I'd like to start this blog with a small disclaimer (although it's not necessarily needed). I write from the gut. I tend to evaluate things from an very personal perspective, concentrating on my creative and emotional response rather than the more technical aspects, and I appreciate that might not be for everyone. I'd also like to point you, the reader, in the direction of these two excellent reviews of Rebecca Lily's Pro Set III Presets from Mathieu Gasquet over at MirrorLessons and also, Robert Paul Jansen, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. For now, I'd be most grateful if you'd join me on this tactile and immersive journey into my own responses.
I’m probably what you might describe as someone who ‘fiddles’ with her images. I like post-processing and it’s part of the joy that comes with photography for me. Lightroom has become an integral part of my post-processing workflow, and presets definitely play a part in this, especially as a jumping off point for further explorations, and I’ve regularly dabbled with VSCO, amongst others. They’re a time saving device, but also very useful for demonstrating different perspectives on an image.
With this in mind, when I was afforded the opportunity to try out Rebecca Lily’s Pro Set III presets and tools, I decided to set myself a challenge; minimal editing, using only the presets and very small adjustments, to see what I could get from my images without compromising the original integrity of Rebecca’s filmic version. There is a certain quality to these presets that I haven’t really witnessed in others for Lightroom and each feels carefully crafted with love and a passion for the art form.
Presets encapsulate the preferences of another photographer in malleable form, designed for manipulation, the combination of personalities, the fusion of vision. This is especially prevalent with presets that emulate the beauty of film. On a personal level it immediately evokes an bygone era, a sense of powerful nostalgia; memories of long forgotten boxes of negatives where you see yourself as a child, surrounded by your family, caught in a moment of frozen encapsulated joy.
In the above images, the ice cream van is a perfect example of this sentiment. The Limoncello present softened the harsh blue hues in the sky, matching the shirt worn by the man buying his ice cream. The original image seems somewhat garish in it's starkness, but the adjusted image is softer, pulling the viewer into another world, the suggestion of a story and the willingness to buy wholesale into our own sense of time and identity.
It was an early July day, warm in the best kind of way, when I wandered the streets of Cognac in the South of France, and I knew this would be the perfect set of images to test out the presets and unify the set of images into a coherent whole, documenting the day, visualising the adventure. Combined with the quintessential continental scenics captured the day before, the presets began to shine. Each preset comes with three versions that strengthen or reduce the effect, and I found myself often veering towards the former, opting for the strongest form due to my own personal preference for bright highlights.
The above image of the Cat in the box demonstrates the neutral, exquisite colour palette, pulling the lighter tones into the foreground, eroding the gritty, flat feel of the original. One of my absolute favourite features of the tools is the Inner Glow, which works so wonderfully well with the image of the cat above, pulling out the delicate tones of it's fur and the expression of mild distain flashing across it's face. There's a classical quality to the presets that brings something timeless to the image.
If you've never experienced the amazing work of the woman behind these presets, I would urge you to visit her blog - Poems Without Words - and I warn you, keep something soft beneath your jaw, because it will drop. The sheer grace of Rebecca's work has been an inspiration to me (and no doubt many others). The symbiotic relationship between Rebecca and her love, Johnny Patience is the stuff of Hollywood movies from the 1940s. I see that affection, that mutual respect, shining through in these innovative presets.
The overwhelming characteristic of the tools and the presets is their subtle power. That might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s actually something rare and sought after in the photographic world. The effect on the image is minimal but it’s all the better for it in ways that you wouldn’t have noticed before. It's something that can be difficult to appreciate in these times of over-processing (something which I feel even more guilty of after this challenge of editing in a minimal fashion). In the view above, the small but effective enhancements emulate the darks and the lights without contrast taking over the whole scene. In the processed image there is a sense of a quiet, summer's afternoon. I can almost feel the sun and the breeze, hear the sound of local cafes and bars buzzing with the brilliant sound of lunching locals.
This photo of a cat in a window is possibly one of my favourite images I've ever had the pleasure to capture. It did not need too much adjustment as, to me, it was near perfect on it's own. Again the Inner Glow played it's part to highlight the cat, arching backwards in a bid to catch a few of the afternoon rays, the picture of bliss and tranquility. All I wanted was to make the image cleaner, and Kinfolk in the Mid Color range worked perfectly.
I predominantly work with colour and the the bleached whites and blues of that summer’s day in Cognac beg to be presented in such a fashion. High in contrast, it’s easy to overdo such a delicate balance, but the presets shined with their empathy towards the available tones. For the street scenes, I tended to remain in the pastels, switching between Candy and Epiphany for the most part. These brought out the shadows and highlights just enough to satisfy me, and in the image below, the real power can be seen in the light that is cast across the gentleman's face, imperceptible in the original, but a focal point after processing.
When the light dulled, the black and white presets are called upon to provide some dynamic range and give an ernest and authentic feel to the image. The barrels below, shot in the historic vaults of Hennessey's Cognac distillery, present themselves as perfectly apt for exploration of the black and white options. In the distillery, the barrels lose, on average, 2% of their alcohol content per annum. They call this 'la part des anges', or the 'Angel's Share'. The invisible is sometimes more poignant than that which can be plainly seen. This sentiment is remonstrated in the beautiful rendition of black and white, the silent beauty of the colours fading into something more powerful -- the 'Angel's Share'.
I can imagine in the coming months these presets will be my absolute go-to when it comes to wedding photography. Their timeless and classical qualities will compliment the celebratory beauty often found on a couple's special day.
The image below is from a friend's wedding. It was a day filled with poignancy, a celebration of life, love, loss and the indomitable human spirit. I caught Sarah, the bride, turning, moving in from the incessant drizzle that permeated the sky that day. In colour it seemed too bright, too warm, but the way Rebecca has designed the presets, especially with regard to the light, meant that the image took on a new quality when I applied the Black Jack preset. The perfect combination of dark and light to show a beautiful soul at her finest. Enduring. Amaranthine.
My final foray textually into the majestic nature of these presets involves the ethereal beauty of Dartmoor Ponies, captured on a windy, overcast day, my first experience of these elegant creatures. In the examples below you can see how the use of different presets can dramatically alter the scene and the mood, the black and white demonstrating the diversity in tones, emphasising the celestial grace of the pony.
For someone like me, who fell in love with photography in the digital age, the eclectic beauty and timeless nature of these presets is simply wonderful. Evoking filmic tones and colours underlines the real potential of Rebecca's approach and I'm almost tempted to clear out my cluttered shed to turn into a rudimentary darkroom. Ultimately, the challenge I set myself has permeated into my creative consciousness. Less is becoming the new more.
Finally, the real triumph is that Rebecca has managed to forge a bridge between two close relatives, Film and Digital, who share the same blood, but always remained in tension with each other. Here, little of that animosity remains, just a gentle and overwhelming affection for both formats, combining without any pretentious or precocious undertones, a resplendent and pulchritudinous alliance.
Do please check out Rebecca's website, and thank you for coming on this journey with me!