I finished reading David duChemin’s Vision and Voice book a few weeks back and there was something he mentioned in the book that must have resonated with me as I’m still thinking about it now. It was about presets or at least pre-set ways of developing your digital shots.

Each time someone comes up with a killer new technique, the masses rush to copy it. They adopt it wholesale and use it as an un-suck filter for images that just don’t work – but wave the magic-wand-of-the-day over it and poof! its novel and new

I’ve realised that to a large degree I’ve been guilty of this, and whilst it might not be the technique of the moment that I use, I have seen Lightroom presets and thought, “Wow – that really makes that photo great”. The trouble is, the photo in the before/after shot showing the preset is not one I’ve taken and doesn’t necessarily represent what I was trying to communicate when I took my latest shot.

I don’t dispute that we’re all influenced by other work we see. It’s unavoidable.  However taking a preset that someone else has created for their own specific needs and applying it to one of your own images isn’t necessarily going to help tell the story you wanted to tell.

So for now I’m taking a step back, I’m taking a breath, and I’m trying to work with images from scratch without using presets. Looking at the shot and remembering what it was that “spoke to me” when I decided to take it and using the tools available to me to try and communicate that vision through my own digital darkroom techniques.

I must admit it’s tough. Looking back I can see how there were a handful of favourite presets that I would turn to for almost every shot. Click the preset, a few minor tweaks and upload. Now I’m finding I’m being far more scrupulous about which shots are my picks and its taking quite a bit longer to process things – but this is good! It’s forcing me to shift my thinking from “this shots is okay” to “what do I want this image to communicate and how can I strengthen that”. I’ve always been quite frugal in the shots I take (compared to some of the people I travel with) so I think I’ve always, sub-consciously looked at a scene and thought about what it “said”, but this new approach is about bringing this to the fore-front of your mind more. Especially during the development stage.

Have a think about the shots you take and how you develop them. Are you guilty of over-using certain techniques or presets or getting complacent in developing your images? If so, try forcing yourself to think more deeply about why you took a shot and rather than rely on someone else’s settings, try to develop it to match your vision and voice (oh and of course the book I mentioned helps!)