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Do presets make your imagery better? 

click to enlarge Image of Kaela at the Garden of the Gods toned using the Champagne preset from Colormade Labs. - © SEAN CAYTON/ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  • © Sean Cayton/All Rights Reserved
  • Image of Kaela at the Garden of the Gods toned using the Champagne preset from Colormade Labs.
Every year around this time I start looking at a lot of images made by professional photographers, especially on Instagram.

I always notice the tonalities that a photographer chooses to show their work in. On Instagram, whenever you upload a photograph, you’ll notice that there are a host of different “filters” that you can apply to an image. These filters are gradients that, when applied, change the tonality and color of the photograph.

I've used some of these filters on images on my own Instagram page

There are as many different filters as there are pantone colors. And it’s a quandary for me. Do I change my images using filters or do I leave them as is?

Typically I just do slight adjustments to color balance my images and because I like to shoot images with low contrast I add an “s” curve in Photoshop that makes the blacks blacker and the whites whiter.

I can never decide on presets. But when I’m looking at other photographers I’m tempted to shop for them online. There are host of companies that sell photoshop presets. They’re a little bit more sophisticated than the ones you find on Instagram, but they generally work the same way.

This year I pulled out my wallet and bought a set of presets called the Full Wedding Bundle by Colormade Labs. They were six different flavors and unlike some of ColoradMade's competitors, this set of presets was way more affordable.

Here’s a selection images using different presets that I purchased. There are some that work better than others; some are better for the bright outdoors and others are better for shade and low light pictures.

I’ve also included in this portfolio from Kaela and Ian’s wedding day at the Mining Exchange, an image that did not have any filters applied to it, only adjusted for exposure.

After looking and shopping and then trying these presets I’m still on the fence when it comes to using them on my images.

Two decades of wedding photography teaches me that everything that comes into fashion today will eventually go out of fashion tomorrow. Changing imagery using presets means we have to live with it, even after it's out of fashion.

So I find myself trying to strike a balance for my clients and to make sure that what they receive will last and not look over-stylized a decade later. 
What do you think? Do presets enhance your pictures or are they cheap trick that will go out of fashion in a few months or years? 


Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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