The Mechanics of Engineering Color

Every photographer knows about presets—but what's more important than that is knowing their function, their limitations, and how those things align with you and your vision. Photography is about light, color, vision, and execution. Color Grading, on the other hand, is about comprehension, understanding, and application. While these two things can intersect, it's important to distinguish and separate the two.

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The function of presets

Presets were designed to create easily accessible starting points in order to achieve specific looks and color grades. At their heart, presets were intended to be places to start, not places to finish. With that in mind, presets evolved over time due to the nature that there isn't a single look that will work for every environment. That is, unfortunately, a reality with presets that doesn't get talked about enough: there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to presets.

Instead, my intention in releasing presets is to counter that notion. It's to create tangible, explainable starting points that allow you to grow, adapt, and modify your look from. With these presets, while they can work out-of-the-box, I also want to teach you how to adapt them so that you can make them much more flexible than they originally appear. The reality is that tweaking a preset is just as important as having it. Once you know how the baseline works, it makes it easy to adapt it.

With that, I'm offering a $8/month membership on Patreon to talk specifically about these things and to offer you ongoing resources and education about how to adapt these presets into a variety of looks, as well as tips and growth for color-grading in general. In addition to releasing new videos regularly, you'll have the option to submit requests for specific content that I can talk and share about in order to benefit the whole community.

The limitations of presets

Because presets aren't able to solve every need, we've done a disservice in marketing them as such--perhaps not overtly, but by not being honest about their ability (or lack of) to solve problems, we've created a culture of consumerism where everyone is pining to find "the preset" that will work. My intention is not to sell you a tchotchkes that are fun for a few days and then lost in your library forever. Instead, I want to help you invest into a set (or handful of sets) of presets that are easily modified and adjusted to meet your needs.

With that in mind, there are a few additional limitations to presets that we need to address:

1. Lighting
The core of a great photograph is great lighting. When the lighting is bad, it makes it nearly impossible for a preset to save the photo. Sure it can be a band-aid, but it won't solve the problem. The problem may not be that you haven't found your vision, instead, it may be that you're a bad photographer. And I don't say that to jab at anybody—the truth is, I make mistakes about lighting all the time. My goal, however, is to grow from these mistakes and to think intentionally about how I shoot. The process of building these presets has taught me the importance of knowing my editing style in advance so that I can shoot to best capture my subjects with the least amount of work on the end.

2. Vision
You cannot replace vision and intentionality with a preset. For the past four years, I've designed my editing off of a specific vision: cinematic, emotive, and simplicity. The edits I have are incredibly specific to the vision I've crafted in my head. The presets are a means of me applying my vision to the physical world, not a means of finding the 'right colors.' With that, a preset cannot replace your imagination. When you approach editing, it's important that you have an idea of how you want your final images to feel, not just look. When you buy someone else's preset, you're also buying their vision. If you don't know how to manifest your own vision within that preset, however, there may always be something that feels like it's missing.

3. Technical Skill

You may be an incredible photographer, but that does not mean you are a Colorist. Color Grading is it's own unique field, and while many photographers are able to succeed in color grading and balance, the reality is that not all photographers are, or should be, colorists. Presets can only get you so far if you lack technical savvy for editing and dialing in photos. Color Grading is a learned skill—early on in my career, my colors were total garbage. As they should have been, I was a novice. As I've grown my business, my skills as a colorist have also increased. With that being said, not everyone has the ability, time, or scaleability to be a great colorist. And that should be OK.

Image by  Brett and Jessica . Edited with Levi Tijerina Presets.

Image by Brett and Jessica. Edited with Levi Tijerina Presets.

Image by Sidney Morgan.  Edited by Artists

Image by Sidney Morgan. Edited by Artists


For many of you, you simply do not have the time or energy to dive into color grading. For most people who are buying presets, the reality is that they are looking for a way to streamline their editing because it either takes too long, or they feel indecisive about their style or ability to achieve their vision. With that in mind, I want to be totally candid about my presets and color grading: they're not an investment for everyone.

If that is you: if you feel like you're overwhelmed with edited, struggling to execute proper colors, or just too damn busy shooting to edit, then I'd highly suggest spending your hard-earned money on something more sustainable and life-giving: hire an editing company.

Recently, a friend of mine launched an incredible company, Edited by Artists. Edited by Artists is an photo editing company that's created by photographers, for photographers. Edited by Artists is going to have Levi Tijerina Presets on hand, so if you want that look, but know that editing is already a consistent struggle, I would suggest instead of buying these presets that you instead invest in having Edited by Artists work on a session, or a wedding, for you. Give it a try.

I created these presets with the intention of helping people reduce the amount of time editing, but in reality, for some people, the only way to reduce that time is to simply outsource it. Back in the days of film, only a handful of photographers actually developed their own photos. If they did develop them, they would have a lab tech that would help with the dodging and burning, or image adjustment of their photos. In today's world, we've somehow come to a place where you are criticized as 'less of a photographer' for outsourcing editing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Outsourcing is a sign of strength—it shows that you need to focus on other things and is illustrative of leadership, not laziness.