How to evaluate a new program or purchase


When I picked Visual Supply Co Lightroom presets as a pick on The Digi Show episode #54, I knew I would need to do a post about it as well. I had never heard of this company until I read Heddy’s post on photo management in Lightroom. When I saw how gorgeous her photos looked, I decided that I *needed* to add these beautiful preset options to my own collection. It’s an expensive program though, and I’ve had a few people (namely, my Mom) ask me to give them a bit more of an in-depth peek at what can be done with these.

I realize that not all of our readers use Lightroom. (It’s also available for Aperture or Camera Raw). I also understand that not all of our readers will want to fork over more than $100 right now to purchase this bundle of presets. That is perfectly ok, and this post will still be useful to everyone.

How to evaluate if it’s right for you:

What I really hope to illustrate is how to evaluate if a program or a purchase is the right fit for you. Most software programs allow some sort of trial or at least give you some visual samples to look at. The Visual Supply Co is no exception – they have a full page of examples to scroll through. When you mouse over the images, it will tell you the preset they used.


If you want to check out the features for any program before you buy, use the following steps:

  • See if there’s a free download. Adobe has them. Visual Supply Co. does not. If there is a free trial, go ahead and download it and play around. You will get a good idea of whether or not you will want to buy it. Remember though, don’t be too quick to judge as there is a learning curve to anything new.
  • If there is not a free download, look around for samples, video tutorials, reviews, or anything other pertinent information. I did a Google search for a video tutorial on using the VSCO film filters in Lightroom 3 and found this video from the actual company. It always helps to see something in action! Once I found that video, it lead me to their official Vimeo channel where there are several other video tutorials to watch.
  • Ask a trusted friend. I know Heddy well enough to know that if she likes a product, that I probably will too. She doesn’t just throw around recommendations lightly. I felt comfortable buying these presets because I have seen Heddy’s results with them. When I make a pick on The Digi Show, I know that listeners are trusting my opinion so I try to be careful to pick high quality things to recommend.

If you buy it, be sure to really try it!

Another important point I want to bring up is that the best way to learn a new program is to go in and play around with it. Try all the buttons. You won’t break anything, there’s always the “undo” feature! Wouldn’t it be a shame to buy a new expensive tool and never try it out?

It’s easy to purchase a new program or software tweak and then never do anything with it because you need to “spend some time learning about it first.” The best way to learn is to actually DO something with it! I’m guilty of this mistake myself. I downloaded the VSCO film presets and played with them for about 15 minutes, and then have not gotten back to them for lack of time. The great thing about putting together this post is that it forced me to dig in and try things out.

Here’s my original unedited photo


I used a simple preset of Nikon Fuji 400 H+ to get this look:


I used some of the VSCO tools for this one in the following order: Fading/Toning Creamy Highlights, Fill Light +, Vignette ++


Here’s one with auto black level and Contrast ++


One last example with Nikon Kodak Tri-X 400+ and Grain +++


Making up a sample sheet with some different options is another great way to visualize what you can do with a program. It’s also helpful to go back and undo each preset after you apply it to see what it looks like each step of the way.

After playing around with these presets even more, I would say that they are probably something that will be most appreciated by professional or semi-professional level photographers. You do need to try different combinations to get creative looks and the is a fairly short list of auto presets. However, if you feel comfortable making editing adjustments, the possibilities are wide open and you can get some great results.

It’s nearly impossible for me to tell someone (even my own Mom) if they should get a certain program, because the final answer relies on whether or not they will actually use it. The bottom line is up to the purchaser to evaluate the information and determine if the benefits outweigh the cost. If you find yourself stuck in the evaluation process, be sure to try the steps in this post to help you make an informed decision.

katie big

P.S. The title image was created with sample photos of the VSCO presets and Heather Hess’ The Dry Ribbon font.

P.P.S. The winners from last week’s designer features were: CKC Purple for Laura Banasiak and Azika for Sugary Fancy.