I feel comfortable enough with my photographic style to write a bit about the process to this point knowing that my style will continue to evolve and change.

For someone new to photography or who hasn’t given it much thought, it might be surprising that holding a camera in the general direction of something and pushing a button isn’t enough to make a good photograph (that’s a snapshot). A bit more study and photographers learn about composition and various settings that form the basis of photography technique.

The next step is to give the photograph a personal style.

Photo City Sunset

One of my favorite things to do is explore – go somewhere I haven’t been before. St Louis Gateway Arch from under Eads Bridge at sunset.

There are elements to composition and exposure that go into style, but I want to focus here on the elements of style that are added during post-processing.

There’s really no right-or-wrong to style, it’s just a matter of finding a look you like – one that fits your personality and photographic priorities.

In this post, I’m going to talk about how I used presets to develop my personal photographic style.

Most cameras have automatic settings that will add a look to the photos for you, but these styles aren’t personal to the photographer. Programs like Lightroom allow photographers to process raw photos in a unique way

Photo Orange in Sand

I spent a couple of days in Miami especially to photograph these colorful lifeguard towers along Miami Beach. Each one is different in color and shape. Though I know I should off-set the lighthouse (rule of 3rd), I saw the composition this way.

The first step in developing my personal style was to simply play with the post-processing program that I was using. I moved sliders around and played with settings until I found a look that I liked.

At this point there was no consistency across photos, I was just learning the tool and discovering what I liked and what I didn’t. Every photographer has certain features of the photograph that they are drawn to – elements that are a priority. I just had to find mine.

Eventually, I learned which elements were important to me. I tend to like my colors saturated and my photos err on the dark side.

I began seeking out information about post-processing – what others did. Many photographers publish online tutorials or descriptions of their post-processing. This called my attention to elements of the photograph that I hadn’t noticed before. I tried out some of the suggestions – though others, like luminosity masking, was still out of my reach. I wasn’t worried about it. The point was to make photos that I liked so it didn’t matter if I understood every post-processing technique.

As long as I liked the resulting photograph, it was a success.

Photo Rocky Falls Milky Way

Milkyway over Rocky Falls near Eminence, Missouri. Composite with 6 minute exposure for the landscape and 10 10-second exposures combined in Starry Landscape Stacker for the sky.
Sony A7II ISO 6400

Once I started working in Lightroom, I downloaded free presets and clicked through them to see which I liked. Some I did, many I didn’t. I tried to figure out why I liked a preset or why I didn’t – what was it about the preset that resonated – or not – with my photographic style. When I finally settled on a few favorites, I made a personal preset folder for easy access. But I never delete a preset. Occasionally, I click through all the presets and sometimes find that my tastes have changed.

I applied favorite presets to my photos and began tweaking from there – a bit darker, a bit sharper, adding a vignette, etc.

Eventually, I was making so many changes that I realized that I’d grown out of my presets. That’s ok, Lightroom allowed me to save my own preset which then began serving as a starting place for my post-processing.

Photo Wild Horses - Momma and Baby

Wild Horses – Momma & Baby Wild horses near Eminence, Missouri.
Sony A7II 300mm 1/2000@f5.6 ISO2000

I’d finally arrived at a style. This is my own look, a unique combination of sliders that I like the best. Though I still tweak each photo a bit after applying the preset.

I’ve even developed different presets for different types of photographs (e.g., portraits v. landscapes).

Every so often, I post-process a photo from scratch – which means that I don’t apply my personal preset first. I go through the various sliders and create a photograph with a look that I like. This process also reminds me of the elements that go into my personal style that I may have forgotten (e.g., how much vignetting I like). I also may have learned a new post-processing technique since I created the last preset.

Then I make a copy and apply my regular preset. Often these two versions are close, though usually not exactly the same. Then I decide what has changed and whether I like the old look or the new look better. I’m currently on version 6 of my own personal presets – my style continues to evolve.

Photo Foggy Riverboat

Riverboat on Mississippi River on a foggy morning.
Sony A7II 55mm 1/320@f9.0 ISO100

The other activity I do when I have a little time is to follow a post-processing tutorial or choose an inspiration photo and try to match the post-processing. I particularly like YuriFineArt channel on YouTube. This just changes up the way I see a photo and I try something that I wouldn’t usually do. Sometimes I’m very happy with the results – other times, I shrug, take what I’ve learned, and revert back to my personal presets.

Don’t worry if you’re using a downloaded preset. As long as you like the resulting image. But don’t forget to explore other looks!