Review: Sleeklens

There’s no photo challenge this week, so I’m taking this opportunity to sneak this post in.  I don’t sample many products, but I had the opportunity to give a Sleeklens Lightroom workflow a test run, and here’s my take on it.

Full disclosure: I was given the “Through the Woods” workflow free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  I have no affiliation with Sleeklens, I receive no commissions, and I have no incentive to encourage purchases.

What is Sleeklens?

Sleeklens is software designed as an add-on to Photoshop and Lightroom to provide presets and brushes for faster editing.  My workflow lives primarily in Lightroom (I use the static Lightroom 5, not CC), so this is what I sampled.

The “Through the Woods” workflow specifically caters to landscape photography, but they also offer workflows for portraiture, astrophotography, monochrome, and others.

Additionally, they provide a full editing service, if you’d rather not edit your photos yourself.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

First impressions

To be honest, when I first viewed their website and Pinterest and took a look at a few of their videos showcasing the workflows, I didn’t like the look of the results at all.  Most of the landscape photos look horribly over-processed, with garish HDR and comical saturation.  Some folks might desire that look, but as a photographer who strives for realistic images, this would have turned me away immediately.

In fact, because of this, I hesitated in actually trying it out.  With other crazy summer activities, I was far too busy to stray from my known workflow to try something of which I was skeptical.  But I hadn’t spent any money, and I already had it downloaded, so I gave it a whirl.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

The mechanics

The “Through the Woods” workflow comes with 89 presets and 42 adjustment brushes.  The presets are divided into segments: all-in-one, base, exposure, color, tone/tint, polish, and vignette.  They are designed to be isolated presets so that one does not impact the others.  As such, they can be “stacked” by merely applying one and following it with another, starting with 0-All In One or 1-Base and working through to 6-Vignette.  These presets can be used to lend autumn hues, boost contrast, or apply quick HDR, among others.

The brushes are similar, and they apply to all of the local adjustments (brush, radial filter, and graduated filter).  These include settings like “add golden sun” and “cloudy sky definition.”

My rules

For an adequate sampling of this software, I took a few of my previously edited photos, reset them to the SOTC (straight out of the camera) exposure, then reedited using the “Through the Woods” workflow.  I tried to use the presets and brushes as much as possible, with few additional edits.  I tried to spend about the same amount of time on a photo as I ordinarily would (or less), and I wouldn’t reference my originally edited image.  I stopped when I felt the picture looked complete, and I could then compare my old workflow with the new.

Some examples

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Original

This one surprised me a bit.  Perhaps my tastes have changed somewhat since I originally edited this photo, but I now find my initial edit to be a little oversaturated.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

My Workflow

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Sleeklens

Out of these two, I prefer the Sleeklens edit, though I know I could go back and correct what I don’t like about the first one.  The first has more color, but the second looks a bit more natural.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Original

These workflows are supposed to shine with underexposed images, so I threw this one in.  Interestingly, my opinion of the results wound up being the opposite of the above.  I really like how my initial edit turned out; there’s a good balance of color and light.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

My Workflow

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Sleeklens

The Sleeklens edit appears a bit muddled and drab.  Again, comparing the two side-by-side, I could fix what I don’t like to match what I do.  However, I edited these independently so I could get a good feel for where each would take me.  I wasn’t entirely happy with the Sleeklens edits, but I felt I would need to spend more time to get it where I wanted, which went against the rules I set for this experiment.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Original

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

My Workflow

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Sleeklens

These are almost identical, though I think I prefer the Sleeklens edit in this case.  My original looks a little HDR in comparison, and I like the color balance better from the Sleeklens image.  However, they’re admittedly similar, and I really couldn’t notice the differences unless I switched directly between the two within Lightroom.

Experience

Overall, my experience with this workflow has been positive.  However, I found many of the adjustments to simply be far too drastic.  I had to tone them all back quite a bit, desaturating many of the presets and reducing the flow/density of the brushes to a fraction of what they were.  I appreciate subtle changes that I can control without “overcooking” an image.

For example, I took this original image:

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

and applied the all-in-one “Calm Sunset” (without any other adjustments).

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

To me, this looks anything but “calm.”  It’s unpleasantly saturated, like a bad Instagram filter.

But it wasn’t without redemption.  Pulling back the saturation and cooling the white balance a bit, I get an acceptable image:

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Sleeklens

This is still more saturated and warmer than my original edit (below), but it no longer hurts my eyes.  In fact, I think I like this edit better than my non-Sleeklens photo.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

My Workflow

Beyond the necessary “toning back,” I still had to apply some adjustments from my workflow, like profile corrections, defringing, and noise reduction.  Overall, I wouldn’t say this alternate workflow saves me any time in editing

My personal tastes tend toward contrast, subtlety, and realistic color, so there are several presets and brushes I don’t see myself using (they make the image very soft or launch the HDR into the stratosphere).  For example, the color preset, “Deep Blue Skies,” sounds like something I’d use all the time, as I frequently do deepen the luminance of the blues for a richer sky.  However, it’s far overdone, and it would need significant adjustment afterwards, making manually correcting skies the faster course.  On the other hand, some presets provide a good starting point for edits, and they make me think a little bit more about different artistic interpretations.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Would I recommend it?

That depends.

If you are just starting out with photo editing, I think this software can supply a lot of options for adjustments you might not otherwise have considered.  It can also give you a taste of what Lightroom (or Photoshop) is capable of without figuring out the manual details of how to achieve those results, a good way to ease into it with some prepackaged settings.

If you prefer more finite control over your workflow, or if you’re well-versed in Lightroom/Photoshop, this might feel like a step backwards (like going to AV mode when you’re used to shooting in full manual).

As one who fits into the latter category, I probably won’t replace my workflow with one of these, and if I didn’t have it already, I don’t think I’d go out of my way to buy it.  However, I do see use in it.  For me, it’s more of a random dial I can toss in at the beginning of my workflow, from which I can spring-board to something different I wouldn’t have otherwise attempted.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

As-is, it doesn’t fully fit my style, but like anything else, it’s another tool in my arsenal that I can employ when I want to try something new.


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© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

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© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

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© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

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© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

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