Getting that Film Look

Getting that Film Look in Lightroom

Photo Before The Tone Curve
Photo After Grain - Getting the Film Look

Shooting film isn’t always exactly practical, but it doesn’t mean you can’t edit your digital images to have that film look. I currently shoot on a Pentax T30, and I love the manual controls but holy heck sometimes its complete guess work, and if you’re working for a client, guess works not going to cut it.

By no means is this an exhaustive list or process on how to give your digital photos the film look, but a few tools and tricks you can use throughout Lightroom to get the look.  Because let’s be honest, every roll of film can be different and there’s no stock standard, but there’re common tropes that distinguish film from digital, like:

Grain
Warmth/Temperature
Blacks & Whites/Low Contrast

The Tone Curve

I’ll admit this is probably one of the few tools I don’t actually often use for quick edits, but honestly its one of my favourites.  Film rarely has spaces of pure black or white with a much Lower contrast than digital photos, and that’s why the tone curve is probably one of the most important tools to edit with. 

Scroll down to the Tone Curve in Lightroom, and activate the anchor points with the square box in the Bottom right corner.  You want to remove detail from the blacks to achieve a more matte finish (with the bottom left slider) and to soften and remove some of the stark contrast from the whites (with the top right slider). 

Apply the tone curve - Getting that Film Look
Apply the tone curve - Getting that Film Look
Photo Before The Tone Curve
Photo After The Tone Curve Before Sharpening

If you wanted to also add a little colour to the blacks or highlights, you can have a play in the other RGB Chanels as well. Generally I prefer to use the blue channel to play with the warmth of the image over the white balance sliders unless some major skin tone fixes are needed.

Sharpening

Naturally when reducing the contrast between the blacks and highlights, some of the images sharpness is lost. A slight tweak although not obvious makes all the difference, the things you can’t see sometimes are the things that make or break something.

Apply Sharpening - Before - Getting that Film Look
After Applying Sharpening - Before - Getting that Film Look
Photo After The Tone Curve Before Sharpening
Photo After Sharpening Before Basic edits

Much as this isn’t a full process, at his point I usually also do all my basic edits. With the film look you usually want to enhance those subtle changes you made with the tone curve, with nothing being to highly contrasting.  

Generally two of the most noticeable features of film photo’s are the grain and warmth, go for it on the temperature sliders because you can always tweak those back again in the HSL sliders.  

Definitely bring down the clarity if you are wanting to go for that soft vintage look. The clarity slider softens the contrast between each of the colours, enhancing those changes made using the tone curve. 

Photo After Sharpening Before Basic edits
Photo After Basic Edits Before HSL edits
After Applying Basic Edits Lightroom - Getting that Film Look

HSL Sliders

This is definitely where all the magic happens. Play and experiment for the effect you want.  

Photo After Basic Edits Before HSL edits
Photo After Basic Edits After HSL edits

Split Toning

On this edit I did add a little warmth back into the highlights with the split toning, but like everything its personal choice. I love split toning because it gives that control you don’t have in the HSL sliders. 

Photo After Basic Edits After HSL edits
Photo After Split Toning - Getting the Film Look

Grain

Add it all in!!!  

Go big or go home, right? 

Photo After Split Toning - Getting the Film Look
Photo After Grain - Getting the Film Look

And for added fun, throw Yourself into Photoshop, and locate a lens dust filter/texture. Lucy Martin has a tutorial on how to create your own filters here.

Export your image in photoshop and drag in the filter and then simply change the blend mode.  I find that Lighten or Screen works best, but its all about how prominent you want the dust to be on the image.

And there you have it, a few simple edits you can make to your images in order to make them look more like film.   Have fun!  

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