Review: Sleeklens Lightroom Landscape Workflow
I recently had the opportunity to try out a Lightroom workflow created by Sleeklens for editing my landscape photography. For those of you who have asked about my photography editing, I edit all of my photographs with Adobe Lightroom, and depending on the specificity of editing involved, I also use Adobe Photoshop, but Lightroom is my primary editing tool. One of the biggest challenges with photo editing is the sheer time involved with editing (especially if you’re a perfectionist like me!).
Thus this brings me to the whole host of Lightroom presets that Sleeklens has created. Working with their Through the Woods Lightroom Workflow, I gave myself a few experiments (ever the Biologist) to compare my personal editing time with using only their presets to edit a photograph. I also wanted to experiment with the sheer editing power of their presets and brushes. Feel free to skip down to the conclusion below for my overall review.
Experiment 1: All-in-one preset
A brief introduction to the Through the Woods (TtW) presets: to start, if you are unfamiliar with Lightroom and presets, you can kind of think of a “preset” as a filter you place over a photo. This is a grossly oversimplified description, as these presets are actually pulling details out of a photograph and not just placing effects on top. TtW has presets that are “all-in-one”, meaning it will take a photograph from its RAW/JPEG original form and create a finished piece in the time it takes to click a mouse:
This photo was one I didn’t really like at first, but after using the preset, I have to say I quite like the photo now.
Experiment 2: Edit a previously unedited photo, comparing times
The true draw of the Sleeklens workflows, however, is reducing editing time. While you can click an all-in-one preset, it’s not very specific to a photograph and you probably want more control over the editing. The workflow is actually stacking presets, starting with a base preset, then adding on presets to edit exposure, color, color corrections, tone/tint, polish (final touches), and vignette. For this second round of playing with the workflow, I selected a photograph I had not yet edited and created a virtual copy of it. I edited the first copy in the usual way I run through the Lightroom sliders. Then I edited the copy of the photo by only stacking the TtW presets, then compared the time.
It took me 2 minutes and 23 seconds to edit a photograph using my personal workflow, and only 51 seconds to edit by stacking TtW presets. I even liked the second photo edits better; the “punch it up” polish was a really nice touch.
Experiment 3: Reverse order of experiment 1
Because of my Biology roots, I didn’t want any bias in the photo editing times of knowing what I did to a photograph already in my personal edits making using the presets faster. I.e. I know I reduced shadows and pulled down highlights, then added contrast, etc. therefore I will click similar presets to complete the same edits. This time I thus edited a previously un-edited photograph by stacking the presets first, then editing a copy of the photograph using my normal workflow.
This time, it took me 2 minutes and 17 seconds for stacking presets, versus 3 minutes and 51 seconds doing my personal workflow. However, this time I liked the result of my own workflow better, as I felt I had more fine control of the details. One of the best parts of the presets and brushes is that you can still edit them – increasing or decreasing their effect by using the Lightroom sliders – so they are not set in stone. Despite this, I still think I have a touch more fine control using my own workflow, but I recognize that this might change as I work more with the presets.
Experiment 4: The editing power of brushes
So far, I had only played around with the presets, so for my next photograph, I wanted to see how powerful the brushes were that come with the workflow. One of the appeals of the TtW workflows was that it came with multiple brushes – I like the specificity of only editing a small part of a photograph (brushing the effect over a certain area). Even better, these brushes are also editable, so if you find the effect too strong, you can simply drag the sliders down. The brushes I was most intrigued by were the ones playing with sunsets and sky color (a big WOW factor of landscape photos).
The result was WOW quite a sky. The differences are subtle but powerful. I was quite impressed. The only downside is that in this particular sunset photograph, as the lighting died, I started to get some grain in my shadows despite not having a super high ISO. On my screen, the edits on the water were really lovely, but as you can quickly see on the screen, exporting the photos revealed that the brushes emphasized the grain in quite an unfortunate way. I would be interested to see Sleeklens foray into noise reduction, as I was sad to see there were no brushes specifically for noise. If I were to take this workflow into editing my astrophotography this would be a downside (aside: Sleeklens does offer night photography workflows, something I might have to check out). Thus drawback of the TtW workflow specifically is that it is suited to daytime landscape photography, and you might need to purchase a different set of workflows for other kinds of photography.
Experiment 5: High Dynamic Range (HDR)
Finally, I wanted to try out how their HDR presets looked. I rarely create “true” HDR photographs because the look is just so unnatural and I tend toward subtle edits. I began with using one of their base presets that I almost want to call “HDR-light”. It really created a stunning photograph. Then I used the base HDR preset. This was a bit too much for me, so taking advantage of the ability to edit the presets, I played around with my Lightroom sliders until I got a look that was a little more understated.
Note that this photograph has rather muted colors – I tried this HDR preset on the flowers at sunset photograph, and the result was quite … startling (major understatement). It would take a lot more work to tone this one down and make it more natural – just something to keep in mind for editing times.
Overall, I was impressed by how stacking the presets cut my editing time. However, please note that in terms of editing time, I am pretty comfortable with Lightroom and my personal workflow – I usually know what kind of edits I want to make just by looking at a photograph. This made it easy for me to quickly pick appropriate presets for my intended effect. If you are still new to editing and your process is playing around for a while (which is totally fine!), it may or may not cut down your editing time as drastically.
I was also impressed by how powerful the presets and brushes were together in creating stunning images. As in the first experiment, one of the all-in-one presets took a photograph I wasn’t very impressed with to one I actually liked quite a bit. I played around with more photos than I posted in this blog, and was quite enjoying how quickly and easily I could take my photos to the next level, especially with kicking up skies and detail areas up a notch with the brushes.
As I talked about above, the biggest downside I found so far was that this workflow is very specific to landscape photography. This was seen in how the brushes struggled in areas with a bit more grain, possibly requiring a different workflow or some additions to the current workflow. My workflow moving forward would likely be a mix of starting with the presets, then doing some personal fine-tune edits, and then really giving the photo some final details and punch with the TtW brushes.
If these workflows are something you are interested in, a final bonus is that Sleeklens was extremely helpful in sending information on how to install the brushes and presets, as well as being available for questions and sending tutorials. They even sent some videos on the editing process, which was nice to see some of the more specialized effects you could get. Sleeklens offers Lightroom presets for all kinds of photography as well as Photoshop actions if you are more into using Photoshop for editing. Additionally, they offer a professional photo editing service so you can cut out your editing time completely, or if you are new to photography and photo editing and would like to see the full range of what a photo could look like, that might be a good option. I would definitely recommend their workflows especially for those newer to photography editing, but also for people who feel pretty good about their editing skills but would like some new and fun ways to punch up their photograph. For those who are photo editing pros, you may not find these as impressive or helpful, as you likely have a strong and thorough workflow with a solid understanding of Lightroom and Photoshop.
Whew! Thanks for reading all the way through! Hope this helps you on your photo editing journey. 🙂