually adjust each and every one individually.  Read on for links, examples and tons of freebies for APERTURE, LIGHTROOM and PHOTOSHOP presets and actions…

BEFORE - image ©tyson robichaud photography2010

AFTER applying the "Toy Camera" preset in Aperture3 - image ©tyson robichaud photography2010

One misconception that I run into when shooting is that many people feel that digital photography means that “photography” is easier now than it was in days past.  My answer to that is “yes it is, and no it isn’t.”  Of course the growth of digital imaging has provided a new set of tools which does, in many ways, provide photographers with a faster, more responsive work flow.  The flip side to this, is that a digital photographer has now become their own processing lab as well.  Anyone who, upon uploading their images, decides to do any level of post processing, spends more time than the average film shooter would have after the initial capture took place.  Where film was dropped off or sent out to be developed or processed, scanned and printed (for those of us who didn’t have the basement bathroom converted into our own film processing lab) we now are responsible for “developing” each and every picture we take.  Some come out of the camera looking great, others need a bit of tweaking and some even need a full blown face lift.  Of course this depends on your final use for any particular image file, but for many of us, getting images onto the computer is just the beginning.  One way to eliminate time spent in front of your computer is by automating many of the tasks involved by batch processing using presets or pre-recorded actions.  Photoshop and Photoshop Elements provide ‘actions’ which are a recorded series of steps which at the click of a mouse, applies the set of directions to your image file in a matter of seconds!

Many digital asset management (DAM) software applications, like Adobe Lightroom3, or Apple’s Aperture3 provide the ability to record, save, load and share ‘presets, which are a set of parameters and adjustments that can also be applied to multiple images quickly with a click.  This is a quick and easy way to immediately replicate a series of instructions to one, or many images providing the photographer the ability to very quickly process images consistently.

Here’s the quick and dirty on how to record, export and import presets and actions into Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop.

How to RECORD an action or preset:

In Aperture3 or Lightroom3, make any adjustments you would like to your image and when you have adjusted the image to where you like it (keeping in mind any cropping or leveling should be omitted from saved presets);

In Aperture, after adjusting an image while in the adjustments tab, click the “presets” drop down menu and choose “save as preset,” name it, tell it where to live and click ‘OK

In Lightroom, go to LR’s “develop” module, click the “+” sign in the Presets option and check all adjustments you’ve made that you want the preset to include.

Photoshop actions are a little more involved, but easy enough.(for a more thorough explanation on how to record an action in Photoshop, and for a free sharpening/contrast pop action, read through my article here.)

If you want to share your action/preset, to EXPORT an action or preset from;

Aperture, go to the preset drop down menu, go to “edit presets,” select the desired preset, click the ‘gear‘ drop down menu and click “Export.”

Lightroom, go to File menu > Export Presets, determine the parameters and where you want it to go.  (I haven’t used LR in years, so for those more accustomed to this procedure, please feel free to add your input.)

In Photoshop, only ‘action sets‘ can be exported while individual actions cannot be exported. To export an action set (which can be a single action which has to ‘live’ in an “action set”), select the action set from the action palette, then select “Save Actions” from the action palette menu.

To IMPORT an action or preset after having downloaded them from a website, or received them from a fellow photographer into;

Aperture, go to the preset drop down menu, click on ‘edit presets‘ then click the ‘gear‘ drop down menu at bottom left and click “Import,” than find your downloaded preset files and import them.

Lightroom, in the Develop drop down menu, select “New Preset Folder” and name it whatever you’d like.  In the Navigator menu scroll to your newly created preset folder and select “Import,” navigate to the saved presets and you’re golden.

Photoshop, to load an action, select “Load Actions” from the Actions palette menu, navigate to the action and load…

Pretty easy stuff.

In an industry where many keep their trade secrets close to the chest, or charge a premium to share these secrets, there are many photographers out there who freely share their presets and actions.  I have nothing against those who are able to make a good amount of money selling presets and actions, but more and more, talented photographers and image editors are willing to give back to the photographic community and in my experience provide many high quality tools for others to benefit from.  There are some paid presets that do more than most any freebie out there, and by no means do I feel you should completely ignore the value they may provide, but seeing as there are so many free presets out there, we will look at where we can find some of them available to anyone wanting to download them.  Really, when it comes down to it, a preset doesn’t compose, expose, light or visualize your image, it merely puts the image in a new outfit.  The photographer is responsible for the substance and that is where I feel sharing “secrets” isn’t necessarily exposing a photographers talent for others to poach, but merely sharing cool tricks with others who may have shared with them in the past.  Share and share alike I say.

The following sites are all sites that I’ve found and used.  I am one who really appreciates those who dedicate their time to share with those of us that benefit from their generosity and expertise.  It is because of folks like these that I have wanted to provide a bit of a give back via my own blog here.  Support these folks if and where you see fit, but in the mean time, their hard work benefits us all, for FREE!!!  Thank you to all the folks that I’ve linked to below.  Now, on to the free stuff…

*Make note of any usage parameters as well, as some actions and presets I’ve come across will ask to credit their creator, or some state they cannot be used commercially, so please respect the providers requests if and when they’ve been made.  Keep in mind that you are also downloading these presets and actions on good faith from their providers.   Take the same level of caution you would downloading anything else from the web.

Free presets and actions galore, enjoy:

Presetpond.com – Thomas has started a preset community to provide the ability to upload your presets and download others Aperture, Lightroom and Photoshop presets for free.  Upload, download, make cool imagery.

Coffeeshop Actions/Presets – Rita is a talented and generous photographer providing readers free presets and actions as well as helping provide blog templates and more.

Pro Phototography Show has a collection of different sources for free Aperture presets and free Lightroom presets.  A great list and plenty to get you started.

BEFORE - image ©tyson robichaud photography2010

Using "Vintage Blush" for Photoshop, from Coffee Shop - image ©tyson robichaud photography2010

I hope this helps those of us out there that weren’t aware of these sites previously.  There are many, many others which I have no personal experience with, so if you know of other free sites for actions and presets that you trust and enjoy, please link in the comments, but for this post, let’s keep it to FREE stuff, available to all.  (If you have a paid presets/actions site, feel free to email me and I’d be happy to discuss reviewing them for a comparison to the free ones out there.)

Thanks all.  We’d love to see some results and hear about more cool presets in our flickr group.   Keep shooting!

If you’d like to get my blog post updates via email, just plug your email into the field on the top right of this (or any) page here on my blog and you’ll get a heads up with every new post!


13 thoughts on “*Presets! Less talk, more rock! Or, one easy way to streamline your workflow.

  1. OOooh thanks for the links! I did a few presets in aperture but I only exported to move from my iMac to my macbookpro. I didn’t realize you could exchange them outside of those arenas! How fun… Also, look what a handsome young man you and your lovely wife have turned out! How did he grow up so fast?


    • You betchya! I hadn’t really taken advantage of the Aperture presets until recently and now that I have, I see some serious benefits to them for events or series, etc.

      Yes, our young’n eats like he is half horse and has been growing rapidly. 98th percentile in height, 85th for weight. Gonna be a big kid! For all those who said they grow fast, they weren’t kidding!

      Thanks for stopping by Shetha.



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  3. Thanks, Tyson!
    I vaguely knew about Presets and took some time today to see what that would mean for me with PSE 8. Visited Coffeeshop (picked up 11 freebies and donated $10) and PresetPond (a lot less interesting for PSE).

    PSE is a lot more limited AFAICT that CS3 Photoshop. You can drop .atn files into …/PhotoshopElements/8.0/locale/en_us/Workflow Panels/actions. Then in the Guided Fix (rather than Full or Quick) get a drop down with the name of the .atn file. Select it and it gets applied to the image.

    From reading what Coffeeshop had to say and all the other files I had to leave sitting all alone from the download, I’d say I’m missing all but the action themselves.

    Tried a couple of them out and they are indeed interesting effects but I’d guess a lot less interactive that with CS3.

    I should probably learn now how to make my own actions b/c it seems that a lot of photos taken at the same time of day, same lighting (nature stuff) often need to be brightened up if they’re in the shade or enriched if it’s all bright and blown-out sunny.

    I usually take 100-400 shots/day, so you’re right about having a whole slew of shots and needing to do SOMETHING with them. Careful editing, sad to say, is what gets dropped in my case often enough.

    It’s also why I just bot a 750GB primary HD for my laptop.
    -Cheers, Terry


    • Great Terry!

      Glad you stumbled over there. Rita (Coffee Shop) is great and a very generous and helpful person. I’m hoping to be posting an interview with her shortly as well to gain a bit of insight into her blog and overall knowledge on presets and actions. I’ve not used PSE, so I cannot say, but in the actions palate, there should be a “create new action” button, or menu command. At this point it should react similarly to Photoshop where it would just record each step (sharpening, contrast, saturation adjustments or whichever general steps you might want to replicate) then when done with what you want to record, there should be a stop command and then it should be quickly applied with a button press or command.

      Have fun with them and keep checking in with Rita, she adds stuff all the time.



  4. Hi Tyson, I went to follow your instructions to download presets for Aperture 3 from the links you listed but alas there is no “Gear” drop down menu in the Presets drop down menu? Any suggestions on where I may have gone wrong Tyson??


    • Hi Matiu,

      When you click the drop down for ‘presets’ in the adjustments tab, click “edit presets” at the bottom, then in the popup window, select a preset to export, click the “gear” on the bottom left which opens another drop down menu with the ability to import or export presets. Sorry for the confusion.



  5. Hi Tyson, just to test your patience a little more… All my drop-down ‘Presets’ options are ‘greyed’ out – do you know why that might be?

    I’ve tried checking ‘Aperture-Preferences’ but I can’t see anything that is relevant to settings etc. I’m quite confounded!

    Respect 🙂


    • Hi Matiu,

      The answer to that one may reside above my paygrade. The only thing that I could think of might be an issue with the picture file in question being either unable to be selected (by way of a non-available referenced file) or just not having a valid file selected. I tried to recreate a situation where my presets were grayed out and the only time I could get them to do so was when I didn’t have a picture file selected. It might be good to check in with one of the Aperture specific groups in flickr or on Apple’s website.

      Good luck and sorry to not offer more help.



  6. Thanks again T, I appreciate the time and comments. I honestly don’t know where you find the time to manage your business, your interests, your family – everything really. But i’d like to extend a huge thank you to you and your whanau (family) for your ongoing selfless generosity. Your a star T.


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