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Trey Ratcliff is a long-time pioneer of HDR photography--high dynamic range photos combine multiple exposures into one image that has more detail in both light and dark areas than you achieve with a single exposure. I love his work, but I also appreciate his willingness to share his knowledge on www.stuckincustoms.com.
Now Ratcliff is selling some of his Lightroom presets, and while I initially braced myself for sticker shock, it turns out they're totally affordable. Three packages sell for $9.97 each, or $19.97 for the complete bundle. Package 1 contains a dozen HDR presets, Package 2 includes 28 edgy and gradient presets, and Package 3 comprises 36 "extra moody" presets. If you only want to get one package, I got the most mileage out of Package 3, but I recommend the bundle--you're only paying around 25 cents per preset, after all.
All the presets only work with Lightroom 4 ($149, www.adobe.com), so if you use Aperture, or even Lightroom 3, for your post-processing needs, you're out of luck. To use them, you open Lightroom > Preferences, click the Presets tab, then Show Lightroom Folder, and drag the presets into there. Then to use them, you'll open a photograph in Lightroom, click the Develop module, and choose the preset you want. Boom, it's applied and your photo has a totally new look.
In the example above, my original photo (top) excelled at blandness--I'm not entirely sure what look I was going for, but it's a safe bet that I missed the mark completely. Since these HDR presets favor outdoor shots, I applied the Gritty Gritty Pop Pop preset from Package 1 and did no other alterations. The resulting image does indeed have more pop (even more Pop Pop).
You can adjust the image with Lightroom’s editing tools after you’ve applied the preset, but you aren’t necessarily going to increase your knowledge of adjusting levels and curves. Still, these are more flexible than, say, Instagram filters that can't be changed.
I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun and success using the presets to improve, with a single click, photos I would had given up on otherwise. While they can't cure the sins of poor composition and focus, they let allow me to easily produce the image I had in mind when I took the photo. It’s also fun to randomly apply one of the presets just to see another way of looking at a photo.
The bottom line. At just under $20 for 76 presets, this package is quite a bargain that just about any photographer should find useful. I know they will be an integral part of my editing workflow for a long time.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Fantastic Lightroom presets at an amazing price that are sure to increase your image quality.
Requires Adobe Lightroom 4. Presets slightly favor the HDR style.