Many years ago, before my current occupation as a photographer, I used to be a budding musician with lots of nice synths at home to play with. This was the 90's and an era where most synths turned up with lots of nice sexy factory presets to play with. Indeed one of the issues with 90's synths was that they only usually had one slider on the front of the panel and thus were a nightmare to edit the sounds, so most people would tend to use the factory presets with almost no changes to them at all.
This past month I have returned to music and I'm presently busy building a little home studio of some nice synths to own. I've deliberately chosen to look for machines that have lots of knobs and sliders on the front panel so that they will encourage me to shape the sound to my liking, rather than hope or rely on some preset to work in the music I'm making.
You may wonder what this has to do with photography. Well quite a lot.
I don't believe that plug-in's that offer presets to work with are a good way to start, or to continue with for the long-run. I can sympathise and appreciate that they may feel like a really great way of kick-starting your editing, or that they perhaps influence or inspire you, but the chances of them actually being exactly what your images need is pretty slim.
I've reached the conclusion that the best approach to image editing is to hand-craft it. Here's my reasons why I think it's good to go the slow manual way:
- You are given the opportunity (through having to figure out what you want to do to an image) to learn what components of tone, colour and form your image is made up from.
- You learn a lot about what works and what doesn't when you have to go in there and deconstruct your image. Presets don't encourage this.
- Presets will rarely, if ever, give you exactly what you need and they will not encourage you to look or study deeply into what is going on in your work.
- Hand-crafting your work means that you build up skills to interpret what you've created, and also to think about what you might want to look for in future when you do return to shooting outside.
- It should go without saying, but each image you create does not conform to a preset. It has its own character and therefore needs to be treated on an individual basis.
- Photography is about being creative, and convenience should not be part of the creative vocabulary. Making good or great images isn't easy, and we have to put the work in to learn.
- Perhaps the most important point - you get to tune the image exactly the way you want.
Perhaps you think that presets are a great starting point, and that you still tune and edit manually anyway. My thoughts on this are that when we apply presets to our work, we only see or understand a little of what has been changed. if you wish to iron out some of the effect it's a little bit like going 10 steps forward to have to retreat 8 steps to get to where you want to be. I'd much rather walk each step at a time and build up a good understanding of what it is i'm doing with the edit at each stage.
I used to rely on presets for synth sounds in my music and often found it hard to get certain sounds to mix in well with others. Now that I have a collection of synths at home with tweak able parameters I can shape the sounds to fit in more. It brings me confidence when I hear certain sounds just shift into focus as they are tuned to fit into the music. Rather than flipping through thousands of presets hoping for the 'right sound' I am creating it myself.
By taking the reigns of your editing and pulling the decisions and control back into your own lap, you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn about your yourself, your work and to improve your own visual awareness. As tempting as certain presets may be, I'd suggest going the manual way for a while and see how it goes.