How to Use Presets and Filters

In today’s world of digital photography, physical filters have all but disappeared, being replaced by software filters and presets. It is easy to overuse them, but if they’re used in subtle ways they can be quite effective. This post will teach you how to use presets and filters for maximum advantage.

I feel lucky to say I was in the generation where film was moving to digital, so my education got the best of both worlds. I know that by putting an 80A filter on a lens, it will correct a tungsten light scene shot on daylight balanced film. I also know how to change the sun icon to the light bulb icon to achieve the same effect on my digital camera.

It’s not difficult to slap on a preset and sync an entire batch of photos with one click. I would highly suggest fine tuning each image to make them your own. When I use a preset, I often change little settings here and there in the process to make it a one-of-a-kind Kelsey Foster photograph. In doing so, your originality shines and your work stands out!

Coming from a film background I was super excited about the VSCO Film presets! I highly recommend these presets to anyone and everyone. The way they emulate film emulsion, color and contrast is just gorgeous. However, when I utilize them I still make changes to make the photo my own.

In these images you can see where I started, the preset I added, and how I altered it.

VSCO Film Preset Kodak Portra 400

VSCO Film Preset Kodak T-MAX 3200

Don’t forget that your underlying image, focus and exposure should be spot on before you decide to use a preset or filter. People often cover up elementary photography mistakes with funky colors, excessive sun flare or grain. Also, be wary of filter fads. A few years ago the high pass or unsharp mask filter was super popular, and it can still be tastefully used, but to me it has dated itself. At the end of the day I believe photographers should be making good photographs that stand the test of time. It’s the same reason you tell your portrait clients to wear classic clothing when you shoot their family photo.

Lastly, I often find it fun to get my hands dirty in the digital world like I did in the darkroom with developer and fixer! Think about making physical filters out of fabrics, or by spreading oil or Vaseline on glass and shooting through it with your digital camera. It’s always nice to experiment with things in a hands-on way, creating beautiful and unique images that you might have a hard time attaining by way of Photoshop.

Example of shooting through sheer fabric or lace.

Ultimately you want to find a happy medium using presets and filters that works to your advantage. It might look different for each photographer, but that’s the point – to explore and experiment, making your photographs pop because they’re unique and special!

Kelsey Foster was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She received her B.F.A. in photography at the University of North Texas, and afterwards moved to New York City. She was named one of “Adorama’s ones to watch” in 2008, and also participated in several group shows. Recently relocating back to Texas, she continues to shoot for editorial and commercial clients by splitting her time between NYC and Dallas.

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