I had mixed feelings about using presets at first when I heard about them being available in Lightroom. It felt both right and wrong like using cheats in computer games as an “I Win” button. However, the more I used them, the more I seemed to rely on them. I remember there was a preset called 300 (muted bronze theme just like the movie) that gives any photo a very grungy and serious look so for a while my photos all looked the same. “Cool” was the word I think I used to describe the effect it had on the photos. I later realised it was limiting my creative process when I was reviewing the photos I had taken during this period. There were some awful photos I had taken that were ‘saved’ because they looked okay with the effect. This was a painful change of mindset. I could not just buy a bunch of presets from pros’ websites and press a button to make me feel just like a pro.
Preset to me is meant to achieve two things:
After correctly my mindset, I went back to look at the presets I had purchased and started fine-tuning them to fit my purpose. I started to create my own presets and it saved so much time in micro-adjusting the level of contrast, highlights, curves, sharpening and artistic vignetting. This means it doesn't matter what camera I have used to take the photo, they typically have a specific "Jim-ness" signature.
Take away message: Everyone with a camera can call themselves a photographer but only you can define who you really are.