Nowadays, it seems that every YouTube photography celebrity has a batch of presets that they want you to buy. This begs the question: is it worth handing over your hard-earned cash when you might be better off investing your time rather than your money?
In the six years that I've been using Lightroom, I've never paid for a preset. In the past, I've downloaded a few free packs, clicked laboriously through every preset and decided that they were all useless: blunt tools creating over-edited results and deploying settings that I could easily have achieved myself had I wanted to ruin one of my photos.
"Are paid presets any different?" I thought to myself and started asking a few fellow photographers for their thoughts and experiences. The response from the handful of people I asked was all but unanimous: they're a waste of money; spend your time learning instead. One friend suggested that they're great if you want to create Instagram cliches, but not much use for anything else. And there's some truth to this: in an era when photographic success is equated with the number of Instagram followers, it's no wonder that people want to buy a formula that feels like it's guaranteed to get likes and comments.
Photographer James Popsys didn't hold back in one of his videos last year: "If you're buying people's presets, you're buying a shortcut that takes you out of the creative process," he explained. If you like a photographer's editing, you can replicate it quickly by buying one of their presets, but how much are you going to learn as a result, and what are you going to achieve by replicating their look and feel? Sure, you can use the preset as a base from which to start, and you can begin figuring out how certain looks are achieved by digging into the various settings, but that time might easily be spent doing a few tutorials, developing your own style, and establishing a better understanding of the editing process. As a result, your future images will have more potential when you go on to apply your newly acquired knowledge.
Having still not bought a preset, I'm interested to find out about the community's experience. On the one hand, I wonder if there's a clique of well-established YouTube photography celebrities who are flogging their presets to a naive audience in order to generate some passive income from very little work and zero overhead. YouTube comments (never a great source of information, admittedly) suggest that certain photographers are churning out video after video that are more about plugging their presets than they are about offering something insightful or educational. When the first line in every video's description is a link to the photographer's Lightroom preset pack, maybe it's time to unsubscribe.
On the other hand, if there's a style that inspires you, is it worth dropping the equivalent of a pizza and a few beers to get an insight into a workflow and use that as another tool towards mastering Lightroom and developing a personal style? It's also a great way to support a photographer who has worked to carve a niche and share their knowledge. And as much as we try to be unique, we're all simply remixing what's already out there, and while a distinctive style is the goal, paid presets can be a (tax-deductible) means of taking a step towards it.
Check out the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments, please!