Photoshop Actions vs Lightroom Presets: Which to use?

Both Photoshop and Lightroom feature ways to optimize the photo editing workflow. Photoshop actions enable you to apply very advanced post-processing techniques with a single click. Lightroom presets lets you mimic a style and easily apply it to other photos. Both Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets allow you to use different effects in a breeze, but which is better? In this article, we will take a look at both the pros and cons plus their differences and which photography genres might benefit from each of them.

However, before we discuss whether you should use Photoshop actions or Lightroom presets, let us dig a bit deeper into how each of them works.

Photo by Tom Swinnen from Pexels

Photoshop actions are a recipe with steps that Photoshop should do in a specific order, that you or the creator of the Photoshop action decide. When you create an action, you can, for instance, tell Photoshop that first, it should change the color tones of the image. Then add a high pass filter, then change the blend mode, and finally lower the opacity. When you are finished with recording the action and run the Photoshop action on another image, all of the recorded steps will then be carried out in the specific order used in the action. When you click the play button to run the Photoshop action, it will carry out all of the recorded steps, normally in a matter of seconds. After running the action, you will also have the layers created by the action available for modifying if you need to.

You can use actions in Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements), but not in Lightroom. 

Lightroom presets apply saved settings to one or several photos in Lightroom. They accomplish the same thing as Photoshop actions by applying specific effects to your images. But Lightroom presets don’t go through particular steps as Photoshop actions do. 

You can only use presets in Lightroom, and not in Photoshop.

No matter whether you use Photoshop or Lightroom, you can create your own PS actions or presets. You can also import presets or actions created by your friends or buy professional PS actions or LR presets targeted photographers’ needs for an efficient workflow.

Glamour Orange Teal Lightroom Preset

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Benefits by Using Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets

Both Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets have benefits they share in making the life of photographers easier:

  1. Easy to use: Both Lightroom presets and Photoshop actions can help you to create effects that you might not be able to create yourself if you are new to either Photoshop or Lightroom. However, with the help of actions or presets, you can get your image to look the way you want.
  2. Give your photos a fantastic look: Even though you’re an experienced photographer, you can still benefit from high-quality Photoshop actions or Lightroom presets to make your photos look better.
  3. Great for learning new techniques: If you don’t know how to achieve a specific effect in either Photoshop or Lightroom, but have an action or preset that creates it, you can look at the steps in the action or the settings used in the preset. This can help you learn how to use the technique.
  4. Speed up your workflow: Both PS actions and LR presets can help you to optimize your workflow and the time spent on post-processing your images. This is probably the most significant benefit for event photographers with a great number of photos to deliver for each client. 
  5. Great for getting a coherent look: Presets and actions can help you achieve a similar look across all images that you either upload to your Instagram profile or to all photos that you deliver to your client. It is an essential part of being perceived as a professional photographer that you can deliver a consistent result and maintain a specific style.

Which disadvantages are shared for both Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets?

You can surely benefit your workflow by using either actions or presets or even both. However, there are a few drawbacks or cons to be aware of. 

  1. It is not a one-click fix: Contrary to what many photographers believe neither Photoshop actions or Lightroom presets is a one-click method to a perfect image. You will have to tweak the settings used to make your image look its best. However, even without tweaking, you might still impress family, friends, and client. But for the best result, you will need to visit a few settings manually after using presets or actions.
  2. No PS action/LR Preset is perfect for every photo: Each photo is unique with different exposure, lighting, colors, and tonal values. So even though some actions or preset might work on a high number of images, they are not perfect for all your images. 
  3. It cannot fix bad or average photos: The work with ending up with great photos begins at the shooting location, not in front of your computer. Many photographers expect or rely on Lightroom presets or Photoshop actions to lift their image to another level. They cannot make average photos look amazing, but they can give it a great look.  

Lightroom Presets Specific Benefits

Lightroom presets are easier to use than Photoshop actions

1. Lightroom presets give you a faster workflow with many photos

Even though Photoshop actions can be fast to apply, but if you have to apply multiple actions and use them on hundreds of images, you might end up using a lot of time. Of course, you can set up a batch job in Photoshop to apply actions to an entire folder with all the images. However, it is way more straightforward to use Lightroom to select all the photos and apply the presets to all of them in one go. Lightroom presets are applied instantly and without a script to be run step-by-step.

2. Presets are easier to tweak

No matter whether you use Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets, you should see them as a starting point for editing your images. After applying the effect, you will likely need to tweak your image a bit further to get the best result. And tweaking settings is just easier in Lightroom compared to Photoshop. If you want to add a bit more contrast you can use the slider, contrary to browsing through several layers in Photoshop to find out whether it is a levels adjustment layer or a curves adjustment layer, you should modify. In this aspect, Lightroom is just faster to work with, even though speed, of course, isn’t everything. 

3. Fewer problems with presets

Photoshop actions can brake or get messed up by accident. Some free Photoshop actions are poorly constructed, meaning that you will become frustrated if the actions don’t work. Lightroom presets will rarely throw an error at you.  

4. Instant preview

Just by hovering your mouse over a preset name, you will see the effect on your image in the thumbnail viewer. You don’t get that luxury with Photoshop actions, but it is also not always relevant, as PS actions often help you with a specific step in post-processing, so a preview of what the effect looks like on the entire image, is not as useful for actions. 

Photoshop Action Specific Benefits

1. You maintain complete control with Photoshop Actions

Workflow specific Photoshop actions

If you use high-quality actions, you will still have full control of the editing process while using the benefits of actions. You can deactivate individual steps in a Photoshop action, that you know that you won’t need. After running an action, you will also be able to add a layer mask and in that way, limit the action to only affect a specific part of your image. You can also lower the opacity of the layer created by the action to make the effect less intense.

In Lightroom, you don’t have the same control as Lightroom doesn’t work with layers the same way. There is no opacity control, layers, or masking in Lightroom. This is probably one of the most significant downsides to using presets in Lightroom. 

2. For complex editing, you can build Photoshop actions for each processing phase.

Many portrait photographers create a specific Photoshop action for enhancing lips, and one for enhancing the eyes, and another one for skin smoothing.

Other actions can enhance details in your image, or help you with dodge and burning. Photoshop more suitable for working with complex editing and creating specific actions for each step of the post-processing workflow. You can, of course, work with local adjustment presets in Lightroom, but it is still limited to what you can change compared with what you can achieve in Photoshop. 

Which to use: Lightroom Presets vs Photoshop Actions?

Whether you would want to use Lightroom presets or Photoshop actions depends on the genre of photography you’re into, and which software you are most comfortable using. Both have a place an efficient photo editing workflow, and using one doesn’t rule out using the other occasionally.

Event, wedding, or sports photographers will likely see the most benefit in using Lightroom presets. These types of photographers process hundreds to thousands of photos from a client shoot. This will be much faster using presets instead of actions. Street photographers and some product photographers might also benefit more from using presets. If your images don’t require complicated and detailed editing use presets instead.

If you are into a photography genre that involves working on fewer photos, you might want to use Photoshop actions instead. This could, for instance, be portrait photography, landscape or macro photography, or creative editing. In Photoshop, you have better options to mask layers and limit actions to specific areas of a single photo. Furthermore, you will get more control and flexibility with the image editing process in Photoshop, which is often more needed with this type of photography.

Concluding words

Whether you should use Photoshop actions or Lightroom presets depends on how you prefer to edit your images, how many photos you usually go through, and how much control you want in the editing process. Some images might also call for using presets, while another type of photography might call for a more complex editing process using Photoshop actions.

Featured photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

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Hey I’m Peter. I’m the owner and editor of Photography-RAW. I make sure that you get the best articles about photography. Personally, I prefer to shoot landscape, nature and macro photography. I hope you enjoy the site 🙂
Hey I’m Peter. I’m the owner and editor of Photography-RAW. I make sure that you get the best articles about photography. Personally, I prefer to shoot landscape, nature and macro photography. I hope you enjoy the site 🙂
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Photoshop Actions vs Lightroom Presets: Which to use?

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