Sleeklens Workflow Review
Sleeklens.com is a Danish based company that make and sell workflow bundles containing presets and brushes for Lightroom, as well as similar packages for Photoshop. These sets are designed "to enhance the beauty of your photos in just a few clicks. They make your photo editing effective, efficient and easy while helping you stay organized."
They reached out to me recently and asked me to review their landscape photography workflow set called Through The Woods (TtW). The set, which costs 39$ (€36.45), contains "...51 Lightroom landscape presets and 30 brushes for turning your landscapes into mystic scenes, the perfect companion for naturally illuminated environments."
Sleeklens.com have given me a workflow set free of charge in exchange for a honest review here, and linking to their Lightoom and Landscape presets, and their photo editing services (which I have now done). I have no invested interest in the company or products, I'm not part of any affiliate scheme nor am I getting paid for this. This is purely my opinion of the product based on how it fits with my style and post-processing habits.
Preconceptions / Foreword
I am actually writing this section BEFORE I have received and tested the TtW presets and brushes yet, as I want to put down my preconceived opinion of this type of thing, and see if it changes when I test them. They will be sending me presets and brushes, which are different things. Generally I think presets and brushes are semi-useful. They can make a photo look great or horrible depending on the starting image. I do have presets and brushes and do use them frequently, but these are ones I have made myself entirely or butchered versions of free ones I got from somewhere at some-point. I don't use them as an all-in-one editing tool, but as a starting point. In particular I use a few presets for Black and White, and I have a brushes saved for processing eyes and fur on animals. So I am not too sure how I am going to find theirs and how I will use them. So my starting point of view is this: Using other peoples presets and brushes are like wearing another persons clothes... You might get lucky and they might fit you perfectly, but more than likely you will have to spend more time tailoring them to you to make them worth while. Lets see if I think this set is worth using, and more importantly paying for.
I received the Through The Woods (TtW) landscape photography workflow set (51 Presets and 30 Brushes). It came with simple installation instructions (copy paste into the right Lightroom folders), which I did quickly and successfully. So, we're off to a good start.
When I take a picture, I usually have a clear idea of what I want the final image to look like. This is particularly true for landscape photography. So I have chosen an image and processed it myself (which I will show at the end), as I wanted it using only my own tools. I will then go through the same process with the TtW set and see how it turns out.
From my perspective, there are 2 types of presets in the set. All-in-one presets and their layering presets. The all-in-one, are just that, one click and you are supposed to be done (or close to it). I did not particularly like any of these, none were my style or taste, so i'm not going to go into this anymore.
Now, the layering presets are more interesting, providing a workflow of different simple changes to your image. They are subdivided into 6 steps, which reflects a good processing route, starting at 1 and working your way through the list.
- Base - a watered down all-in-one that sets the base for your image
- Exposure - Change the exposure/shadows/highlights of the image
- Colour - Increase and reduce different colours in the image
- Tone - Saturation and temperature of the image
- Polish - Clarity, contrast and sharpening
- Vignette - er... different types of vignettes! :)
Generally speaking this is the order of adjustments I make to my images too. When starting out, it is easy to get lost in the huge array of settings available to you in Lightroom, this dramatically simplifies it. Each of these types of presets have intuitive naming like "Cool It Down", "Add clarity" or "Brighten" which makes it simple to navigate.
- Nice workflow system that I have never seen before allows for quick, easy and intuitive manipulation. NOT just an All-in-one preset.
- Each of the editing presets are easy to understand and work through.
- Can provide high-throughput processing.
- Provides a great tool for learning the finer points of Lightroom, if you like the result of a preset, see what changed for it to have that effect.
- The presets make a good base for you to tweak to preference. You can then saves your tweaked preset for the next use.
- Lightroom does not work on a layering system, which means this workflow system is not perfect. (I'm sure it works a lot better in Photoshop however).
- I did not, personally, like any of the base presets that much. It did not suit my style of images.
- More advanced Lightroom users might not find it easier and quicker than just doing it from scratch themselves.
- Like for ALL presets, what works for one image might not work for another, so bulk high-throughput editing is not always an advantage. Moreover...
- ... who needs to bulk edit landscape/nature images? We generally just pick one to edit?
- Easy to over-process.
So using thing this system I processed the image... Presets used are in the description, and no other adjustments were made. Final image using presets alone is at the end.
Now I will move onto the brushes...
I use brushes routinely, especially for landscapes and have made several brushes for myself over the time. I was happy to see brushes that in the TtW set that also addressed the same or similar things in my own brushes. Ansel Adams used chemistry (temperature to control the rate of reaction, aka dodge and burn) to make local adjustments to the exposure during the printing process of his images. We can adjust almost everything in a similar way with brushes in Lightroom. The TtW set contains 30 brushes in 5 different categories.
- Basics (Contrast and clarity)
- Colour (tints, temperatures and saturation)
- Effects (Cloudy sky's and water enhancements)
- Haze (coloured and neutral hazes)
- Light (brighten, darken, shadows and sunset lighting)
The brushes work for all the local adjusment tools; Graduated filter, Radial filter and the Adjustment Brush.
- Names of brushes clearly tell you what they do
- Gave me creative ideas that I might not have thought of ("Hmmmm, a little haze might be nice...")
- Showed me alternative manipulations that yielded good results
- Overwhelmed by the number of brushes, will take time to learn and you might loose your most common ones among the rest (This could be fixed if, like for the presets, you could create folders of brushes).
- Easy to over-process
- You might not like them all??? struggling for cons here to be honest, I liked the brushes. :)
I used a selection of these brushes on the image I produced using the presets. See the gallery under this. Brushes used are in the description. I reduced the density of the brushes as I found them to be a little too strong for my taste, but that is the only thing I changed.
The Final comparison
Here is the starting image, my processed one and the one I processed using TtW workflow. Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments.
Well, it works...
I used the presets and brushes only to process an image to a level I found satisfactory. I would again spend more time refining it further.
I got a very similar image with the presets as I did without, even though I processed them on separate days. I can see how it would make it easier and quicker for someone who is not familiar with Lightroom to get better images quicker, but for me, despite playing around and getting familiar with the presets and brushes before doing this processing, doing everything in Lightroom alone was quicker for me.
Whilst playing around with this I actually picked up a few tricks that I don't use, so thank you Sleeklens for that. The presets did not do anything for me, but I liked their workflow system. As a learning tool, I think it is great as it goes through a good sequence of edits. If there is a particular style you like, provides a great base to further refine. I see the presets as a stepping-stone to using Lightroom to it's fullest and developing your own style.
On the other hand, I liked the brushes a lot. It contained many similar brushes that I already use, and gave me a few new ones I will keep in my 'use regularly' list (water enhancement in particular). Like all of my brushes, it probably won't be the final adjustments, but a great starting point, and will need tweaking for every situation.
I am a fan of less is more, and don't like images that have been obviously processed a lot. An unfortunate side affect of presets is the ease to go over-board. This is a personal taste thing, but I found myself wanting to dial everything down, and in the end my love of control just made me want to do it myself.
So, would I buy it?
No, I wouldn't. It is only 39$, which is a reasonable price, but it does not offer any additional speed or image improvements above what I can do already. But I am an experienced Lightroom user and process a lot of images regularly. For landscape photography, each image is so unique, you don`'t bulk process them anyway. Since I got it for free, I am going to keep a couple of the brushes (with some of my own adjustments) and can see me using them, so thank you sleeklens, but I would probably not buy it for myself.
But would I recommend it?
This really depends on the individual....
If you are new(ish) to Lightroom and do not have the time or patience to get to grips with the plethora of micro-adjustments you can make to an image, then yes, I think it mist be worth getting. It is a capable set of tools that simplifies the Lightroom system. I feel it's greatest asset is as a learning tool, which will guide you through a good workflow, and it is only when you truly understand what you are doing in post-processing you will unleash the full potential of you image and have complete creative control.
If, like me, you have been using Lightroom for a long time, it does not really give you much benefit. This is particularly true for landscape, as each shot is so unique, i would never batch process them anyway, and it is not usually required to process quickly. However, If you have a spare 39$ and you want to play around with them, do it... you`'ll probably learn a thing or two and can use them to make you own more personalized presets/brushes.
The Bottom line
The point of post-processing is to take full creative control over your image. The use of presets does not really align with this. Lightroom has a very full, and complex, set of controls to do this and the use of presets is somewhat contradictory... why buy a sophisticated tool just to dumb it down? My answer is, to learn... when you are first faced with all the options in Lightroom, it is daunting, and easy to screw things up. Using the presets and brushes to produce something you like gives the ability to reverse engineer it... see what each brush and preset does, tweak it, and move on. If used in this manner, it will improve your knowledge of Lightroom, and your post-processing skills to a point where the presets themselves no longer save time as you can just do it yourself, producing the images exactly how you want it.
- Can provide great images with little to no tweaking
- Will be most useful for the novices
- It is a great way to learn the capabilities of Lightroom
- Should be used as a stepping stone to get the most out of Lightroom in the future
- Little added value to experienced Lightroom users
Have you ever bought or used presets? What do you think about them?