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How to Make Digital Photos Look Like Film in Lightroom

With the introduction of digital photography in 1975, film photography rapidly transitioned towards digital, but its influence remains. The cinematic effect, the artistic element, the warm skin tones – whatever it is that draws you towards film-like photos, there’s a way to recreate it in post-production. How? Even if you find yourself moving away from the traditional aspects of film photography in this digitally dominated world, you can still attain the effect through Lightroom. So for all the film enthusiasts who want to learn how to make digital photos look like film, here’s how you can make that happen.

Choosing Photos To Look Like Film

Infographic stating choosing the right photo helps when trying to make photos look like they were shot on film

Selecting the right photo can help you achieve the perfect film-like look. Even though the steps can be followed in any photo, choosing the right one will give you the best result. For more creative freedom during the post-production stage, shoot RAW and try taking a photograph during the golden hour or dawn or dusk, when the light is soft, and the colors naturally give the setting a slight film-like tone. Moreover, select photos that have a uniform spread of mid-tones, shadows, and highlights. In addition to that, look for images that focus on emotions. For example, a photograph of the father hugging the bride instead of a posed group photo is likely to enhance the ‘shot on film’ look. Lastly, try to avoid choosing photos that appear to be washed-out or don’t have much detail in them.

How to Make Digital Photos Look Like Film in Lightroom

  • Step 1: Import the RAW Image into Lightroom
  • Step 2: Bring Down the Clarity
  • Step 3: Adjust the Blacks & Whites Using the Tone Curve
  • Step 4: Adjust Colors Using the HSL Panel
  • Step 5: Add Grain

1. Import the RAW Image into Lightroom

To begin with the editing process, start with importing the RAW image into Lightroom. To do that, go to Lightroom and click on Import (present at the lower left-hand corner of the screen) in the Library module. Next, from the drop-down menu appearing under Files in the Source panel, select the image you want to import and then click on the Import button. Now, the selected photo will be added to your Lightroom Catalog.

2. Bring Down the Clarity

Infographic stating film photos tend to be less sharp so decreasing the clarity helps emulate film

The next step on this “how to make digital photos look like film” guide is to bring down the Clarity. When it comes to details, older film cameras tend to provide less sharpness. On the contrary, digital cameras are known to capture sharper details. Therefore, to give the image a more film-like look, step 2 involves reducing the clarity.

To do that, go to the Develop module and click on the Basic panel. In the Basic panel, you will find the Clarity slider under the Presence menu. Note that the slider value is set to zero by default. To decrease clarity, drag the Clarity slider towards the left. To achieve more realistic results, do not bring down the clarity more than -30.

3. Adjust the Blacks & Whites Using the Tone Curve

With Tone Curves in Lightroom, you can adjust the brightness and contrast of an image and gain more control over the tonal range by adjusting the Blacks, Shadows, Mid-Tones, Highlights, or Whites. In the Develop module, go to the Tone Curve panel and start with the adjustments. To get a more faded and vintage look, take your Blacks up (by dragging the leftmost point in the grid up) and bring your Whites down (by dragging the rightmost point in the grid down). These Tone Curve adjustments will reduce the dynamic range of your image, which gives the photo a faded look.

Related Read: How to Use the Tone Curve in Lightroom

4. Adjust Colors Using the HSL Panel

Infographic stating whether vivid muted or black and white, changing the colors enhances the film vibe

Different film types can have different color tones. While some, like Kodak Ektar 100m, are acclaimed for their vivid and saturated color tones, others, such as Kodak Portra 800, is known for providing natural skin color tones. But whatever film effect you have in mind, you can easily recreate the right colors in digital photos using the HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) panel in Lightroom.

To adjust colors using the HSL panel, with Develop module active, select HSL in the HSL/Color panel, and a drop-down menu of different sliders will appear. Now, depending on the look you want to achieve, make the adjustments accordingly. To get a more desaturated effect, try slightly reducing the Yellow and Green by dragging their sliders towards the left. You can also use the Camera Calibration panel to further achieve a more realistic film look.

5. Add Grain

Infographic stating adding grain in post process edits gives images a film effect

The process of learning how to make digital photos look like film in Lightroom is incomplete without adding a little film grain. To add grain, with the Develop module active, go to the Effects tab. You will find two sliders – Post-Crop Vignetting and Grain. You can adjust the grain texture by adjusting the three adjustment sliders – Amount, Size, and Roughness. Remember to only add slight grain for a more realistic representation of the film effect and steer clear of overdoing it. You can also opt to add a bit of the vignette effect.

Related Read: How to Add Grain In Lightroom

Now that you know how to make your digital photos look like film, keep experimenting. Apart from the manual process, you can also try to make your digital images look like film using the Color Profiles in Lightroom. You can also try experimenting with Black and White and Vintage profiles for a more film-like effect. We hope you found this guide helpful! If you have any questions in mind, do share them in the comment section below.

At ShootDotEdit, we aim to lessen your post-production workflow by doing that editing for you. To learn more about how we can help your wedding photography business, check out our pricing plans.


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