Sunday, October 23, 2016

Product Review - Sleeklens Presets and Brushes for Lightroom

I was recently given an opportunity to review a set of develop presets and adjustment brushes designed for use in Adobe Lightroom.   The folks at sleeklens package their presets and brushes into what they call workflows.  The workflow I reviewed was "Through The Woods".

Sleeklens provides a series of video tutorials on how to use the Through The Woods workflow.  You can view those here -

What makes these different from the million and one other presets available?  The biggest difference is these are designed to be used in a workflow.  Presets are applied from global to more targeted changes.  Then the brushes are used for changes to specific areas of an image.   These all work together in a consistent fashion.

They are also stackable - each preset only changes specific settings for the named effect without changing other develop settings.   This allows you to apply multiple presets to a photo.

To evaluate the presets and brushes I picked a few images from a recent trip and edited them.  Here are the results.

If you click an image you will be able to view it larger and use the arrow keys to walk through each step.

Step 1 - Unedited RAW image from a Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105mm @105mm, f/14, 0.5 second, ISO 100.
Unedited Raw Image

Step 2 - All In One - Shine Into the Sunset preset applied.
Shine Into the Sunset Preset
In one click this preset changed contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, clarity, vibrance, overall saturation, orange saturation, shadows toning, sharpening, and noise reduction.  This is definitely a nice improvement applied in just one click.

This brings up one issue I have with presets in general.  This preset made these detail changes

That's more sharpening than I typically use.  I applied the preset to multiple photos from different cameras at high and low ISO settings. In each case, the sharpening and noise reduction were the same, which may not be appropriate for all photos. When I applied the preset to an image taken on a Fuji XT-1 at ISO 1000 the level of noise introduced was not acceptable for me.   I would have to reduce the sharpening and increase the noise reduction on that image. You have to be careful with any presets to make sure they aren't making changes you don't want.

Step 3 - Base - Autumn Colors.  This preset made changes to the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance sliders to emphasize the warm colors.  It also changed the Split Toning, overwriting those changes that were done in step 2.
Base - Color - Autumn Colors Preset
I really didn't care for the color in this step.  I hit control-z to undo that preset.

Step 4 - Because the All In One and Base presets were changing too many things at once, I stepped into the Exposure presets.  Applying the Exposure - Less Highlights changed the Tone Curve to reduce the Highlights and Lights. I like what this did for the brighter areas at the top of the image.

Exposure - Less Highlights
Step 5 - Making it Pop!   I wanted to bring out the autumn colors and make them really pop. Clicking the Warm It Up preset didn't do what I expected.  Instead, it changed the Split Toning and made the image less warm. I backed this change out.

I then tried Polish - Punch It Up, which bumped up the Vibrance and Saturation.  It also reduced the Clarity, which I didn't expect.  I did like the effect and decided to keep it.

Step 6 - Vignette.  I almost always apply a gentle dark vignette to my photos.  I tried the Vignette - Medium Black and Vignette - Subtle Black presets and decided on something in between.   I manually adjusted the Amount on the Post-Crop Vignetting to split the difference.

Punch It Up and Dark Vignette Applied
At this point, I decided the image looked pretty good and was where I wanted the image as far as presets.   Time to try out the adjustment brushes.

Step 7 - Adjustment Brushes.  Adjustment Brushes are one of the most powerful tools in Lightroom and one I use often.  Lightroom comes with a handful.  Sleeklens adds several more.  I applied the following brushes:

  • Reduce Highlights to the upper center where the forest was still a little bright.  This didn't go far enough so I dropped the exposure setting on the brush a little.
  • Intense Sunlight to some of the trees where the leaves had started turning golden.   This brush warmed the color (temp), brightened the highlights, bumped the saturation and applied an orange color.  This was a bit too intense for me so I reduced the saturation of the orange color.
  • Subtle Sunset Haze - I applied this to some of the trees to reduce the contrast, bump up the highlights, shadows, clarity, and saturation, and apply a light orange color.  This is a more appropriate brush for this image.

There are many other brushes that I tried, but these three were all that I felt I needed on this image.   Here's the final result.

That's just one example.  Here are some before/after images






OK, if you have read this far you are looking for the bottom line.   Everything that I did with the sleeklens presets and brushes could have been done manually.   As a long time Lightroom user I can zip through post processing pretty fast and typically don't use presets.   I do use brushes and having the sleeklens brushes will improve my productivity and creativity.

If I was new to Lightroom and didn't know how to manipulate all the myriad of adjustments to get a particular desired effect then the presets would be useful.  They are short-cuts.  Short-cuts will get you to somewhere faster, but may not get you what you want in the end.  Even beginners should not rely on presets entirely.

All the sleeklens workflows, including Through The Woods, sell for $39 each.  They also offer money saving bundles.   Is it worth it?   That's a tough call for me. An experienced Lightroom user may not find the workflows save them much time.  Casual and beginner Lightroom users will probably find the workflows to be a great boost to their productivity and creativity.

There are many free presets that can be downloaded and installed at no cost.  Just google "free lightroom presets" or "free lightroom brushes" and you will be presented with more options than you know what to do with.  Why would you pay $39 for a set when you can find others for free?  By purchasing the sleeklens presets you get a set of tools that work together well.  The free stuff, maybe not so much.

Finally, I want to say that sleeklens provided a free copy of the Through The Woods workflow in return for an honest review.  I have not been influenced by sleeklens and have given my honest opinion here.

I welcome questions.  Just drop me a note on the Contact Me page on my main gallery -

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The People Have Spoken! Finalists For My 2017 Calendar

The results are in.   I can now tell you which 14 photos made the cut and will be on the 2017 calendar.

First Place - Northern Lights

The Winners - Top 14

Place Title Votes
1 Northern Lights 34
2 Milky Way 32
3 Sunset and Layers 30
4 America! 27
5 Beam Me Up 26
6 Crabtree Falls 25
6 Red 25
6 Snow Covered Reflections 25
6 Sunset on Fort Patrick Henry Lake 25
10 View from Roan Mountain 24
11 Fall In The Smokies 23
12 Little Church in The Cove 22
12 Rolling Fall Color 22
14 Appalachian Trail 21

The Others

Place Title Votes
15 Angry Seas 19
16 Bleeding Hearts 18
16 Tree Ornaments 18
18 Mountain Bluff Reflections 17
19 Standing Firm 16
19 String of Pearls 16
21 Cool Mountain Stream 15
21 Fall Sunset 15
21 Waves of Grass 15
24 Foggy Morning 13
24 Tennessee Barn 13
26 Fall Kayak Trip 12
26 Rhododendrons 12
26 Tulips 12
29 Bloom From The Backside 10
29 High Surf in Iceland 10
29 Ice Lagoon 10
32 Linville River, NC 9
32 Pink Dogwood Blooms 9
34 Clematis in Bloom 8
34 Wild Columbine 8
36 Fall Reflections 7
37 Focus 6
You can view the photos in order by going to 

Every year I am surprised by which photos you like and the ones that fall to the bottom list.   I really shouldn't be all that surprised because I learn the same things each year.
  • This is the first year I have included night sky photos and they were very popular, placing first and second.
  • Landscapes are the most popular.
  • People don't want to see a flower photo on their calendar for an entire month.  They really don't want to see a big bee on a flower.
  • Photos that were taken in this region tend to do better than those taken elsewhere.

What surprises did you see in the results?  

I've started the process of laying out the calendar.   I'm going to change up the style just a little bit this year.  I think you'll like the results.   

I'll be ordering the calendars from the printer in a couple weeks. My goal is to run out just before Christmas and that has worked out every year so far.  It helps if I have a good idea of how many will be needed.  

If you would like to order one or more calendars:

  1. Send me an email letting me know how many you want.
  2. I'll send you an email with info on how to pay for them.  They are $15 each, plus $3 shipping if I mail them to you.  Free personal delivery if you live in the Kingsport area. 
  3. I'll be delivering the calendars during November and December.

Calendars make great Christmas gifts for the people on your list who have everything.   They can be great gifts for your business clients as well.  Buy from me, support a great ministry and avoid the crowds at the big box stores.

Thanks to the 47 people who voted this year.  You really make my job easier and the calendar better.   If I had picked you might have seen photos from the bottom of the list on the 2017 calendar.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

No Debate About It - Only three more days to vote!

Time is running out on voting for the favorite photos on my 2017 calendar.  The deadline is midnight, Friday, September 30.

So far 39 people have voted.  Here are some hints on how things are coming out.
Will this photo make the cut?

  • The first and second place photos have been within one vote of each other for a while.  
  • There are several ties, which means your vote really counts!
    • Three in fourth place
    • Three in seventh
    • Two in eleventh
    • Two in fourteenth
    • plus several others
  • I was hoping that America! ( Navy Seal Parachutist) would be in the top 14 so I can use it for July.   No problem there as that one is currently in fourth place.
  • There are no flowers in the top 14.  The closest is in 22nd place.  If you want to see flowers on the 2017 calendar, better get your votes in.
In case you missed it, here's how to vote -

I will be starting the process of putting the calendar together this weekend.  Once that starts, it will be too late to vote, but not too late to order.  Remember, ordering is easy -- just send me an email at and let me know how many you want.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Early Voting Results

It's only been two days and I've already received about half as many ballots as I did last year.  We're
well on the way to selecting the photos for the 2017 calendar!  Just as the media will do on November 8, I'm going to give you early reports on how the voting is progressing.

Voting Has Started

  • There are 37 candidate photos.
  • I've received ballots from 23 people so far.
  • Every photo has received a vote, but the last place photo has only received 2! It's not looking good for number 37.
  • The first place photo was voted for by 70% of the people voting so far.
  • June and I only had one big trip this year and that was to Iceland.  Three out of six photos from Iceland are in the running, including the first place photo.
  • Ten of the top 13 photos were taken within 100 miles from home.   One was taken in my own backyard.  Last year, two winners were taken from my backyard.   Just goes to show you don't have to travel far to make nice photographs.

Want to know which photo is in the lead right now?   Click here to find out.

Voting will continue one more week until Friday, September 30.   We sure to get your vote in so you can help pick the photos for the 2017 calendar.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

It's Time For You To Vote!

It's Time For You To Vote!

No, it's not November 8th just yet.   However, it is time for you to help pick the photos to go on my 2017 wall calendar.  Each year I invite anyone who has bought one of my calendars in the past or intends to buy one this year to help select the 14 photos to be included in the next year's calendar.  It's time for you to start the voting for the 2017 calendar photos.

Will one of these photos make the 2017 edition?
Appalachian Trail
Northern Lights
Crabtree Falls
The fun part is you get to help pick the 14 photos (12 months, plus the front and back covers).  In the past, I have picked some of my favorites before letting you vote on the rest.  This year I'm leaving it wide open and you get to vote on all of them.

The candidate photos are available online at

These were all taken in the past 12 months and include photos from Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Michigan and Iceland.  The best way to browse through the photos is to click on the first small thumbnail to zoom in on that photo.  You can then use the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard to flip through the full-size versions.  
How To Vote
Each photo has a title, such as Appalachian Trail, that displays at the bottom of the photo.

Send the names of your 14 picks (the order doesn't matter) to me at by midnight Friday, September 30 .  I will total up the votes and announce the winners on Saturday, October 1.

Cost and Ordering
The calendars are still only $15 each and all the profit goes to support Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport.

To order send an email to Richard Siggins at  Calendars will be available for pickup or delivery in Kingsport starting in the second week of November.   They can be mailed to you for $3.
Please help by forwarding this to your friends and family or sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

When Nature Doesn't Provide, Get Creative

As an outdoor / landscape photographer, I'm at the mercy of nature.   The wind, light, clouds and other conditions, can make really nice photographs.   More often than not, the conditions are not all that conducive to making good photographs.  Such was the case this morning at Warriors Path State Park.

I had gone there to scope out photography opportunities for a photography class I'm teaching.   My students will meet me there Saturday morning and I want to have some idea if I should take them left or right in search of photographs.  I wandered around for a while not finding much to capture my attention.  At one point I found this branch sticking out of the surface of the lake.  I tried to create something in the minimalist style and came up with this.

Not much there to get excited about.   Then I recalled throwing pebbles into the water to create ripples, making a scene possibly a little more interesting.   Lucky for me the lake shore was littered with round rocks perfect for tossing in the lake.   The results weren't much better.  Then I tossed a bigger rock in the lake and the splash caught my eye.

What if I zoomed in and captured the water splashing up?  The sunlight was coming from the side, making the splash brighter than the reflections in the water and highlighting the texture of the water drops in mid-air without being too bright. It was only me doing the tossing and shooting, but I had plenty of time and rocks.   I would toss a rock, put my camera up to my eye, guess where the rock would hit the surface and try to time the shot just right.  Let's just say I played the law of averages - take enough photos that one or two may work out.   People out for their morning walk at the park probably shook their head and the crazy guy with the camera down on the lake shore.

Here are the results of my creative rock tossing.

Bass jumping with mouth open

Jumping Leaf

Water Fountain

Man Looking Over A Wall

See The Face?

All were taken at 200mm, f/4.5, ISO 400 - 800.   Shutter speeds varied between 1/250 and 1/800.

In the end, I had fun and created some fun scenes to photograph.   Don't let conditions keep you from shooting.   Go out and see what you can find and maybe even create some really cool conditions for photography.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Look Behind

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.
― Bil Keane (The Family Circus)

We know we should always look ahead and not dwell on the past.  It's unhealthy and there is nothing we can do to change the past.

There are times we should literally look behind us, such as stepping back or just before changing lanes on an interstate highway.  It's helpful to remember to look behind when making photos as well.

Recently, I was looking at the beauty of creation in front of me while making these images on a foggy morning in Cades Cove.

Trees In The Fog

Fog can be an opportunity to capture some interesting surreal images.   The sunlight is diffused by the fog creating nice soft light.   Soft light is perfect for close up flower photos.

Yellow Wildflowers
After concentrating on the yellow wildflowers, I happened to turn around and saw this!

Sunbeam Lighting The Way

The sun broke through the fog and created this beautiful beam of sunlight across the road.  I quickly changed lenses and made this photo before the conditions changed and the sunbeam was gone.

When we're photographing outdoors we can get fixated on the subjects that are in front of us and thinking about the next photo opportunity just down the road.  Remember to take the shot in front of you, then stop and look around.  You may find the best photo is behind you.