Lightroom Presets: how to apply two on the same photo

 In For Photographers

Lightroom presets are an incredible way of speeding up your colour correction workflow. We have few Lightroom presets we use every single day, but there is one specific instance in which Lightroom presets don’t work at their best: multiple Lightroom presets one on top of another. Not every preset has the same issue, everything depends on the presets you use; however, if you are using more than one preset on the same image, then there is the possibility that you are losing certain element of the multiple Lightroom presets.
In this article we will dig deeper in the technique (trick) we use to apply multiple Lightroom presets to the same photograph.

How do we use Lightroom Presets?

One note about Lightroom presets before starting: we do not use third party presets; through time, we have developed our own, and we rely on them. They are not many (4 in total) to give four different tonalities in both colour and black and white. We limit the number used to give our images consistency, as we do not like every image to look different one from the other.

Lightroom Presets: the easy job of applying one

Applying Lightroom presets to photographs is the simplest thing in the universe: open the photo in the Develop module, reveal the left panel and click on one of your Lightroom presets. Job done. Lightroom will apply certain standard modifications to the image and you will get a developed photographs. We generally fine tune every image after having applied any automatic modifications, but these are just fine tuning.

When do multiple Lightroom presets clash?

To understand when multiple Lightroom presets clash it is important to understand how the preset system works. In theory it is very simple: the photograph is replaced a specific value in one of the development settings with the one stored in the Lightroom presets. Let’s say that one of your presets has a value of +1.0 to the exposure, or a special curve, then your photograph will have that specific change; in this case the specific curve or the +1.0 to exposure. But what if you had changed those values before applying the preset? You will lose your modification. Lightroom presets overwrite every value with the one they store.
As you may imagine, if two Lightroom presets have different value in the same development settings, the second one will overwrite the first one.
In a simple example, if the first preset have an exposure value of +1.0 and the second one of -1.0, if you apply the two Lightroom presets one after the other, the image will have a final exposure value of -1.0. this is because the two values are not summed one to the other, but the latter replace the former.
The clash happens when multiple Lightroom presets have different values of the same development setting; the real risk is that if you don’t know what changes you are applying automatically, you may be already overlooking some of the settings.

The trick to apply multiple Lightroom Presets

Let me state very clearly, that the system we use to apply multiple Lightroom presets to the same image is not a standard method, but a trick, which is not free from risks and drawbacks. In reality it is very easy:

  1. apply the first preset
  2. fine tune the image (especially the colour temperature)
  3. export the image in a lossless format (TIFF)
  4. import the image (now a plain image)
  5. apply the second preset to the imported TIFF
  6. fine tune the image

In exporting the photograph, you apply all the changes to the photo itself, making it flat again (without development settings). In applying the second preset to the flat image you virtually add the development settings to the previous ones, without replacing them.
This method works, but there are some drawbacks you should keep in mind.

The drawbacks of using this trick

Applying multiple Lightroom presets with this method incurs in various weak points which may make your workflow harder to control and longer. Which are the things you should keep into consideration?

  • The editing process will be longer
  • You will use more disk space, as you will have to save a mid-developed image in TIFF
  • If you don’t use a lossless format (JPEG for example) you may lower the quality of your photograph
  • You do not have one RAW image upon which you will apply a set of changes, therefore your workflow won’t be as immediate as it is
  • Applying a change to a RAW file is different than applying the same change to a RGB image, so you may not get the same results applying the second preset on a TIFF file

Overall, we haven’t found any different method to apply multiple plugins. Especially when dealing with Curves, the default workflow is flawed and may lead to bad results. It would be time for adobe to re-think the way the changes are applied to an image when more than one preset is added to it. In the meantime this is our trick.

Do you know any other way of adding multiple Lightroom presets to an image without losing the first change? Have your say!

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