Lightroom Tips

Is it wrong to steal Lightroom presets?

Whew! Who knew an innocent tool from a talented guy would incite a discussion like we had the other day. I held back from posting so I could respond here with my thoughts. Before we get to it, a couple of things:
1) I was extremely impressed with the quality of comments. Its definitely a touchy subject and very important to some people. For the most part (yes there were some meanies who had to resort to name calling), the comments were all in good faith and people were respectful of each other (which is hard to find in this online world of anonymity).
2) What you’re about to read below will definitely incite some equally heated comments. All I ask is that you keep them respectful – whatever your opinion is fine. Just be respectful to each other (oh and to me too). Cool? Thanks!

First off, I feel for Mike WiacekI feel for Mike. He created a cool program that did something really neat. Over 2000 people downloaded on that first day. One person from another country complained and threatened legal action. Mike, not knowing the legalities of lawsuits coming from that country, decided to take his tool down. I don’t blame him. The threat of legal action from some one in another country sounds scary. I’m no legal expert by any means, but I’m pretty sure he’s OK and has nothing to worry about so I hope he puts it back up. But that doesn’t change the real debate here because, regardless of country of residence, there seems to be a fundamental difference of opinion here of whether or not this “preset lifting” is right or not. So I’m leaving legalities out of it (since I don’t really know what’s right or wrong here) and just concentrating on the artistic/ethical issue of whether this is right or wrong.

Just look at the drug companiesPage (one of the commenters from the post in question), brought up a great point. Just look at some of the medicines in the drug stores. Advil, Nyquil, Sudafed, etc… all of them have generic equivalents that you can pick up at Walmart. Same ingredients with a different name. Advil makers can’t do a thing about the WalMart-Vil equivalent of their product. They can’t copyright or own 150mg of Propylparaben in their drug (or any combination of ingredients) just like you can’t copyright or own f/2.8 at 1/250th or a Vibrance setting of 35 (or any combination of develop settings).

Lets move to an art exampleLets say I create a piece of fine art with various woods and plastics. You know, the kind you see in a fancy art museum or gallery with a price tag of $45K that no one would ever buy 🙂 What tools did the artist use to create that art? Take the illegal mind altering substances out of the equation and you’re left with maybe a hammer, glue, maybe a miter saw, screwdriver, drill, and other various tools. Can they declare that they own a 45 degree setting with a 9 degree bevel of the miter saw since that’s the setting they used to create the art? Can they own 8 turns of a phillips head screwdriver because that’s what they used? Its silly to even think about right?

Now, lets keep it simple when it comes to a photography exampleOK, lets break this down to a really simple example. Lets take 3 settings – Aperture, shutter speed and focal length. Those 3 settings are included in the metadata of a photo right? Now lets say I take a photo at Mesa Arch in Utah. You know, one of the ones with the sun rising through the arch that I posted a while back (and a photo that tens of thousands of people have likely taken while standing in the same spot). Then I post that photo on Flickr (or any website).

Now you look at my metadata and find that I shot it at f/22 with a 1/10 of a second shutter speed, at 17mm using my Nikon 17-55mm lens. You take your Nikon camera, your 17-55mm lens and set up exactly where I did and shoot the same photo at f/22 with a shutter speed at 1/10 of a second at 17mm. Did you break any laws? Nope. Artistically or ethically, have you done anything wrong? Heck no! So why when you add a Vibrance setting to the metadata or a Contrast slider setting does it become a problem? There is no governing body that states that I can copy your shutter speed and aperture setting but I can’t copy your Vibrance setting. They’re all part of the metadata and as far as legalities are concerned, I don’t think the law can/will discern between the two.

Does knowing my settings make your photos great?Its funny this came up because Scott Kelby and I had a discussion the other week about a question we get a lot. Somebody will see a portrait or a photo that one of us has taken and say “Hey, that’s a great photo. What was your shutter speed and aperture setting for that photo?”. Its almost as if they think knowing that information will make their portraits better. If I take a photo of my cute kid outdoors at a park at f/8 and 1/250 of a second, it doesn’t mean that if you take a photo of your kid at a park using the same settings yours will be just as good. There’s the light, the time of day, the location (under a tree or not), the lens, the distance the child is from me, the expression, and a number of other things that contribute to my photo being good. Just because you copy my settings doesn’t mean you have a great photo.

Here’s another example. I give away free presets on this site all the time. Just because you apply my presets (which look good on my photos), to your photos doesn’t mean they’re going to be great. There’s still a lot of things that need to happen for your photo to be great.

Good isn’t GreatOne commenter wrote: “Am I alone in believing, with all the presets, EXIF rippers, digital editing programs in general, that it no longer takes much talent to be a photographer?”. Come on! Seriously? Do you really think talent is no longer required?

Things get better, easier, faster and with better quality all the time. Its easier to be a good photographer today then it was 10 years ago. 10 years ago, it was easier to be a good photographer then it was 10 years before that. But good isn’t great. And great is what counts in just about any field. Can anyone look at a portrait and copy its settings and add them to their own photos. Of course. Does it mean they’ll have a great photo. Of course not. They still need a great subject, shot in great light with spot-on exposure settings and with great quality equipment. Remember, good isn’t great. While technology (like Mike’s preset extractor) makes it easier to be a photographer with nice photos (honestly, this happens in just about every other profession and hobby out there), it also ups the bar. The great ones will always be great because they’ll find a way to make it work.

Get over it!Sorry, but I’m going to close this by saying get used to it and get over it. Regardless of whether photography is just a hobby or you’re a pro, worrying about your develop settings ain’t gonna help. You’re going to need something more then your precious Develop settings. Whether you like it or not, your effect/style will be copied and shown to the masses if its a good one. Dare I say that you should be so lucky to have people care about your work that much to copy its style. In a way, its the ultimate form of flattery. That doesn’t mean they can copy your photos from your site onto theirs and claim them as their own. That’s stealing and illegal. But copying your style and your recipe is not. Its what sets the bar higher and higher and forces us to get better and better.

In the end, you can’t copyright and own Vibrance=15, Clarity=52, Temp=6750. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Note: Remember. Before you click the Submit button on your comment take a deep breath. Read it again and make sure you’re not a meanie.