Adaptive Lightroom Presets: How to Create & Use Them

by Jun 14, 2024Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Adaptive Lightroom Presets: How to Create & Use Them

In this tutorial, I’ll explain Adaptive Lightroom Presets, how to create your own, and how to apply them to your photos. These are sometimes also known as AI Presets or Dynamic Presets.

Presets have been an important feature of Lightroom for years; I personally can’t remember a time when they weren’t there. But in recent years, with the introduction of AI, the Preset has undergone a significant change, giving us the Adaptive Lightroom Presets.

Many businesses selling presets have jumped at the new opportunity this brings. Most are now selling some form of Adaptive Presets, marketing them using terms like AI Dynamic Presets, Intelligent Presets and others. If you want to understand how these work and create your own, read on.

What is a Lightroom Preset

Before we can begin creating Dynamic Lightroom Presets, we must understand regular Presets.

Presets in Lightroom are used to save settings that we can apply to multiple images either now or in the future. This can save a lot of time and effort when photo editing, but it can also help our creativity. That’s because we can quickly review the effect of applying different Presets to an image, often producing interesting and unexpected results.

Lightroom Presets panel in the Lightroom Develop Module

When editing an image in the Develop module, you will find the Presets panel on the left of the interface. This contains a large library of Lightroom Presets, including those that come free with Lightroom and any you might have purchased and installed.

The Lightroom Presets that appear in this panel tend to appear in groups, usually organised by purpose. In the screenshot above, you can see that I’ve expanded the “Seasons: Summer” group to display the list of individual Presets. While these often have less than useful names, Adobe did create a helpful feature to review and select the Lightroom Preset to use.

When you move your mouse pointer over a Preset in the list, the image preview updates to show the Preset’s effect on the image. This happens with all Presets, including the new Adaptive Presets, although they take a little longer to render.

In this article, I discuss other benefits of using Lightroom Presets.

Identifying The Changes Applied by Lightroom Presets

When you click the Lightroom Preset you want to use in the list, it’s applied to the image.

Applying a Lightroom Preset to the image

Here, you can see that I’ve applied the “SM02” summer Preset to the image. To understand what the Preset has done, you need to check the Develop Settings.

If you are interested in how the Preset achieved the change, it’s best to apply them to an image before making any other changes. The changes are then indicated by the eye icon that appears at the top left of each panel. You can see these indicated in the following screenshot.

Identifying changes applied by a Lightroom Preset using the visibility eye icon in the Develop module

As you can see in the screenshot, when we apply a change to an image, the eye (or visibility) icon changes from grey to white. You can then use this to see the changes applied by the Lightroom Preset.

It’s also possible to click the eye icon using your mouse. This temporarily hides the adjustments until you release the mouse button, making it easy to understand how the effect was created.

What Are Adaptive Lightroom Presets

Now, let’s discuss what’s different about Adaptive Lightroom Presets.

If you check the Presets panel in your Lightroom Develop Module, you may notice a few groups of Presets with the word “Adaptive” at the start of their name. For example, “Adaptive: Sky” contains Lightroom Presets that will apply effects to the sky in a landscape photo.

Here are three examples using the “Adaptive: Sky” Presets that come with Lightroom.

Applying the Sky Adaptive Lightroom Presets to a landscape photo

What’s special about these Adaptive Presets is that they work with any landscape photo. They do this by making an accurate and automatic selection of the sky before applying an adjustment.

To see how this was achieved, we need to look at the Masking panel in Lightroom, which you can see below.

Adjustments produced by applying the Sunrise Adaptive Lightroom Preset

Here, we can see a mask called “Sunrise” has been created by the Adaptive Preset. Then, immediately below the mask, we can see the “Sky 1” selection, which uses the AI in Lightroom to select the sky. Notice how the sky is accurately selected, as indicated by the red overlay.

Further down, below the Mask, is the adjustments section. This is where we can see a change to the Temp slider to warm the sky. Then, further down (not shown in the screenshot), a reduction in the Clarity setting.

This tells us that Adaptive Lightroom Presets use AI selection tools to automatically select areas and objects in an image. The adjustments are then applied to the masks, just like regular Lightroom Presets.

Now we know how they work, let’s use the information to build our own Adaptive Lightroom Preset.

Creating Adaptive Lightroom Presets

The first Lightroom Preset we will create isn’t really an Adaptive Preset in the sense that it doesn’t use the AI selection tools.

The Auto Lightroom Preset

Do you use the Auto option in the Lightroom Basic panel?

A lot of photographers do, and it can often improve a photo with a single click. You will find it at the top of the Basic panel, as shown below.

Clicking the Auto option in the Lightroom Basic Panel to adjust a photo

The Auto option works with any image, attempting to improve it using only the controls in the Basic panel. What’s useful about this feature is that it applies adjustments based on the needs of the image. In other words, the adjustments are unique to the image you’re editing.

To create a Lightroom Preset that applies the Auto feature, first reset all the adjustments on your image. This ensures you don’t accidentally save other adjustments in the Preset.

At the top of the Presets panel, click the small ‘+’ icon and select the “Create Preset…” option in the popup menu. This opens the “New Develop Preset” dialog.

Saving a Lightroom Preset in the Develop Module

In the New Develop Preset dialog, you can enter the name for your new Preset and choose or create a Group to add it to.

Below the name/group section, there is a single “Auto Settings” option. Click this to ensure it is selected. This is what will apply the automatic adjustments to the image.

In the “Settings” section (below the “Auto Settings”), remove the tick from every group. This ensures you don’t save any adjustments as part of the Preset and don’t accidentally reset other adjustments when the Preset is applied.

When you’re finished, click the Create button to add the new Preset. It will then be available in the Lightroom Presets panel, where you can apply it to any image.

Creating a Foreground Adaptive Lightroom Preset

Lightroom already has a series of Adaptive Presets for selecting and adjusting the sky in an image, so let’s create one for the foreground.

Using any landscape image, click the Masking icon above the tools. This opens a panel containing the different Lightroom Selection tools. You can then click the icon for the “Sky”.

Selecting the sky in an image using the Lightroom Sky selection tool

This creates a mask using the AI Sky selection.

With your mouse, right-click the new “Mask 1” mask in the Masks panel. This will display a small popup menu where you should select the “Invert Mask 1” option. You should now see the ground selected in the image rather than the sky.

Please rename the mask to “Foreground.” This will ensure that the mask created by the Adaptive Lightroom Preset is also called Foreground. You can then apply your adjustment settings to improve the foreground in the image.

When you are happy with your adjustments, click the ‘+’ icon at the top of the Presets panel to create a new Preset.

Saving a Dynamic Lightroom Preset to select and adjust the image foreground

Here, you can see that I’ve prefixed the preset’s name with the word “Dynamic” to indicate that it’s an Adaptive Preset.

In terms of settings, the only setting I’ve chosen to save is the Masking, which contains the Foreground mask I created (as described above).

Another feature I like to use, but which is optional, is the “Support Amount Slider”. After applying a Preset that uses this option, you will see the “Amount” slider above the Lightroom Presets panel is enabled. You can use this to increase and reduce the strength of the Preset without changing the individual adjustment controls.

Click the Create button to save the Adaptive Preset, adding it to the Lightroom Presets panel.

Summary of Adaptive Lightroom Presets

We’ve now covered the basics of creating Adaptive Lightroom Presets. You should understand what they are, how to apply them, and, importantly, how to create your own Adaptive Presets.

What wasn’t mentioned in the article is that you can use any of the AI Selection tools in Lightroom to create Adaptive Presets. This includes the Sky, Subject and Background AI selections as well as the People selection tools. For example, you can create a teeth whitening preset that automatically selects and whitens the teeth in an image.

To do that, you need to understand how the different selection tools work. If you need help, I explain these in my book “Mastering Selections & Masks in Lightroom Classic CC 2023”. The tools described in this book are the same as those you will find in Lightroom 2024.

After creating your own Adaptive Lightroom Presets, you may want to know more about organising them. I discuss this in more detail in my article “Organising Your Lightroom Presets Folder”.

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