Photoshop Actions vs. Lightroom Presets: What’s the Difference?

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Photoshop Actions vs. Lightroom Presets: What’s the Difference?

Many of you are familiar with Photoshop actions.  Presets and actions are NOT the same, but both have a place in an efficient photo editing workflow. After reading about them, we invite you to try our free Lightroom presets, Mini Quick Clicks, which is a sampling of our full Quick Clicks Collection.

Actions and presets work in different programs:

Some differences between actions and presets:

  • Presets are settings can be applied to any photo. When you click on a preset, the settings are applied to your photo instantly. MCP’s Quick Clicks Collection presets are unique since you can stack the effects from different sections. There is no opacity control, layers or masking which is the biggest downside to presets and Lightroom. The number one reason to use presets in Lightroom is speed!  You can apply a preset, or stack presets if using MCP’s Quick Clicks Collection.  Then sync your settings to multiple images with another quick click. Easy – fast – fun.  Get the looks you want in seconds.
  • Actions, on the other hand, are a series of recorded steps.  When you click on an action, Photoshop plays each step, until it runs through everything recorded for the action. You have layers, masks, and full opacity control of the effects. They work slower and previews are not instantaneous.

Some information about Lightroom/RAW and JPG:

  • Lightroom is primarily for Raw photo editing.  Raw is a type of format you can choose to record your photos in on most DSLRs.  If you program your camera to shoot in Raw, no processing whatsoever is applied to your photos on camera.  If you program your camera to shoot JPGs, your camera will apply brightness, contrast, sharpness and possibly other adjustments to your photo.
  • People often choose to shoot in Raw because it gives them more post-processing control.  White balance and exposure are easily changed as they are not embedded into the file. Because Raw photos have none of these settings applied in camera, they often look dull the first time you see them.  Our presets for Raw photos take this into consideration and give the photo that extra pop that Raw files need.
  • Even though Lightroom is mainly for Raw editing, in recent versions you can edit JPG images as well.  Our JPG presets have lower amounts brightness, contrast and sharpness and other adjustments as well, because the camera has already processed the photo for you.  Applying a Raw preset to a JPG would essentially double the amount of these settings on a photo, making it look blown out and full of contrast.
  • If you shoot Raw, you have to convert the files in a software like Lightroom before opening them into Photoshop. Most cameras also come with a simple Raw converter. For new cameras, older versions of Lightroom, may not be able to open your files.  In this case, you may need to update your software or use the disc that came with your camera model so that the Raw data can interpreted.
  • Actions don’t work on unprocessed Raw photos, because once a photo is opened into Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, it is no longer Raw.  It has been “converted” by Lightroom.  Part of this conversion includes adding brightness, contrast and sharpness.

Should you purchase actions, presets or both?  It depends on your editing style, how important speed is in your workflow, and how much fine tuning and control you want while editing.  Also, it is important to make sure you own the software that works with the actions or presets so you do not end up with a digital paperweight.  Without the proper software, our products do nothing.

Fact 1: Lightroom Presets are faster.

Fact 2: Photoshop Actions are more adjustable.

Our opinion: If you use a Raw editor, like Lightroom, presets and actions fit perfectly into your workflow.

Summary of the pros and cons of editing with Presets or Actions:

Preset Pros

  • Work in Lightroom 2,  3, 4+
  • MCP’s Quick Clicks Collection work on RAW and Jpg images.
  • Individual settings of the preset can be adjusted.
  • Apply hundreds of MCP looks instantly.
  • Preview the looks in a split second – no waiting for actions to “run”

Preset Cons

  • Don’t use layers and have no way to reduce the opacity of an overall effect without adjusting multiple settings or utilizing Photoshop.
  • Don’t have layer masks – though Lightroom does feature a Local Adjustment brush for making some targeted changes.
  • Don’t work in Photoshop.

Actions Pros

  • Work in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements
  • Come in 2 versions:
    1. Photoshop
    2. Photoshop Elements (not every set we have works in PSE)
  • Use layers and can easily adjust opacity of a look
  • Have layer masks to apply adjustments locally

Actions Cons

  • Don’t work on Raw photos because the photos aren’t Raw anymore, once opened in Photoshop or PSE.
  • Raw photos must be converted in software like Lightroom before running actions on them in Photoshop or Elements
  • Actions are not fast as using Lightroom.
  • Harder to achieve consistent looks without the ability to syncing files in LR.
Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™
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  1. Olive
    January 9, 2013 at 8:42 pm —

    So… if you are using Lightroom (RAW) and using a pre-set you are working in RAW and the presets are to a RAW therefore a cleaner image? In PSE you open as RAW and it opens in PSE and is still a RAW file (according to the file number within the tab)but you are saying that the image once it comes out of ACR it is no longer a raw file and therefore would not be a cleaner edit hence Lightroom and the presets?
    I just want to be sure I understand all of this… Jodi you are the go to on this for me.

  2. Kelli
    December 19, 2011 at 12:10 am —

    Very helpful! I’ve been trying to get a more comprehensive overview of the the difference in Lightroom and PS and decide if I needed to consider purchasing Lightroom. I still haven’t decided, but this helps!

  3. Melissa Burns
    October 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm —

    Thanks so much for this wonderful explanation!! You cleared a question I’ve always had about Raw images.

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Photoshop Actions vs. Lightroom Presets: What’s the Difference?