Lightroom 4 - to use presets or not?

Lightroom 4 is my current image processing tool of choice.  Quicker and simpler to use than Photoshop and does most of what the average photographer needs in a few easy clicks of the mouse.  It's a great tool for editing images as well as captioning, keywording and generally making sense of the thousands of images we end up with spread over endless hard drives.

vsco
vsco

But the process of image manipulation is a tricky one - when you shoot an image do you know how you want it to end up looking or is it a question of chance where all the tweaking takes you?  Do you end up in the same place every time with a generic looking well balanced but slightly dull looking image after minutes spent adjusting exposure, white balance, shadows, highlights and the rest of the sliders...?

I came across VSCO Film recently - a really nice interesting series of Film Emulation presets for LR4, Aperture and Adobe Camera Raw.  With the film look being all the rage in digital processing at the moment these presets make the task of achieving this pretty straightforward.  The clever boffins at Visual Supply Co have done all the hard work for you and worked out all the settings you need to simulate your favourite film from years gone by - right down to the color shifts, the grain and softness.  There are 3 packs available featuring all the standards from Kodak, Ilford and Fuji with familiar names such as Portra, Neopan, Superia and Delta.  Film 03 is a bit more quirky as it features instant films like Polaroids and many other peel apart films.

These wont be to everyone's taste for sure but they do give you pretty extensive starting point for trying to work out the look you might be after - and maybe that's a whole new problem in itself.  Now instead of having an image to process manually and ending up with an average looking image you can now have literally hundreds of presets to choose from - many of them potentially interesting - and then what do you do, you will probably (like me) go through them one by one until you settle on something that gives you a pretty average looking image that's perhaps not that far from the image you'd have arrived at anyway but this way might take even longer. I've only just started exploring the possibilities these presets give you but I can already see that they work particularly well with well lit images whether in the studio or outdoors - more testing required!!

All that said I really like the product and if the film look is your thing then this is definitely a product worth looking into - not cheap but it might possibly (if you are careful) save you time in the long term.