Use this guide to improve your understanding of Adobe Lightroom CC for better editing and organizing. We’ll also throw in some FREE presets!
Adobe Lightroom CC has given us the power to do great things to our photos with quick, intuitive functionality. If you’ve checked out previous versions of Lightroom and passed on them due to the complexity, the updated Lightroom CC is worth another glance. While the old version is still with us, it’s now known as Lightroom Classic CC, so fans of incredibly in-depth photo editing and workflow organization aren’t left in the dark.
Lightroom CC offers entry-level photographers — as well as people who just want to do straightforward photo edits — a streamlined version of the software. With the ability to create or install downloaded presets, people of any skill level can create pro results. That simplicity and usability puts it all up front, easy to find, and Adobe makes it effortless to figure things out and move forward.
Why the big guide then? For one thing, presets aren’t a super common topic when you’re starting out; if you’re not processing and editing 50 images a day for consistency, you might not think to use presets. But they’re super handy — even for light duty.
On top of that, truly free presets are rare. Sure, you can find plenty of sites with one or two free downloads, but there are all sorts of annoying ways they can tack things on to get you to buy more — or just make them difficult to work with. Watermarks, misdirecting pop-up ads, packing things in the download file you don’t need — these are all annoying and unnecessary.
So, we’re not only giving you 15 presets completely free, we’ll also show you how to install and make them your own.
What Are Presets?
Presets are small, user-created .xmp files containing parameters for various editing functions. When you’re making them, you adjust your image how you like with the Edit controls (or others), then you open the Presets pane and save those settings to apply to other images.
When you want to apply the preset to another image, you simply pull up the Presets pane, then select the preset you made from a simple and organized list. You can also collect similar presets into folders for even more organization.
That’s the nuts and bolts of it. In use, presets allow you to apply a set of customized settings to images very quickly.
For instance, I know that a whole batch of photos I took was under some harsh, overhead, midday sun. I load them into Lightroom CC and select one to edit. I’ll reduce highlights, increase shadows, and maybe touch up a couple other settings like white balance and saturation. I’ll save them as a preset, then fly through the whole batch. I will probably evaluate individual images to make sure these settings are appropriate. Then, I have a uniform base to adjust individual images.
Sometimes, the preset is so good it takes care of everything. That’s a nice feeling for those who want to capture the essence of a situation without too much post-processing.
Free Lightroom Presets
Before we get into other Lightroom stuff, download the free presets. Enjoy a wide range of usable pre-made settings, ranging from subtle to drastic. This package will give you a wide range of choices, including emotions, moods, and styles. In addition, check out the descriptions for key areas to adjust as you see fit.
Check out some more detailed posts for these presets, which include Film Simulations (download), Wedding styles (download), and Portraiture (download). Then, we’ll show you how to import, create, and sync these and future presets you create or download.
These presets are free to use in any personal or commercial projects. By downloading, you agree not to redistribute these assets.
Free Film Presets
Add beautiful, film-like texture to your digital images. Experiment with vintage tones and learn how they interact with light sources and subject matter to create nostalgic snapshots with film attributes.
Budget 35mm 800
This preset invokes a classic 35mm film. We added a bit of grain for a finishing touch, which you can adjust in the Edit pane to your liking.
Image via pixelheadphoto digitalskillet.
This preset is a high-contrast monochrome treatment that emulates a sharp, popping, street-photography style. Play with the highlights, shadows, vignette settings, or just the contrast slider to increase the drama in your images.
Image via creativemarc.
Portrait 400A higher-ISO version of popular film for portraiture, this preset will make skin tones smooth yet natural, for any style of photography. Adjustments to highlights, shadows, and the curve help boost midtones.
Image via Dejan Dundjerski.
Saturated Landscape 100
This preset evokes the heyday of childhood trips to national parks. Mild adjustments to the clarity (under the Effects section) can define or soften edges to create very complex images worthy of mounting and displaying.
Image via makasana photo.
This is a fun preset to mimic the look of modern instant film, blending looks from current manufacturers. Adjust the Saturation to blow out or de-intensify colors.
Image via Syda Productions.
Free Wedding Presets
Wedding photography is a specialized genre; it requires the application of certain looks and vibes in post-production. These 5 presets will fine-tune your wedding photos when you need your images to be more than just snapshots. (Of course, don’t bind these to just wedding photography, use them for anything you wish.)
In this preset, the shadows are lifted, we’ve added a little grain, and we’ve reduced the saturation of intense colors. This will create a comfortable tone that enhances and softens memories of a very special moment. Use the White Balance controls to adjust the warmth (a little goes a long way here).
Image via Qualivity
Gently shift and boost skin tones. Adjust the temperature and tint to fine-tune it.
Image via petereleven.
Add the timeless look of editorial black and white photography to candid shots for high drama. Play with highlights and shadows to recess or feature certain tones.
Image via christinarosepix.
Not all your wedding photographs have to be accurate or realistic. Play with the Clarity and Vignette controls to reduce or add a dreamy haze effect. Then change tint and temperature to adjust the warmth or coolness.
Image via Deborah Kolb.
You can use this preset on anything, but the original idea was to add punch to your party shots. Often taken in challenging light environments, reception photos can sometimes need a little help. Subtle shifts in the Color section of the Edit pane can go a long way.
Image via Rawpixel.com.
Portraiture is a type of photography that tries to capture personality, mood, or a specific place. Whatever the approach, lighting presets can help by boosting the vibe of the photo.
Free Presets for Portraits
The Portrait Film preset is a broad-spectrum color enhancer that creates a natural skin-tone. It adds life to a bland photo, and it can tame an overly modulated photo. With small doses of grain and smoothing, it gives a subtle, film-like boost to the subject and the setting.
Image via stockfour.
Shooting during Golden Hour is one of the most-trusted techniques for capturing rich, warm photos with effortlessly fabulous lighting. Use the Honey Sunset preset to introduce some warm tones and enhance a sunset photo or add some Golden Hour to a less-than-ideal shot. The Temp control can make drastic changes here.
Image via mimagephotography.
Grainy, muted, natural tones, seemingly shot with vintage film and left in a drawer for 4 decades — this is a huge trend in social media photography and advertising. We can pull back just a little from the extremes of this trend and use them to create a muted portrait look. Use the Muted Natural preset to give a high-contrast, modern, or overly digital photo some life.
Image via Gustavo Frazao.
Monochrome presets are a great way to look at familiar subjects. By preserving the midtones, we can further enhance the effect without adding the intensity of high-contrast monochrome. Adjust highlights, shadows, or contrast to soften things.
Image via In The Light Photography.
This preset is less a fix-it preset and more of a totally-change-the-mood preset. Use the Clarity slider under Effects to increase or reduce the grittiness of the photo.
Image via stockfour.
Importing and Creating Presets
Loading and using Lightroom presets is a piece of cake. After you download them, it takes only a couple of clicks to get them into Lightroom and ready to apply to your images. Check out a more in-depth post here.
Lightroom CC comes with several standard presets, such Color, Creative, and B&W. They’re okay when you’re just starting out — probably best as a base for your own modifications, as they tend to be a little heavy-handed. You can hide these defaults by clicking the three-dots menu, choosing Manage Presets, and unchecking them.
How to Import Downloaded Presets
Select a photo to edit, then open the Edit pane by clicking the sliders icon on the top right of the Lightroom window. When the Edit pane pops out, click Presets at the bottom.
When that pops out, click the three-dots icon at the top, and choose Import Presets.
Find the location with your downloaded presets, select them, and voilà: presets!
How to Make Your Own Presets
Select an image to adjust, but this time, do your own individual adjustments in the Edit pane.
When satisfied, hit Shift + P to open the Preset Browser. Click the three-dots menu and choose Create Preset. Name your preset, and make sure the sections you have made changes in are still checked.
You can uncheck anything you want to simplify things, but I would recommend leaving most of it alone so you don’t accidentally turn something off that contains your most important settings.
Once you make a set of presets, you can easily preview them without committing by hovering the mouse cursor over the individual presets.
Syncing Presets with Mobile
Lightroom CC is set up specifically on the mobile workflow-side of digital photography editing. With that, its biggest strength (outside of actual editing) is syncing files across devices. This allows you to create, organize, and use the same presets on every device using your Adobe Creative Cloud account.
This guide has more helpful examples, but the main idea is making sure you’re signed in to the Adobe Creative Cloud so your apps are synced. Syncing ensures that libraries, image edits, and presets stored on one device update across all devices connected to the cloud through a cell or WiFi signal.
Cover image via makasana photo.
Looking for more tips on working in Adobe Lightroom CC? Check out these articles.
How to Organize Photos in Adobe Lightroom Across Devices
Learn to Install Your Lightroom Presets in 3 Easy Steps
How to Sync Lightroom Mobile Presets to Your Mobile App
Discover the Power of the Calibration Tab in Lightroom
Photo Editing Showdown: Adobe Photoshop vs Lightroom CC
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