I was recently contacted by Sleeklens, a Danish company, which offers presets for Photoshop and Lightroom, with the request to review one of their packages - the Landscape Adventure Collection for Photoshop.
My main objective was to find out whether the presets can improve my workflow. I selected a number of unprocessed images to try out the presets one by one. Here is what I found:
There are just over 60 presets in the package, more than advertised on the website. Installation was straightforward. The presets appear under 'Actions' and are grouped into 'Exposure', 'Base', 'Tone', 'All-in-One', 'Enhance', 'Specialty', 'Temperature' and 'Web File Preparation'.
I found the Exposure presets (except for Contrast) are of limited use once a RAW file has been processed and opened in Photoshop, as I make the main exposure adjustments in the RAW converter. When further minor adjustments were needed in Photoshop, I achieved them faster by directly utilising the Photoshop options, such as e.g. Highlights and Shadows, and applying the degree needed, rather than applying the Sleeklens preset and then adjusting the opacity to reverse most of the effect, which is often too strong. EXPOSURE Contrast doesn't allow me to make the subtle adjustments Photoshop Curves does, so I would not use this preset at all.
EXPAND DYNAMIC RANGE preset: This preset doesn't appear to have had the desired effect at all. The image is much lighter and has less contrast. The dynamic range describes the difference between the lightest and the darkest pixels in an image. Instead of expanding that range, the image looks washed out with hardly any dark pixels left.
BASE CLARITY preset: This seems to be a useful preset, however, the clarity is usually manipulated in the RAW converter before opening the image in Photoshop, so I have not come across the need to do further adjustments once I open my images in Photoshop.
The other BASE presets, such as 'Desaturate', 'Dramatic Contrast', 'Good Place to Start for Landscapes' or 'Morning Light' are not something I would ordinarily apply to my images. Perhaps 'BASE Retro' would be useful, if I ever wanted to achieve a retro look with one of my photographs.
Application of most of the TONE presets requires careful reduction of the applied preset effect to achieve the desired outcome. I can make the adjustments I need quicker and with more subtlety by using the Photoshop tools, than applying the presets and then reducing their effect. I cannot apply the tone presets to a certain area of the image, which makes it more complicated to achieve a particular effect. In Photoshop, most often, I select an area to apply particular changes to, something that isn't possible with the presets.
ALL IN ONE PRESETS
Unsatisfactory All in One solutions were apparently the reason for the Sleeklens founder to set up his company and develop his products, but I found that the largest group of presets were in the 'ALL IN ONE' group. I believe they are not really useful for a professional or enthusiast photographer. The application of most effects is crude and requires extensive adjustment, both in the strength and the areas where they have been applied. They might be useful for the casual snapper to pep up their holiday photos, but I am not sure that these users would actually use Photoshop to process their images.
I found the SKY presets interesting. I like the DRAMATIC SKY and SKY ENHANCER presets, because I am in control of the area to which I want to apply it, and they seem to result in a nice effect. I had to reduce the opacity slightly on the Sky Enhancer preset, but am quite happy with the effect achieved. I can imagine using this preset more frequently. As with all kinds of image manipulation, subtle application is the key, otherwise the image starts to look unnatural.
I would probably use the other ENHANCER presets less frequently, but they could be useful in achieving a particular effect as they can be applied to parts of an image only.
The one that appeals most to me in this set is the Dreamy Landscape preset. I do not have many images that I would use it with, but I like to apply a dreamy effect from time to time. It is the equivalent of a soft focus filter, utilising Gaussian Blur to achieve the effect.
The issue with the Temperature presets is the same as with the Exposure presets. I would normally have applied any adjustments in the RAW Converter before my image is opened in Photoshop. But if any adjustments are needed at a later stage, the presets can be useful.
WEB FILE PREPARATION PRESETS
This group has two fixed-size presets (960px on long side and 2048px on long side), which can be useful. The preset for custom resizing opens the Photoshop Image Size option, so there is no speedup in the workflow there.
In the past, I have only very occasionally used presets when processing my photographs. The Sleeklens Landscape Adventure Collection for Photoshop contains several interesting presets that I might use from time to time in the future, particularly those, which I can apply to only a part of an image. The collection contains many presets, such as the EXPOSURE and TEMPERATURE presets, which I don't consider particularly useful, as I will always apply adjustments in those areas in the RAW Converter, before my images are opened in Photoshop. Presets such as those in the ALL IN ONE group represent such "quick-fix" solutions the company claims it wants to do without. The effects are often too strong and need careful adjustment and reduction to achieve a balanced result.
Although the current special offer price for the package is fairly reasonable (below £40), the list price of more than £90 is rather steep. I believe most enthusiast and professional photographers would not use more than a handful of the presets included because of the extent of re-adjustments needed to achieve a balanced result. The package might appeal more to the casual photographer, who is looking for a quick way to pep up his/her photos before sharing them with family and friends. I would probably not consider purchasing the complete package. Perhaps an offer of smaller groups or even single presets might be more interesting, e.g. the DREAMY LANDSCAPE preset or the BASE RETRO present, each competitively priced.
On the positive side, there are a number of other collections of presets and brushes on offer on the Sleeklens website, for both Photoshop and Lightroom, so you may want to check them out. The company also provides an editing service and offers a variety of templates, which might come in handy for some of you. There are also some free presets available as well as video tutorials for those, who seek further guidance.
Here are the links to the Sleeklens website, which contain the Photoshop products: