Now that I have used Lightroom Classic for many years, developing photos from two different camera systems (Canon EOS and Fujifilm X-series), I have realized that Lightroom Classic profiles are the most important setting in the Develop module.
The profile determines the contrast and color interpretation of the photo. It’s the starting point for developing the Raw file. The point you start from is always important as it affects the decisions you make as you work on the file (you’ll see this in action with a practical example below).
Another way of thinking of it is that the profile you chose becomes part of your developing style.
When I make photos of my son Alex I develop them using the Classic Chrome style (for Fujifilm X series cameras only). This helps me give the photos a consistent look, so they look as if they belong together and were made by the same photographer.
For example, I made the two photos below ten months apart, but the style is similar because I used the same profile.
It’s more productive than using different profiles, and different developing styles (perhaps influenced by Develop Presets), which can lead to a confused developing style that chops and changes and never settles on a single approach.
That’s not to say you can’t experiment, but you need to understand that there are times when it’s better to be consistent.
Why do Lightroom Classic profiles exist?
In order to understand why we have profiles in Lightroom Classic we have to go back in time. Do you remember the days when all photographers used film cameras and Photoshop was merely a glint in a software engineer’s eye? Many professionals and hobbyists used slide film for the quality and/or commercial requirements. But with slide film (prior to Photoshop at least) there was no way to alter the color treatment after the photo was taken. Color negative film was more flexible as you could alter the color balance when printing. But your options were still limited compared to Raw files or scanned film.
Back then, color treatment was largely determined by the film stock used. For example, many landscape photographers used Fuji’s Velvia slide film because of its fine grain, high contrast and saturated colors. But the color of Velvia was totally unsuitable for portraits. So photographers used another type of film that rendered color more subtly and gave flattering skin tones. The ability to match film to subject was an essential skill. Many photographers experimented with a variety of film types until they found the ones that suited them best.
Profiles in digital cameras
Early digital cameras had primitive color controls and the result was that every photo from the same camera had the same color treatment. You could adjust the colors if you went deep enough into the menu system but it wasn’t straightforward. Then camera makers made things easier by building color profiles into their cameras, and profiles were born. Profiles are the modern equivalent of using different types of film for different subjects.
Camera profile terminology
Every manufacturer gives their camera profiles a different name.
Canon: Picture Style
Nikon: Picture Control
Sony: Creative Style
Pentax: Custom Image
Olympus: Picture Mode
Sigma: Color Mode
Fujifilm: Film Simulation
For example, some of the Picture Styles available on a Canon EOS camera are Standard, Landscape, Portrait, Faithful, Neutral and Monochrome. Most of these are self-explanatory. Other camera makers use variations of these names.
Where are Profiles in Lightroom Classic?
Profiles have been located at the top of the Basic panel in the Develop module since the 7.3 (April 2018) release of Lightroom Classic. You can select a limited number of Profiles using the Profile menu or access all profiles by clicking the Profile browser icon (the one with four squares, see below).
Before that, Profiles were located in the Calibration panel. Note that if you’re using Lightroom 6 (or older) then the Profile setting is still in the Calibration panel.
The earliest versions of Lightroom only had Adobe Standard as a Profile choice. This probably explains why the Camera Calibration panel was placed at the bottom. The profile setting wasn’t so important as there was only one choice.
How many Profiles does Lightroom Classic have?
The exact number depends on the camera used, but there are more than 60 – a huge improvement on the early Lightroom days! This includes Adobe Raw Profiles (Adobe Color etc.), camera matching Profiles, black and white Profiles and more. If you haven’t done so before go take a look at the Profile Browser to see the available options. Combined with Adobe’s own Develop Presets, you now have lots of options for creative developing.
Learn more: How To Use The Lightroom Classic Profile Browser
Profile and developing choices in Lightroom Classic’s Develop module
So, how much of a difference does the Profile setting make to your developing?
Consider this landscape photo, made in Spain. I’ve developed it with three different Profiles – Velvia, Classic Chrome and B&W 05. As you can see, the color treatment of each photo is different. The first has deep, saturated colors. The second has faded colors, a slight color cast and more contrast. The third is in black and white. And that’s just from changing the Profile, I didn’t adjust any other setting in these examples.
One Raw file, three approaches to developing and three very different outcomes.
So, remember, when you start developing a file in Lightroom Classic, set the Profile first. Do it first as it affects contrast as well as color. Then get to work on the other Develop module settings afterwards.
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