Life-changing magic of a bespoke preset

A few months back, when visiting Portland, Maine, I got a chance to spend time with Rebecca Lily and Johnny Patience, two talented photographers and visual artists. They have eschewed the obvious and the normal and instead carved out their trail through life, work, and creativity. Bijan Sabet, who is also a fellow photography enthusiast made the introductions. Dan Rubin, another stellar photographer, reinforced the relationship.

Those early introductions turned into a friendship, the kind where you are honest about yourself, your challenges and your fears. Over a coffee and some pastries in their favorite cafe in the city of Bath, Maine, we talked about photography. In particular, I spoke about my frustration with the time required to edit photos, when in reality one should be spending more time with the camera.

I wanted to have uniformity between my film and digital work. I usually scan my film photos and edit them in Photoshop to achieve my desired almost monochromatic look. I like the intersection of minimalism and grain, the color of the film stock peeking through, what are practically black and white photos. The digital is more accessible to edit, but it lacks the organic feel of a film. This duality of hybrid creativity isn’t just my problem — and that is why you see a growing demand for off-the-shelf presets that allow you to create fantastic similies of some of the favorite film stock.

Rebecca, who is a well-known creator of some of the beautiful presets for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. In most basic terms, think of preset as an editing template made with settings around exposure, color, and luminosity that in turn gives digital files a certain look and feel. It is a booming industry — and everyone including Instagram influencers is cashing in. Lily, is different. She reminds me of some of my favorite designers such as Dries Van Noten, Margaret Howell, and Phoebe Philo. Her work is unique and exceptional — and like I said earlier, she eschews the trendy and the obvious.

As we talked and drank our coffee, it became evident that I wasn’t looking for a look — but instead, a compression of my workflow to a point where the finishing touches took no longer than a few minutes. My argument was — we have such powerful computers, and yet we have to do everything repetitively. Rebecca decided to take up the challenge and started to work on two workflow productivity engines for me: one in color, and the other in black and white.

The color would have many variants based on luminosity and contrast. The B&W would essentially be controlled by managing the exposure, both in camera and when processing RAW files. These would be the springboard for finishing touches in Photoshop, without needing a few dozen layers. Since I exclusively use Kodak Portra 400 film on my Mamiya 6 medium format camera and my Leica M-P film camera plays host to Kodak Tri-X 400 film, Rebecca helped create the bespoke preset to ensure that most of the digital photos and film photos have a degree of uniformity.

She was able to do that, after carefully looking through many of my photos. She spent months analyzing my style of photography and my typical exposures. She looked at my editing process. We were able to do that thanks to the magic of collaboration via DropBox and Lightroom CC. The result is that I have ended up with a brilliant digital equivalent of my film photos. I shared a set of photos from Yosemite yesterday — and the entire culling, editing, and finishing took less than 90 minutes. For me, that is a first.

All I can say, the puny amount Rebecca charged for her work is not enough. I can spend more time with the camera, and less mucking around in front of the computer.

February 20, 2019, San Francisco

PS: I shared a gallery of photos that were edited with the B&W workflow/preset over on my photo blog. Have a look.

A letter from Om

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