Lightroom Presets: The Ultimate Guide

A Lightroom preset is a predefined position of all (or some) of the sliders in Lightroom. In other words, you can edit the photo to your liking, and then save this particular combination of raw settings for future use in another image of yours.

The beta version of Lightroom was released over 12 years ago, and today it is a self-contained and flexible program. Thanks to its modular structure with hundreds of different tools and thousands of options and settings, it can be adapted to suit any type of photography workflow.

Lightroom was originally created for professional photographers as a digital negative photo archive management program to complement Photoshop’s editing capabilities. Lightroom was originally called Photoshop Lightroom.

The only goal of the program was to solve the main problem of modern digital photography: to manage a large number of RAW files, otherwise called digital negatives.

Lightroom’s editing options were extremely limited. Did you know that the first version of Lightroom didn’t even have the Crop Tool – Crop and Crop?

Over the years, Lightroom has added many new features and editing capabilities, making it more functional and at the same time much more complex. In some areas, it even competes with Photoshop in complexity.

However, the mass use of Lightroom has skyrocketed in recent years. At the moment, the user base of the program ranges from professional photographers to beginners and even amateur photographers.

The widespread use of Lightroom in particular is due to the presence of a large number of Lightroom presets. Develop Preset functionality has helped bridge the gap between professional photographers and enthusiasts. This made professional photography tools more accessible to the general public.

What are Lightroom Presets?

You’ve probably heard more than once that Lightroom uses non-destructive RAW editing. But very few budding photographers really understand what that means.

If I dig around in my hard drive, where all of my RAW files are stored, I can see a bunch of negatives that are accompanied by XMP files of the same name.

These  ARW files are Sony RAW images in their own format. XMP files are Adobe metadata files that store additional information about an image. It not only stores EXIF ​​metadata like date, time, exposure information, etc., but also stores Lightroom edit information.

When you edit a RAW file, it saves all editing steps as simple text entries in an XMP file. XMP can also be opened in any text editor such as Notepad.

For example, if I  drag the Sharpen slider  to +25, Lightroom creates a note in the file:

Sharpness = “25”

If I increase the saturation to +33 in the  base panel, it creates an entry in the .xmp file:

Saturation = ” 33″


When you select an image in Lightroom by clicking on it, the program reads the instructions in the XMP file line by line and creates a JPEG preview with all changes applied. The original RAW file remains unchanged and all you see is just a JPEG preview.

This is called non-destructive editing.

The Develop Presets functionality takes full advantage of Lightroom’s non-destructive editing capabilities. What is a preset of settings lightroom is a simple text file with a list of editing instructions.

When you apply presets to an image, it copies the editing instructions from the preset file to the Sidecar XMP file so that Lightroom can read the instructions and generate an edit preview with all the edit values ​​listed in it.

How to use Lightroom presets

There are several methods for using Lightroom presets, all of which are intuitive and straightforward.

Since Lightroom is modular, there are ways to use presets in different modules.

Using presets in the processing module

The most common way to use Lightroom presets is with the processing module. This is why they are called Lightroom Develop Presets.

In the processing module on the left pane, under the navigator window, find the Presets panel. Open it by clicking the triangular icon.

Inside you will find several predefined folders (collections). When you open the presets folder, you will see the individual presets inside. You will also find the presets you imported here.

To use Lightroom, click the preset name and Lightroom applies the editing instructions from the preset file to the selected image.

Using presets in the import module

Before you start organizing and editing your photos, you first need to import them into the Lightroom catalog. This allows Lightroom to track and manage your photos.

The import module gives us a wide variety of options to apply to images during the import process. For example, renaming an image, creating a preview, tagging, and so on. Another very useful option that I regularly use is the ability to apply a development preset to all photos during import.

By importing landscape photography, you can apply your most general and versatile preset to all imported photographs, such as Natural. This makes bulk editing easier.