Free Lightroom Presets – Tonal Contrast Effect

One of my favorite effects in Photoshop plug-ins is the Tonal Contrast effect. onOne Software’s Perfect Effects has it, and Nik has it as well. But I know that lots of people still don’t use 3rd party plug-ins, so I set out to try to recreate the effect in Lightroom. After trying a bunch of different combinations I think I came pretty close.

Now, there’s definitely something in the “special sauce” that the plug-in companies use. So if you have the plug-ins (or are thinking of getting one), I’d still use them. Given the choice, I’d use the Perfect Effects Tonal Contrast effect before I’d ever use the one that I have here. But for those that don’t, this is a great alternative to help get that gritty/edgy/contrasty look right in Lightroom. Plus, as you can see below, it works on all kinds of photos – from portraits to travel to just about anything. As usual, there’s 3 different versions (Light, Medium, Strong).

NOTE: I’m going to put my usual HDR disclaimer here too, because I find that tonal contrast effects have a similar HDR-ish feel to them. So, here goes: If HDR (or tonal contrast) is the kind of thing that incites anger and criticism from you, then these presets aren’t for you. Don’t download, don’t try them out and don’t leave a negative comment on how HDR (or tonal contrast) is bastardizing photography and how everyone that uses it is a horrible person ;)

Here’s a few samples. You really have to try the presets out though, since they don’t show up as well when the images are small.

Hope you enjoy. Have a good one!

  • T.J. Powell

    Thank Matt, I really like this effect, especially on sports photos.

  • Danny Vukobratovich

    Matt, I always really enjoy your presets. Sometimes I have something similar and sometimes, you show me something totally new! I’ve also now started teaching some basic photography classes in my community and may start to introduce them to Lightroom for Post Processing. Again, you always have great information!

  • Erik Godderis

    thank You

  • Angelika Perry

    Those are very neat. Thanks for doing them and sharing with the rest of us.

  • Debi Sen Gupta

    thanks Matt. I have been going through your book on PS composites. Great book and these presets are excellent. We dont have too many experts in LR here, so I am trying to teach myself and these are an asset in that learning process.

  • Renate S

    Thank you so much, Matt – it’s fantastic! :o)

  • David Levin

    Thank you, Matt! They look great for that gritty look.

    Is there any easy way to update the old presets you’ve developed for earlier versions of Lightroom. I’ve collected so many that I can’t tell what was designed for LR2, LR3, and LR4. Now many look weird and some look OK. Can you offer a solution? Thanks!

  • Michael Baltierra

    awesome, thanks for posting and sharing! Looking forward to trying this out…

  • James King

    You told me I could download a free plug in wirelessly of course !

  • Eugene Simonalle

    You know what would be great Matt, to add to your narrative about the preset what changes it makes in the Develop module. I usually download the preset and dissect it to see what you are doing to achieve the look. Lots of good information in reverse engineering it. I can tell from looking at the before and afters that you’re pushing the clarity a lot and some smaller changes, maybe to the contrast and blacks & whites. just my suggestion. :-)

  • Beth McNabb

    Thanks Matt!

  • Lynn Lawson Sweeney


  • Petur

    Thank you very much!

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  • Alex.G.

    Will this work in LR5?

    • Matt Kloskowski

      Yep they’ll work just fine.

      • Alex.G.

        Thank you.