How To Use Lightroom Profiles For Better Photos

by Jan 18, 2024Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How To Use Lightroom Profiles For Better Photos

In this tutorial, I answer two important questions: what are Lightroom Profiles, and how do I use them to create better photos? You’ll also learn where to find them and, most importantly, how to use them in your workflow.

What are Camera Profiles?

Lightroom Camera Profiles, or Camera Colour Profiles, as they are also known, are used to convert RAW files into images. Think of them as a set of instructions that convert the RAW data captured by your camera into the colours and tones you see in a photo. This is important because it can significantly impact how your photos look.

Take the following images as an example.

Comparing the effect of applying two different camera profiles to a photo in Lightroom

Notice how different the tone and colour in the two images appear. Yet the only difference between the two is that I changed the Lightroom Profile. The image on the left uses the Fuji “Pro Neg High Contrast” Profile, while the image on the right has been changed to the “Adobe Landscape” Profile.

No other changes were made, yet the two images appear very different. This is the power of the Lightroom Profile.

How To Use Camera Profiles in Lightroom

You will find the Camera Profiles in the Lightroom Develop module. If you have an older version of Lightroom, they are in the Calibration panel and don’t offer much control other than being able to change them. For everyone else, the rest of this article applies.

Probably the easiest way to choose a Profile to use is with the Profile dropdown. You will find this at the top of the Basic panel. The screenshot (on the left) below shows that the “Adobe Color” profile has been applied to this RAW file.

The Profile Browser in Lightroom is used to seelct a camera profile for editing

Clicking the Profile dropdown reveals a list of your favourite profiles, which you can then select. We’ll return to how to control what appears on this list later in this article.

The other way to access the available Profiles is to click the Lightroom Profile Browser icon. This displays four white rectangles, and you can see it indicated in the above screenshot (on the left).

When you click the Profile Browser icon, it opens the Profile Browser, which replaces the Basic panel. You can see this in the screenshot (on the right) above.

Understanding the Profile Browser

You can see the main features of the Profile Browser in the following screenshot.

The Profile Browser in Lightroom is used for viewing and selecting profiles

Near the top of the panel are three headings: All, Color and B&W. You can use these to help find the Profile you want to use. Camera Profiles can produce either a colour or black-and-white rendering from a RAW file. If you click the B&W heading, then only black and white profiles will be displayed in the panel. Click the colour to display only colour renderings and click all to display all the Profiles.

To the right of these headings is a dropdown. You can use this to control how the Profiles are displayed in the panel. The options are “Thumbnail”, “Large”, and “List”. We’ll look at these in a moment.

The Profiles themselves are displayed as thumbnails grouped into categories. In the screenshot above, the categories have been collapsed. Clicking the grey triangle to the left of a category expands it to show the Profiles contained. You can see an example in the screenshot below where the “Adobe RAW” category has been expanded.

The Lightroom Profile Browser in different display configurations

In addition to showing the expanded category, the Profile Browser is shown in the three display configurations.

Most of the time, the default “Grid” configuration works well. The thumbnails you see in the Grid (and the Large) view show a preview of how the RAW file will appear when we apply that Profile to it. The main image also shows a preview of the Profile when you move your mouse pointer over the thumbnail. This is often easier to see than trying to judge a profile’s effect from the thumbnail.

Now, let’s look at the different Profile categories in the Lightroom Profile Browser.

Why Are There Profile Categories?

The categories you see in the browser help to organise the Profiles. In addition, they are used to segment different types of Profiles. Here are the different types of Profile categories you see.

Favourites

If you often use a Profile, you can mark it as a favourite by clicking the star icon at the top right of the thumbnail. This adds it to the Favourites category and to the dropdown Profile list in the Basic Panel. It’s then available to select from the dropdown without needing to open the Profile Browser.

Adobe RAW Profiles

Whatever camera you use, if Lightroom supports it, you will be able to apply the Adobe RAW Profiles to it. These have names like “Adobe Color”, “Adobe Monochrome”, “Adobe Landscape”, “Adobe Standard”, etc. You will find these same profiles are always available and are wide-ranging in the effects they produce.

By default, RAW files will have the “Adobe Color” profile applied to them. While this often produces a good result, it may not produce the desired look. This is why it’s recommended you browse the available profiles and select one when editing. Don’t assume the default Lightroom Profile is the best.

Camera Matching Profiles

These are Profiles produced by the camera manufacturer. How many Profiles you see in this category and what they are will depend on the camera used to capture the RAW file. That’s why they are called Camera Matching. Someone who shoots using a Nikon Z9 will see a different set of Profiles than a photographer who shoots with a Fuji XT5.

Artistic, B&W, Modern and Vintage

The Profiles found in these categories aren’t what I would consider true Profiles. Instead, they are similar to LUTs which are used in Colour Grading. When you select one of these, it will apply that colour or effect to the image, as in the following example.

Example of applying the Artistic camera profile to a RAW file

The image on the left is the unadjusted RAW file with the default “Adobe Color” profile applied. The image on the right is also unadjusted but with the “Artistic 2” profile applied.

When you apply a profile in this category to an image, the profile appears at the top of the Profile Browser, and the Amount slider is enabled.

Amount slider enabled in the Profile Browser, allowing the strength of the Profile effect to be controlled

You can now use the Amount slider to control the strength of the effect the Profile has on the image.

Another special feature of these Profiles is that they can be applied to regular images like JPEGs, TIFFs, etc. You don’t need to be working with a RAW file.

Profiles and Lenscraft Chrome Profiles

If you check the Profiles installed in your copy of Lightroom, it’s unlikely you will see these categories.

The “Lenscraft Chrome Profiles” is a custom category I created in Lightroom. I’m using it to hold custom Camera Profiles I created to simulate Fuji Chrome films.

The other category, “Profiles”, was created when I installed a Linear Profile to my copy of Lightroom. Let’s look at what these are and why you might want to use them.

Linear Profiles

So far, all the Profiles we have looked at apply an effect to the RAW file or image. This could be to convert the image to black and white, or perhaps it increases the colour and contrast. What’s different about the Linear camera profile is that it removes the contrast and brightness adjustments from the RAW file. The result is a rather uninspiring image, as you can see below.

Comparing the Adobe Color camera profile with a Linear profile

Here we see the same unprocessed RAW file. On the left, the image has the default Adobe Color profile applied, while the image on the right uses a Linear Profile. Notice how flat and dull it appears in comparison.

This is actually how an unprocessed RAW file looks. The bright, contrasty RAW files we are used to seeing are like that because of the camera profile the RAW converter applies.

So why go to the trouble of applying a linear profile if it makes the image look so bad?

It’s because when we apply a Linear Profile, it provides us total control over how the tones and colours of a RAW image appear. We may need to apply more “aggressive” adjustments and editing to make the image look good, but we may also end up with a better-quality image.

If you would like to download Linear Profiles for your camera, you can find them on Tony Kyper’s website: https://goodlight.us/linear-profiles.html. Yes, that’s the same Tony Kyper who developed the TK Actions Luminosity Masking panel for Photoshop. The Linear Profiles are free to download, but remember they are camera specific. You will need a different profile for each camera you use.

You will also find installation instructions on the Linear Profiles page, together with additional information about how to use them.

The Lightroom Default Profile

Now we have covered what Lightroom Profiles are, their effect on your RAW files and how to change them, we need to discuss Default Profiles. These are the profiles Lightroom assigns automatically when importing RAW files.

Have you ever had the experience of setting your camera to photograph in Black and White, but when you import the RAW files to Lightroom, they appear in colour? That’s caused by the default Profile Lightroom assigns to the RAW file. Lightroom has ignored the Profile you set in the camera to capture a black and white image, replacing it with the “Adobe Color” Profile. Fortunately, there’s a way to prevent Lightroom from changing the Camera Profile.

You can configure the default settings for RAW files in the Lightroom Preferences. This allows you to control which Profile is assigned to the RAW files as they are imported to Lightroom.

To access the Lightroom Preferences on a Mac, click the Lightroom Classic (or similar) menu. This is the first menu item on the left. You can then select the Preferences… option to display the Preferences dialog. On a Windows PC, the Preferences are found in the Edit menu.

Setting the Lightroom defaults for assigning Profiles to RAW files

In the Preferences dialog, click the Presets tab (1). Here you will find the RAW Defaults section.

Global Camera Profile Settings for RAW Files

To set the behaviour for all RAW files that you import to Lightroom, click the “Global” dropdown list (2).

The default setting is “Adobe Defaults” which is what causes the “Adobe Color” profile to be assigned to the RAW file. To use the profile set by your camera, change this to “Camera Settings”.

Now all the imported RAW files will use the Profile set in the camera at the time the photo was taken. This doesn’t apply to RAW files that have already been imported.

Camera Specific Profile Settings for RAW Files

It’s also possible to override the Global Profile settings above for specific cameras. Click the “Override Global Settings…” option (3) to do this. You can then use the dropdown controls below (4) to specify the defaults for each camera you work with.

As with the Global settings, these settings only take effect for future RAW file imports. They aren’t applied to RAW files you have already imported to Lightroom.

When to Apply Profiles

If you’ve followed the information so far, you should have a high degree of control over how Profiles are applied to your RAW files. And if you don’t like a particular Lightroom Profile, you know how to change it to one that you prefer.

But when should you do this?

The best answer, unless you have a specific reason to do something else, is at the start of your editing workflow.

Because the Lightroom Profiles can have such a significant effect on the colours and tones that you see when you view a RAW file, it should be the first thing you do before you begin editing. If you decide to change your Lightroom Profile after applying edits to the RAW file, you can find their effect appears excessively strong.

The first step when editing your RAW files in Lightroom should always be to check the Profile being used and decide if you want to change it.

Summary

We’ve covered a lot of information in this article, from what are Lightroom profiles to how and when to change them to improve your photos. Despite all the information, it is probably best summarised into two key recommendations:

  1. Make a conscious decision about which Profiles you want Lightroom to apply to RAW files by default. You can then configure the Lightroom Preferences to do this.
  2. Always start by checking the Lightroom Profile as the first step in your photo editing.

Following these two simple steps will help to ensure you produce your best results.

More Lightroom Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Lightroom Tutorials page.

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