Lightroom Presets Review – Visual flow
I would have to recommend checking out the Visual Flow Lightroom Presets because of how applicable they are to a range of shooting styles and conditions.
It’s not too far into our journey as photographers that we figure out the power of editing to make our so-so images look great (or at least more interesting, especially early on in our journey). For me, it started with adding filters to my pictures in photo apps like Snapseed or Hipstamatic.
I then moved on to the basic tools in Apple’s iPhoto app before finally graduating to Lightroom. Now, to be clear, great photos depend on the clever use of lighting, posing, expressions, and the use of various compositional elements (rule of thirds, leading lines, depth of field, and so on), but editing, it must be said, can truly make or break an image.
One of the most popular tools used for editing pictures these days is presets, whether used in Lightroom, Capture One, or some other photo editing software. There’s no shortage of people and companies selling presets, of course, and you can pretty much find a preset or a collection of presets out there to suit your specific visual interests. Maybe you shoot natural light with a bright and airy style, or perhaps you’re a flash guru and prefer a dramatic, editorial look. Well, either way, there’s a preset (or two or a thousand) for that.
I recently came across one preset system, however, that–as cliche as it may sound–has changed my editing workflow. Visual Flow’s Lightroom presets takes a unique approach to editing photos, which I’ll get into below, and they have at once streamlined my workflow and improved the quality of my edits.
In this article, I want to share my thoughts on a collection of Visual Flow presets (called “packs”), as well as their Retouching Toolkit. The preset packs include the following: Modern, Pastel, Crush, and Mood. All of the packs feature the same ten lighting conditions, but they produce different looks, such as a bright pastel look (for the “Pastel” pack) vs. a filmic, moody look (for the “Mood” pack). You can see they’re pretty accurately named based on the looks they produce.
What I Liked – Pros for Visual Flow Lightroom Presets
1. Wide Application with Lighting Conditions
The most unique aspect of these presets is that they were designed to work with 10 different lighting conditions. While each pack has a distinct look (which I’ll get into later), they all share the same lighting conditions (soft light, hard light, backlight, etc.). This greatly expands the scope of work you can apply them to without having to make major adjustments.
Other presets focus on a stylized look that might look amazing, but only when applied to images shot under very specific circumstances (such as bright and airy natural light). Those presets then fall apart when applied to images that don’t match up in the way they were shot. Of course, you can tweak and save those presets to work in various settings, but it takes more time and experimentation to dial it in. These are ready to go for photos shot in a variety of conditions, right out of the box, eliminating the need to make major changes, which is a great time saver. This brings me to my next point.
2. Speed Up Your Workflow with Visual Flow Preset
At the heart of why we use presets in the first place lies the promise of saving time, and Visual Flow presets do exactly that. Because the presets are based on lighting conditions, I simply have to match the lighting condition to my image. That is one click. From there, I usually don’t have to do much more than adjust my exposure and/or correct my white balance. The presets do not alter those two settings because they vary based on how and when the image was captured. I might also add a radial burn around my subjects using the Radial Burn tool from the Retouching Toolkit (which I’ll get into below), and that is pretty much it. From start to finish, I can fully edit an image with no need to go into Photoshop in just a few seconds. That is fast!
3. Retouching Toolkit – Additional Lightroom Tools
The Retouching Toolkit is the name Visual Flow uses for their collection of 47 retouching brushes and 26 tools. You can use these tools to do anything from fixing skin blemishes to adding a sun flare to the scene. The tool I use the most, as I mentioned above, is the Radial Burn, which I often place around my subjects to draw more attention to them in the frame. It’s easy to adjust (using a slider to control exposure) so that the effect does not look too obvious.
With the retouching toolkit, I rarely have to go into Photoshop. I save that for the occasions when the retouch requires a more labor intensive approach (like doing a face swap, for example). For basic to semi-advanced retouches, however, this toolkit allows me to knock it out in Lightroom. The brushes work especially well for dodging and burning and smoothing skin, and there are also tools (which almost work like presets) that let you enhance details and get to a certain look (like one they call “dark mode” in a single click.
It’s worth noting that the Retouching Toolkit is not included with the purchase of the individual preset packs.
What to Be Aware of
These aren’t so many cons as they are a heads up for what to expect when using these presets.
1. Your Shooting Style May Need to Shift for These Presets
You may find you don’t shoot as consistently as you thought before working with these presets. Since they’re based on lighting conditions, you may be surprised to find they don’t always automatically render expected results even when applied to the same lighting condition, but from a different shoot scene.
They are not magic presets, but once you align your shooting style with the functionality of the presets (which likely means you’re shooting more consistently in various lighting conditions), then they do feel pretty powerful. For the most part, I found I usually needed to bump or drop the exposure a bit, especially for hard light and HDR type shots, and my white balance usually required some adjusting. These settings/sliders are not automatically adjusted by the preset, but the adjustments made to HSL and the tone curve (as well as highlights and shadows) do affect both.
2. One Stylized Look Per Preset Pack
These packs, even though based on lighting conditions, are still not one size fits all. Each pack has a stylized look, like the bold colors and sharper contrast of the Crush Pack and the warm, filmic look of the Mood pack. In my experience, each pack has its strengths and some packs work better on certain shoots than others. For example, I found that the Modern pack looked great for the majority of my sessions, but it lacked the punch I was looking for photos with more contrast, which is where the Crush pack really shines. The Mood pack has a more desaturated look that looks amazing with more dramatic shots/sessions. I didn’t use Pastel as often, but it pairs nicely with family or light and airy wedding imagery.
3. Professionally Priced Presets
At the time of this review, the presets come in at $95 per pack (or $80 for previous purchasers when bundled with another pack). While you can also get $25 off for each subsequent pack, the price tag is still geared towards working professionals or serious enthusiasts.
That said, if you are a professional photographer or enthusiast, then you probably understand that the time you’ll save and the quality of your edits will make the price less of an issue. For hobbyists or other photographers who don’t shoot much or won’t benefit as much from saving time or getting consistently solid edits, the price will likely feel a bit high.
Conclusion – Is Visual Flow Lightroom Presets Worth It?
I would have to recommend checking out the Visual Flow Lightroom Presets because of how applicable they are to a range of shooting styles and conditions. They’ve delivered a product that helps ME to edit with consistency and get my images back to my clients in less time, which is a huge plus.
Using a system based on lighting conditions makes sense for editing given that light is the key ingredient of photography. While there may be a learning curve as you get used to shooting and editing with lighting conditions in mind, you can always get help from the Visual Flow and DVLOP teams if you need it.
They offer primers to help guide you through the process and their customer service has not let me down if I’ve had questions about using the presets. They are also educating photographers on general Lightroom Tutorials for your ongoing education and providing community interaction in their dedicated Facebook Group. It’s my opinion that you have more to gain than lose by using these presets.
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