If someone with experience has successfully navigated the road ahead of you, it's not cheating to benefit from the roadmap they created.
Many well-intentioned, but ill-informed and inexperienced, photographers like to look down their noses at presets as cheating or somehow unprofessional. We don't pretend to understand their often mean-spirited attacks on fellow artists but we do have an alternative view for them consider.
Here are a few facts:
- If you shoot jpegs and use them straight out of camera you are letting your camera apply a processing preset. Is this cheating and why are you letting the camera dictate your creative solution?
- If you shoot jpegs and select a film or scene style on your camera, you're using a preset. If this isn't considered cheating, why are you limiting your options to the handful available in the camera?
- If you shoot RAW image files they will look terrible straight out of camera. Why? Because they are unprocessed images. And if they don't look terrible then Lightroom (or whatever RAW converter you use) is probably automatically applying... You guessed it: An import preset.
Whatever your method of shooting digital photographs. it makes sense to take control of your post-processing. And if you're a creative photographer, presets can let you try out hundreds of processing styles with the click of a button, which you can then fine-tune to your taste.
Remember, a truly creative photographer will use every tool available to realize their vision.