My Adventure Through the Woods with Sleeklens
Pentax K3 with Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 +CPL @ 12mm; ISO100; f/8; 4 seconds.
Cathedral of Ferns, Blue Mountains – NSW Australia. An image from my back catalogue I didn't give much thought to until I tried Sleeklens presets on it.
Disclaimer: Sleeklens provided these presets and brushes to me at no cost and asked only for a review. There was no other conditions placed and no offer beyond this. As such, I am free to provide an honest review.
When I was given the opportunity to review the Sleeklens product; Through the Woods, I was not initially keen. This is no indictment on Sleeklens per-se, but rather the result of my stubborn insistence on sticking with my own ad-hoc workflows. As a landscape photographer who started in film, I have historically been satisfied to walk away from a day's shoot with one or two quality images which I spend hours in Photoshop finalising every detail. Of course, this is a luxury for the hobbyist or fine art print professional, but for those of us in between, who need to work on more images in tighter deadlines, this can be a very restricting practice. As such, this opportunity came at a time when I was looking for new ways to improve both the speed and quality of my post—processing workflows.
What is Sleeklens?
So instead of dismissing without second thought, I did some research into the company and was immediately impressed by their mission. Sleeklens is a Danish company specialising with workflows for photographers in both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. To be clear, they are not offering much to my relief, workflow solutions that will process your photographs with little or no personal input. If this is what you're looking for, then the best option might be to simply set your camera to JPEG and choose one of the many in-camera styling presets. The Sleeklens option is designed to give you some templates to work through, in a logically presented sequence, which can then be easily tweaked to your own taste and image requirements.
How does it work?
The version I tested was the Lightroom set so this review will only cover Lightroom workflows. In short, the set can be broken into two workflows – presets which cover the image globally, and brushes (including both radial and straight gradients) for local adjustments. With the presets, you can either apply them individually to images, or alternatively set them to automatically apply to all images as you import them into (or export from) Lightroom. This last is something which I tend not to do as every image needs different adjustments for my style of photography, but if you're working on large volumes of images taken with very similar exposure, white balance, contrast adjustments required such as weddings and events, then I can see the benefit of this approach.
An image I took recently with my Sony A7ii with Samyang 14mm f/2 @ f/11; ISO 200; 1/100s. Huge dynamic range and a little disappointing but brought back to life with Sleeklens presets.
Does this do anything you can't do yourself?
No... and Yes.
While the presets adjust the sliders in the develop module the same way you would do, the real strength that I found, aside from simply speeding up this process, is that simultaneous adjustments allow you to quickly and easily see how your image can look based on the provided templates. This was a real surprise to me, not just for Sleeklens but for quality presets as a tool. When you make your incremental, single adjustments it is often difficult to see how each can affect the final image in combination. When done as a combination, the effects have much greater impact. On the left of the develop module, you have the presets panel. With the Through the Woods set, they are presented in a numbered sequence which you can follow (or ignore). Beginning at 0 for All in One changes which affect all (or some of) the slider groups to the right. Alternatively the preset groups are then numbered 1 through 6 which affect the sliders in each of the develop groups in order from Basic to Effects. Of course, as this is Lightroom, you can undo whole effect changes, simply alter individual sliders at any time, or combine presets to get the look you're after. Be mindful however that as this is not Photoshop, there are no layers and as such, changes in the same group, or indeed from the All in One group will tend to override each other as you can't combine changes in the same slider.
What Sleeklens does offer however is Recipes.
When I first perused the Recipes offered with the bundle, I was unsure what they were about, but I soon learned how Sleeklens offers sample images in a before / after context, with a series of selections of presets used in order to achieve the final result. This is all supported by free video tutorials with step-by-step workflows.
I tested these recipes out early as I had an image similar to the sample image in the video, and followed the recipe to achieve the below result – all just a couple of minutes on the computer.
Sony A7ii with Samyang 14mm f/2 @ f/11; ISO 100; 1/200s.
When I initially imported this image, I dismissed it early and wasn't going to process it any further. Sleeklens – Through the Woods presets allowed to quickly see the potential that I initially missed.
I now have not only a new tool in my processing tool kit, but a whole new tool kit on top of my existing work flows. Once I'd spent about 30 minutes or so to understand the workings, I was having a lot of fun with these. I started going back to old images, some I had already worked on and some I'd never touched and thought unworthy of my portfolio. I kept going for hours on my back catalogue playing with different presets for fun.
Pentax K5 with Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 + CPL @ 10mm; ISO80; f14; 30 seconds. Although I was originally happy with this composition, the lighting was a little flat and colours lacked impact.
After some minor tweaks using the Sleeklens Presets and brushes, the images has more drama, better light and more pop.
I can honestly say that I'm a convert, my first stop in my post-processing workflow is now the Sleeklens presets, even before I decide if an image will make it into my portfolio.