Filed in : For Creatives

What is a Lightroom Preset?

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I talk about my new presets a lot. Heck, if you follow any photographer or blogger on Instagram, you’ve probably heard the word ‘preset.’ But what the heck is a preset, and why would you need one?

lightroom mobile preset before and after

First things first: presets are used in an app called Lightroom, which is for photo editing. A lot of photographers have Lightroom for editing the photos they take professionally. Lightroom can be purchased with a Creative Cloud subscription through Adobe, which is what I do.

Desktop vs. Mobile Presets

desktop lightroom presets

There are two types of presets: desktop and mobile. Photographers or other people who use the desktop version of Lightroom may use desktop presets. These are essentially editing shortcuts. You can create them yourself if you find that you’re using the same settings to edit image after image. I actually did this for years, which is how I came to designing and selling them.

But what about those of us who aren’t professional photographers, but like having nice looking photos? Enter, Lightroom mobile presets! These guys are likely what you’ve been seeing all over the place, and probably even getting ads for on Facebook and Instagram.

before and after photo of beer flight

If you have no need for the desktop version of Lightroom, you can download the mobile version for free from the app store. Yup – it’s a totally free mobile app. And you can use it to edit photos to your heart’s content at no cost. But there’s kind of a catch.

The catch is that while the app is totally amazing, it can be super overwhelming if you’re not used to editing software. A lot of people start seeing words like ‘Exposure’ and ‘Temperature’ and ‘HSL panel’ and their brains explode – which is totally fair! There is a ton that photographers do behind the scenes to make an image look perfect. We spend years perfecting the look we are going for; no one expects that you’ll master it in minutes.

before and after photo edit

Photographers and bloggers with editing experience started offering presets for exactly this reason. Presets are an editing shortcut. I sell presets, but you can also purchase them from other individuals directly, or through sites like Etsy.

Presets vs. Filters

Oftentimes, presets get lumped into the same category as filters, like the filters that you may use on Instagram. But really, presets and filters are quite different from each other.

before and after photo edit of mom and young kids

A filter is applied on top of a photo. Besides adjusting the opacity (strength) of a filter, you can’t edit it. You can’t decide to keep part of the preset (like the color) while getting rid of another part of it (like the contrast). It’s a package deal.

A preset is so much more customizable. You can apply a preset, and then go back into the individual settings and tweak as necessary. You can increase the exposure, decrease the contrast, increase the temperature … whatever you want. All the settings making up a preset are separate from each other, making it super easy to customize and get exactly what you want.

before and after photo edit of baby

One-click presets vs. tweaking presets

A lot of people will advertise presets as one-click, and that can totally be the case depending on the photo. But I think the real magic of presets happen when you’re able to tweak it to what you need. Not every photo is going to look incredible with the EXACT same settings applied, unless the photos were all taken in the EXACT same conditions.

before and after photo edit of dog in snow

For example, when I’m editing a session, I may have very similar settings on all my images, but if some images are darker and some images are lighter, I’m going to need to change the exposure based on that individual photo. The same goes for photos on your phone. You can’t expect to take a photo indoors in artificial light, and outdoors in natural sunlight, and use the same preset to make the photos look equally amazing without tweaking them. It just doesn’t work that way! No two photos are created equal.

The short of it? A preset may be one-click for some images, and need tweaking for others. That is totally fine and to be expected, and doesn’t mean a preset is ‘bad.’

Creating consistency with presets

I think the reason why presets have gotten to be so popular is because everyone wants that beautiful, consistent Instagram feed – and it can be really hard to get if you’re not used to editing photos. There are a lot of presets that exist exactly for this reason. It’s pretty common to see Lightroom presets that make all your photos look like they have a certain color haze on them. While those aren’t really my jam, I definitely understand the draw: it creates photographic consistency.

before and after photo edit of boy driving boat

BUT – I would argue that you can totally achieve consistency without needing all your photos to look like they have a pink glow to them 😉 By simply using consistent coloring, contrast, exposure, etc. (all things you can get through using a preset or editing your own photos), that consistency starts to happen naturally. Don’t believe the lie that all your photos have to perfectly ‘match’ or have a filtered look to them to create consistency!

Who can use presets?

I feel so strongly that anyone can use Lightroom presets. Whether you are making your own or buying from someone else, presets are an easy way to edit photos faster and with consistency. They are so simple to use and tweak, and can make a huge difference in taking a basic snap to something you really want to share or print.

If you take photos of your kids, you could use presets. If you have a business and you take photos to promote it, you could use presets. If your camera roll is full of images that are ‘just fine,’ but need something extra, you could use presets. If you are totally overwhelmed at the thought of learning another editing app to make your photos better, you could use presets.

See where I’m going with this? Everybody could use them! 😉


I hope this answers some of your questions about Lightroom presets! If you’re still wondering anything, leave a comment below or on Facebook and I’d love to answer it!


comments +

  1. Alissa Moore says:

    So easy to understand! I’d love to get some mobile presets for my phone

  2. I LOVE how you broke this down! Honestly, the difference between a preset vs a filter has been a little murky for me, but how you explained it makes perfect sense! 🙌

  3. Alisha says:

    Great job explaining the difference between presets and filters! 🙂

  4. Maria says:

    great information! love the cute photos too!!

  5. Mandy says:

    Such a fantastic post with such wonderful in-depth explanations – where were you when I started using Lightroom!!! hahaha. Love the example photos along the way too. Thank you for taking the time to write this – it is really going to help a lot of new photographers.

  6. Kristen says:

    This is some great info on the differences between the two!!

  7. It really helped when you talked about how amateur photographers who don’t have an editing laptop can still use mobile presets to really enhance their pictures. I love taking photos of my family but I don’t know how to edit them on the computer. I will certainly use this info the next time I edit my photos.

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