I was recently asked to do a product review for Sleeklens. If you’re not familiar with Sleeklens, they produce a range of photography books as well as tools for Photoshop and Lightroom. In this instance, I was asked to review their Lightroom presets for Landscape Photographers. Their presets are also described as “workflows” for reasons that will become apparent. In addition to various products they have a comprehensive set of tutorials on their website (https://sleeklens.com/lightroom-tutorials/) which is well worth a visit. For those of you who prefer social media have a look at their Pinterest posts (https://uk.pinterest.com/sleeklens/lightroom-presets/).
Ordinarily, this isn’t something I would do; after all I have my own range of Lightroom presets. Despite this, after looking at the excellent customer reviews on their website and interacting with their team, I became interested in trying their products. I also think many of you reading this might also be interested. I’m therefore going to give you as honest and impartial a view as possible.
The workflow I have available to review is called “Through the Woods”. It provides “80 presets and 42 brushes for landscape editing” for Lightroom. My intention is to put these to work on two of my images that are difficult to process images, to evaluate their effectiveness.
Moving onto the installation guides, there were two. One covering the installation of the Presets and the other the Brushes. I started with the Preset installation guide which when opened provides a link to YouTube together with details of the Sleeklens Facebook page. I watched the Sleeklens You Tube video and this clearly explains one of the ways to install Lightroom Presets.
One minor point is that if you don’t understand the difference between a brush file and a preset file, you might try to import both to Lightroom. Doing this won’t cause any problems but it will give a warning message which less experienced users might worry about. It would be helpful if the video made the distinction clearer.
On completion, I could see the Sleeklens presets grouped on the left of the Develop interface, as indicated in the screenshot below.
Next, I turned to installing the Lightroom Brushes. This time the PDF described the process, step by step for both Windows and Mac. But there wasn’t a video Personally, I would like to see a You Tube video as was provided for the Presets. Despite this the PDF document was clear and allowed me to install the brushes without problem.
Using the Presets
With the presets imported to the Develop module I started to experiment with the first sample image, which can be seen in the previous screenshot. Examining the presets, I could see that Sleeklens has adopted an interesting approach (and one I use with my own presets). Two approaches can be used when applying presets in Lightroom:
- When you apply a ready-made preset you click the preset and all the adjustments are applied to the image. This is the most common approach taken by many preset providers. It’s quick and easy to do but it can become confusing if you want to then switch to using another preset. Most people forget to reset the image when changing to another preset. This causes each new preset to change some but not all the previous settings. Ultimately you can find yourself wondering how you achieved a certain look and being unable to repeat it
- Alternatively you can build up your own preset by layering several presets together. To do this, the presets need to be designed to allow the user to work through categories in order. Each category will build on the previous until you have built up the finished look, hence the term workflow. This is very flexible and gives the user many more variations they can achieve. The downside is that it takes more time.
I’m very pleased to say that Sleeklens has included presets using both approaches in the Workflow set. You receive a range of “single click” presets as well as the presets in the workflow named so they arranged into the different categories.
I started by testing the single click presets with my test image. Not all the presets looked good but there were some interesting effects covering a range of looks. In the following screenshot, you can see the original test image on the left and the resulting image on the right for the preset I liked most.
Personally, I feel the preset has made a good job of adjusting the image and I like the result. This is pretty much how I would have adjusted the image had I been applying changes manually. Next I decided to build a new preset from the workflows.
Building a Preset
Next, I decided to switch images and to build up my own preset using the workflow presets. Whilst it takes a few more clicks, it does give much greater flexibility. The Sleeklens approach of offering both styles of preset in the same package is to be commended.
In the following screenshot, you can see my starting image prior to any adjustments. This is a RAW file, taken straight out of camera.
The image was captured using a Nikon D800 and a 0.6 (2 stop) ND grad filter was used to control the exposure of the sky. As you can see, this is a rather drab scene with rocks and seaweed that are too dark, whilst the sea is a little under exposed despite my using the graduated filter. The colour has also been largely removed by the cameras auto white balance setting but this has produce a blue colour cast where the scene was a warmer sunset.
When you start to use the Sleeklens presets you will notice they are organised into categories. This is achieved by prefixing the preset name with a number for example, all the presents in the base adjustment are prefixed by “1-Base”. This allows you to select one of the presets from each of the categories to build up your complete workflow. For this example, I selected the base preset “Extend Dynamic Range”. This offers an immediate improvement as you can see below, although the highlights in the scene are now a little too bright.
To correct the highlights, I use the next category (2-Exposure). Here I select the “Less Highlights” preset which also works very well as you can see below.
Next in the list of categories in the list is Colour Correction. Here I want to tackle the blue colour cast which is starting to appear a little Cyan. To adjust this, I decide to try the “Reduce Blue” preset.
This is an improvement and I’m now feeling a little happier with the tones and colour balance. Despite this I’m still a little worried about the colour balance not being warm enough. The reason for my uncertainty is that the colours in the image are quite weak. To address this, I decide to use the next category (Tone/Tint) and select the “Color Pop” preset.
Having done this I can see clearly that the image is still looking a little too blue. I decide to try a second preset from the same category which is “Warm it up”. The image is now looking much better but I must admit that I didn’t expect this.
The reason I hadn’t expected the second preset to work well is that I expected presets from the same category to replace each other rather than build on each other. My expectation was for the “Color Popp” effect to be removed and replaced with “Warm it up”. In this instance, its worked well but that might not always be the case so this is worth watching out for.
Finally, I decide to use the “Add Clarity” preset from the Polish category to finish off.
I did consider using one of the Vignette presets as I’m a big fan of this technique. The reason I decided not to, was I didn’t find one I thought was suitable. I also feel a few more vignette options would benefit the collection. In the end, I added my own vignette effect manually.
At this point, I was relatively happy with the effect I had built up and so saved it as a new “All in One” preset for future use.
With all the global adjustments applied, it’s time to work selectively on the image, which is where the Brushes come in. The term Brushes may be a little misleading as these aren’t just used with the Brush tool, but any of the selective adjustments (Gradient, Brush and Radial filters). They work just like presets but apply to the sliders that are revealed when you select one of the tools. The plan is to use these to warm up the sky and then open-up the dark foreground rocks.
For these adjustments, I will use the Gradient tool selecting one of the Brushes from the collection. The first one I use is “Color Warmer” which I apply to the sky. Notice how the colour of the sky has improved but remains quite natural.
Next, I create a second Gradient selection but this time for the foreground. Having made the selection, I try different brush presets, deciding the “Brighten Shadows” is best to lighten the foreground rocks without affecting the surf on the water.
The image is looking more as I now imagined it to but I want to emphasise the movement in the water. To do this I use the Radial filter to select the centre of the image. I then apply the “Basic – Contrast & Clarity” Brush. You will notice that in the next screenshot the surf and waves are much better defined.
Finally, I make some selective adjustments using the Brush tool and the “Warmer” Brush adjustment. You can see the finished image below.
And here’s the image again as a side by side comparison with the starting position.
I’m sure you will agree this is an improvement on the starting position.
Are there any Downsides
I did find a couple of limitations whilst using the presets. The first is that some of the settings are being carried between the different brushes and presets where I didn’t expect them to be. It’s possible to select some of the coloured brushes and then have the colour carried over to another that doesn’t have a colour setting. This is possibly the most problematic issue but it doesn’t prevent the presets from working well and its even something you might want to happen. The only other niggle I have is that I would like some additional presets and brushes. At times, it felt as though there were a couple of tools missing. But then again, I’m quite fussy. To their credit, I have been in touch with Sleeklens to pass on this feedback which they appeared to be grateful for. They are a company which appears keen to improve their products.
This is a nice set of presets with a lot to commend them. I enjoyed using the settings and brushes. I’m particularly impressed that they have taken the layered or workflow approach, allowing you to build up new presets (which you can then save). I have certainly seen more limited presets sold for a lot more money. If you like your Lightroom presets this company is worth checking out.