Presets. They are the poor man’s Photoshop actions. A decent preset can totally change the mood of a photograph with the click of a button. It can make it into something unique or consign it to the failure pile.
I’ve recently been on the lookout for some filters/presets/actions/whatever to take my photographs to the next level. In the course of my journey, I bought the Flare app for my Mac and found it to be a colossal waste of money. While reviews stated it was great for beginners and adequate for professionals, I found their preset filters to be amateurish and unpleasant. Many of them mimicked the effect of having an old film camera, complete with emulsion spots and grainy texture. This might be fine for photos I produce playing around with my iPhone, but I would never think of presenting anything produced by Flare for a client.
Thus, I retreated back into the arms of my current photo app of choice, Aperture 3 for Mac, and tried to find some decent presets to work within it. It’s a minefield out there when it comes to finding decent presets. A Google search for “Aperture presets” turns up spam site within spam site, and most of the sites I came across felt as sketchy as hell. That being said, I did find one (XposurePro) that, despite its spartan appearance, actually had some pretty decent stuff for sale (you can pay via Paypal, for those who are wary of site security, as I am).
After copious searching and experimentation, I’ve arrived at a tentative list of my favorite presets (click to enlarge before/after):
Toy Camera – Alright, this one’s kind of a cheat because it comes with Aperture, but I’ve consistently found it to be a good go-to if I want to punch up my images. Increased vibrancy and a hardcore vignette make the blues and reds in your images really shine.