A little while back I was contacted by the company Skeeklens to see if I would consider writing a review of their landscape "Through the Woods Workflow" designed for Lightroom. Anyone who knows me understands how much I like playing with new stuff. To make it even better the company was going to supply me with the package of presets and brushes free of charge in exchange for a fair review. There is nothing better than getting free stuff.
After I had agreed to write the review I began considering the fact that I have spent the majority of my photography career avoiding presets. Personally I have never really enjoyed the results. This is equally true for both the standard set of presets that comes with loaded Lightroom as well as specialty presets created by other photographers. I've grown accustomed to processing my photos manually. I cannot even force myself to use the supplied filters on Instagram little own using presets for my photography.
With that being said, I installed the presets and brushes onto my computer. The "Through the Woods Workflow" comes with 51 presets and 30 brushes. For those who have never used presets before or are unfamiliar with the term I would suggest considering them much like a recipe. The creator of the preset defines how the computer will adjust the photo's individual components like exposure, highlights, shadows, saturation, and clarity to name a few. The exact same set of adjustments are made to any photo each time the preset is used. Whereas brushes are very much like paint brushes, but rather than dipping them into paint and applying it to a canvas or a wall. Lightroom brushes are defined by how they alter a photo's individual components (e.g., exposure, highlights, shadows, saturation.) as they are brushed over the the photo. They provide us the ability to apply changes to a specific area of a photograph.
Sleeklens have organized the Lightroom presets into six groups: (1) all in one, base, (2) exposure, (3) colour, (4) tone/tint, (5) polish, and (6) vignette. Before using any of the presets the Navigator panel in Lightroom was open. This allowed me to preview the changes by simply hovering my mouse/pen over the preset. Sleeklens has done great job organising and naming the presets. The package also comes with 30 local adjustment brushes which are also arranged into broad groups such as (1) basics, (2) colour, (3) effects, (4) haze and (5) light. Again Skeeklens did a nice job naming their brushes taking away any guesswork.. I also appreciate the fact, that Sleeklens provides an extensive library of video tutorials helping people get more out of Lightroom.
Now that the presets and brushes were installed on my computer, I began searching through my photography database for test shots. I will discuss three photos in which I tested the presets/brushes. All of these photos were shot in RAW and then converted to DNG files by Lightroom. I have included both the before and after images to illustrate the power of Sleeklens' presets/brushes.
Test Shot #1
Here is an image I shot a few years ago while visiting in Nova Scotia. As you can see much of the detail in the foreground have ben lost because underexposure. A common issue when photographing sunsets/sunrises. However, I was really quite amazed how quickly I was able to adjust the image using the presets. With six quick clicks of the mouse I was able to enhance the golden warm hues of sunset and bring out the details in the foreground. WOW!!
Workflow (1) all in one - shine into the sunset --> (2) exposure - less highlights --> (3) polish add clarity --> (4) polish -punch it up --> (5) polish - sharpen
Test Shot #2
For the second test shot I chose another sunset image. This is image I made at Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia during my last trip home. Again you quickly see that the image appears to be underexposed and therefore much of the detail in the foreground is lost in the shadows. Heck for that matter only the lighthouse is clearly visible. However, using the powerful set of presets created by Sleeklens I was quickly able to recapture the beauty of the original shot. With only five clicks of the mouse I was able to correct the exposure, colour, clarity of the image. How cool is that?
Workflow (1) all in one - calm sunset --> (2) exposure - less highlights --> (3) tone/tint - cool it down --> (4) polish - add clarity --> (5) exposure - brighten
Test Shot #3
For my final test shot I decided to move away from sunsets and sunrises and chose an image made on a foggy overcast day. This image again was made at Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia on a typical summer day (aka foggy). This is one of my favourite places to photograph. I love all the colours and textures found here. Using the Sleeklens presets I was able to quickly enhance the rocks' details as well as correct for colour.
Workflow (1) base - high dynamic range --> (2) exposure - darken --> (3) color correct - reduce yellows --> (4) polish - sharpen --> (5) polish - add clarity
After using the presets for a couple of days now I have to say that I am very impressed by them. In fact I will now be incorporating them into my current workflow. As a photographer one of my toughest jobs is to sift through my images and discard the bad images. This can be a very tedious job when one considers that often I am speaking of hundreds of images that have to be developed and then filtered. However, by using the Sleeklens presets/brushes I will be able to quickly process the images and decide their value faster. Ultimately allowing me to devote more time doing the things I love and less time with the more tedious adminstrative duties.
While these presets are powerful I would still want to make some additional minor tweaking to the photos before publishing. However this fact does not take away from their usefulness. As in my examples I was able to convert a no nothing RAW image into something quite special with a couple clicks of the mouse. I really look forward to using these presets on my most recent work which has not yet been processed. I am so impressed by the presets that I am now surveying the Sleeklens website for other workflows that I will want to purchase.
In closing I would like to mention that I am also equally impressed with the local adjustment brushes that were included with my package. The only reason they were not discussed as much is that their impact on a photo is much harder to illustrate. However, I am thinking of including them in a later review.
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