Aperture Presets

Or any other "presets" for that matter are not evil. I feel compelled to say that and get my official position out there after some mis-understandings of prior posts and a few emails regarding the subject after my "HDR preset" post went viral. First off, I do use presets, my own, not presets I buy. I however am not a fan of for sale presets. I will re-explain why in a second without the subtle sarcasm so I am clear along with some advice in setting up your own preset library.

Just for the record my over the top "HDR preset" was not intended as a real tool to be applied to photos willie-nillie. People that read a lot of my posts know my feelings on the current state of HDR. It was also not a joke - I was not making fun of anyone - nor was I trying to be nasty. I sincerely intended it to be an introduction to the "advanced" sliders in Aperture's Highlight and Shadows control which in my opinion and experience is the best tool of it's kind available today. A little bit goes a long way and it is immensely powerful when you start to work with the low tonal width, high tonal width, and other "advanced" controls. They really are not that advanced and I don't know why Apple hides them away by default. With Highlights and Shadows I can get 99% of the way to just about any of the tone-mapped HDR images I have ever seen - not that I want to but that is just my taste. I can also do more photographically realistic things as I personally define them. With a little Dodge and burn here and there I can get 99.9% of the way there. There really is nothing as powerful in any other software right now. You may say will LR has fill light - not even close.

Now on to why I am not a big fan of commercial presets. Reason one is that there is are not really any huge set of wildly diverse complex tools in either Aperture or Lightroom that warrant putting how hard won cash to have them orchestrated for you. Really there aren't, there are a couple of sliders. The most complicated thing is probably the "curves" tool and that isn't real complicated. With about 30 seconds worth of effort just about anyone can get whatever result they would like by just looking at some image you like and getting to the same place - there are no proprietary "secrets". Plug-ins and complex Photopshop actions are a completely different story.

Second - there are no facilities to deal with organizing any kind of coordination between presets in either Lightroom or Aperture 3. What people do and what adjustment blocks are used for what things are all over the map so… They may completely annihilate your work-flow. Certainly the only rational way to go about using them is preset first and tweak from there. This may be okay for you but…. it sort of defeats the purpose of presets if you go in an fool with images individually. Just my opinion.

Third - closely related is that there is no standard way set up among one purveyor of presets let alone across a few suppliers. They pretty much stomp all over each other so the only rational way of dealing with them is one and only one preset. If you look at  Apple's and most of Adobe's pre-supplied presets they are sort of organized into one adjustment block at a time wherever possible - there are a few that use a couple different ones. Haver you seen the ones that people buy?

In my opinion they can serve as valid educational tools for those just starting out with post processing digital image files by looking at what someone who is more experienced did to get to the end result. In that context by all means go for it. For the most part I believe a lot of the preset purveyors are selling a bunch of nothing at too high a price to an uneducated market of people that don't know better. To each his own but I have to say this, I really do. I have wrestled with the temptation of selling Nikon color presets because so very very many people have asked me for them. I have tried my best to show people how they can do it but I guess the allure of push button automation vs. a half hour of work is the siren song of the 21st century. Maybe I will break down and do it but I will only do it if I am satisfied that it genuinely provides a value to the people that spend the money - a no excuses product. The commercial products that I have seen for sale that are supposed to do this are laughably bad. Adobe's FREE ACR camera profiles are far far better and done the "right" way.

Now onto some advice. When organizing your Aperture 3 presets you would do well to organize them - no matter whether you buy them or you make them you may get some milage out of trying to sort them into what adjustment blocks they affect. You don't have to do this in a strict fashion, you can still group them logically as well as to what they do. Further more having them organized in what order you may want to apply them can help as well. Sort of "one-shot" the works kind of presets vs. additive or "on top of other adjustments"

One last note is related to the lack of mechanisms to coordinate presets - In Aperture three there are no incremental presets - in other words you can't add something or subtract something from a single adjustment block in a preset - it is replace only, hence the organization comments above. There is a way to sort of work around this for presets that you consider "incremental"  or things you might want to put on top of other adjustments. Keep in mind this only works well for presets. Make your "add-on" preset in a second duplicate adjustment brick. For example a second enhance brick - or a second curves brick that you add with "new curves adjustment" in the little gear menu of the brick. Don't do anything to the first brick while making the preset and save both of the bricks in your preset. When you apply the add-on it will undo the first one as well as add the second one but you can now re-apply the first "overall" preset without disrupting the add-one. I know it's a bit anal but it saves time if you are into this sort of thing and that's what presets are all about isn't it?

Maybe I will do an article on the presets I actually made myself and how I arranged them if there is any interest. Sorry for the long post but I really did feel the need to "clear" the air on presets after the misunderstood "HDR preset" post.

Happy Friday.


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