I had the privilege to attend a talk by Coach Carter the other day. You remember the movie with Samuel L. Jackson? Yeah, that Coach Carter.

He gave an inspirational talk to a room full of salespeople, and one of his quotes stands out as particularly useful for photographers:

“Reset your preset”

For the salespeople — and if you’re convincing people to be in a picture then are certainly a salesperson — I think he means that you need to change the way you approach everything. Step back and take a look at what you do. Quit doing it just because you always do it, or because someone else does it that way. Take a look at the things you do automatically and do them the right way instead of the automatic way. Here are a few ideas of things to examine:

  • What do you say when you answer the phone?
  • What do you say to convince people to be in a photo?
  • What do you say to people when they are in a photo?
  • Do you even like cheese?
  • What lens are you shooting with?
  • How are you setting up your lights?
  • What are you looking for in backgrounds?
  • How do you ask people to pose?
  • What processing are you doing?
  • What presets do you use in post?

By the way, I’ve written a Portrait Tip for almost all of these questions.

Reset your actual presets

What about the presets you use in Lightroom or Luminar to get that certain look on your photos? You may have purchased preset packs to achieve that look, but what is it about that look that you like? Take a minute and examine your favorite photos lately and identify the things that you like in your finishing. Use specific words.

If you like it because it looks like so-and-so’s pictures, which is kind of the purpose behind buying presets, then that’s fine. But you must know what it is you like so that you prepare for it in the camera. If you like low contrast blacks and bright lights with an added tint, maybe you can set the camera to shoot a little brighter so you don’t get noise in the dark areas your presets are brightening.

Better yet, take a look at each setting of the presets you use and understand what they are doing. I find that many times photographers are moving a slider in one tab to counteract what a preset is doing in another. If you identify and understand what each slider is doing then you’ll be able to customize those presets to fit your style and your work better.

Save a new preset

Once you understand what you’re doing with your sliders and the effects they have, save a new preset for yourself. Using someone else’s presets is only meant to be a platform to give you a leg up on learning and a step in the right direction for establishing your own style.

The same thing with the rest of your workflow. Answer the phone with a smile and a phrase that makes people want to smile. Talk genuinely with your subjects. Canned conversation elicits canned expressions while genuine conversation elicits genuine expressions.

Sit down with a pen and look at everything you do. Do it in segments so it’s not too overwhelming. you’ve got the power to make changes that will establish your own style in everything you do and your life will be better for it.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.