Getting Image previews to look the way you want in Lightroom, part 2

Or, Getting the Love You Want…in Lightroom

A couple days ago I made a post about one of the most common questions from Lightroom users, "Why do my image previews import looking one way then suddenly change?" I discussed Why this happens in my last post, but now let's talk about how to fix or improve that process.

First of all, this applies to RAW files only. JPG files will import to Lightroom looking the same in any software or viewer – assuming your color management is dialed (which is another conversation in itself). When a RAW file is imported in to Lightroom, it has to generate an accurate preview for that RAW file, which is the change you see quickly happening. The original embedded small preview from the camera is what you initially see – and it only displays so that you can quickly see your images. It is not intended for editing, analyzing, or much of anything, for that matter. Lightroom has now taken over and there are 3 primary ways you can use Lightroom to generate a preview that you'll come to love.

Method 1: the Lightroom default

By default, Lightroom has a way that it wants to interpret that RAW data and display your file, and it's called "Adobe Standard". If you have never modified your defaults and are not applying any presets on import, then this is what you are initially seeing when you import a RAW file. For many users, this is just dandy and they go about living their stress-free lives. Adobe spent quite a bit of time figuring out a nice, general way to render most people's RAW images. If you want to add excitement to your life, pull open that menu and peek at your other options. Depending on which camera you use, you'll see different variations. Nikon users will see something like this:

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Try the different options to see if you like something better. There is no wrong answer! You can change this rendering for the current image, or, if you find you consistently prefer a different rendering on most of your images, make your favorite the new default. Read on friends!

Method 2: Your Personal Default

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If, for example, you really like "Camera Portrait" most of the time, on most of your images. Why not make this your default instead of the Adobe Standard? All you have to do is choose the Profile you want, hold the OPTION/ALT key down while in Develop Mode, and your Reset button changes to "Set Default…". Click it and you'll see this window:

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Be aware! Any and ALL settings that you currently have in effect will be saved as part of your new default if you click the Update to Current Settings button. The warning says that "changes are not undoable", but that is meant to scare you in to thinking before clicking any buttons. It is undoable and fixable if you screw up. Note that these defaults will be used only on the camera model you are currently working with, as noted in the "Model: Nikon D3s" text. You can create and save different defaults for each model camera and Lightroom will automatically apply them from now on.

So, you can simply change the camera profile here and update the default, OR you can go crazy and adjust other things as well, like exposure, shadows, highlights, WB, tone curves, vignettes, split toning, etc. Any adjustments you currently have in effect will be saved as part of your new default, so double-check that they are good, universal settings before saving them.

I am currently using default settings that have quite a few adjustments built in, based on what I typically like to see in my images – and what I know works well with the enhancing presets I'll be later applying. You can start with these and modify as you see fit, of course. Unless highlighted, the settings are at their defaults. Take a peek:

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Once you've dialed all the settings in and set your favorite profile, just hold the OPTION/ALT key down and click on the "Set Default…" button to make it yours. If you try it for a while and feel like it needs tweaking, just modify the adjustments and save again. The latest settings saved will always be used. To test your defaults, import a new image from this same camera model and it should render with these new settings immediately. Select the image(s) and switch to Develop mode and scroll through the settings to verify that they indeed were applied. Voila!

If you dec
ide you really like Adobe's default better after all, you can reset it using the "Restore Adobe Default Settings" button in the "Save Default…" window.

Method 3: Create Default Import Presets

So let's say that you prefer "Camera Neutral" as the default profile for most images, but you don't necessarily want the other adjustments as your default. You can instead just save Camera Neutral as your default (with all other settings at the Adobe defaults) and create import presets for other fancy pants enhancements. In fact, anything you can save to your defaults can also be saved to a preset – with the added benefit of being able to instantly preview the look in your Navigator Window when you roll over the preset in Develop mode. You can also apply these selectively from the Import dialog window. Keep in mind that the beauty of Lightroom allows you to change almost anything, at any time, without degrading the image. You can import with a certain default, but then fine tune the images from there.

To make a preset, set all your settings the same way you did before, making sure that they will be appropriate for most images you apply them to. In other words, don't make adjustments specifically for, or to correct, the image you are looking at because not all images will need the same tweaks. Make general adjustments that should work for all images. Once you've done that, save the preset. Click the + sign in your presets panel in Develop mode:

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Then this dialog comes up:

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Give your new default a name, choose a folder to save in, and "Check All", except "Auto Tone". Checking all the settings, even if you did not adjust some of them, ensures that they will be zeroed out when you apply this preset. This keeps it consistent so that you always return to the same starting point. If a setting is NOT checked, then whatever adjustment was previously there will be left on the image, potentially causing unexpected results.

Now you have a preset. Give a self-hug and let's see how to apply it quickly on import.

Open the import dialog box and look on the right side for the "Apply During Import" panel and select the default you just made. Make sure Render Previews is set to Standard, and to make things faster, save all this as an import preset at the bottom so that you can quickly choose all of these settings at once in the future. You could have several different default presets: one for landscapes, one for portraits, one for images of Mars, etc. and quickly switch between them at import time.

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Import your images and the default is applied to all images you just imported. Doesn't that rock?!

With your images now safely in Lightroom, you can switch to Develop mode and take a peek at your handiwork. If you decide that import preset just isn't right for the image, click the RESET button to erase all the adjustments and return to YOUR saved defaults (which may include only the camera profile, remember?) Use the "\" (backslash) key to toggle BEFORE/AFTER. 

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If you want to see the Adobe basic default once again, hold the SHIFT key and click "Reset (Adobe)".

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If after all of this you are more confused than ever and your images look like crap, then start fresh and restore the Adobe defaults as your default and try again. By using a combination of Image defaults and import presets, you should be able to fine tune your own unique "look" that brings your images to life as soon as they enter the Lightroom domain. Some people will actually create defaults that closely match the JPG previews you initially saw. To do this, shoot an image in RAW + JPG mode in camera. Bring BOTH files in to Lightroom. The JPG should look like it did in camera while the RAW will re-render using the defaults. With both images visible, adjust the RAW to match the JPG and save these settings as your new default for RAW images. Now, when you import RAW files, they should render and closely match what you saw in the initial preview. 

I hope all of this was helpful to you, please share your thoughts and comments with me and have a non-default day!