By Serena Li on | No Comments
Recreating the LOOK OF FILM in digital photography is quite the trend at the moment, with an increasing number of people taking and posting Film-type photos to their Instagram and other social media pages! The main reason for its popularity stems from a sense of history and nostalgia most of us feel when seeing an actual film photo that has aged over time.
Unfortunately, film cameras can be expensive, and disposable cameras create unnecessary waste. For a digital photographer, it may not feel worth it to invest in new camera gear just to produce a different style of photos.
This is when it makes sense to rely on Lightroom to replicate the look of film photos.
I love being a digital photographer, but I have always thought that some of my digital photos would look great if captured in a film-photo style. Since I don't currently have a film camera, I needed to learn how to edit my digital photos to look like film photos.
There are generally 24 to 36 exposures when using a film camera, meaning there are a limited number of shots available before needing a new roll of film (or disposing of a non-reusable film camera). Having a limited number of photos forces us to focus more on the moment, story, and composition and less on color science and sharpness.
Let’s start with this photo I took while in Yosemite National Park. A man was cooling off in the water, with a beautiful view of mountains in the background. I thought the composition looked very serene and magical.
Remember, every photo is different, so how much the exposure and contrast are changed ultimately depends on each individual image. However, these general Lightroom Mobile settings can act as a baseline which can be copied and pasted into a preset (for future use), and then you can do further editing from there.
The first step is to adjust the lighting of the photo to make it appear more film-like.
Film photos typically appear more exposed than regular photos, giving them a fairy tale, mysterious look. To make these adjustments, go to the light section of Lightroom Mobile. For my image, I increased the exposure, contrast, highlights, whites, and shadows a tiny bit. I also decreased the blacks, so the photo retains some dimension.
The next step is to add some grain. With modern digital photography, most people strive for crisp, tack sharp photos as a goal. Film photography is often the opposite, as the grain typically found in film photos reduces sharpness and adds an element of imperfection. Yet, this imperfection is IMPORTANT because it allows the viewer to FOCUS ON THE BEAUTY OF THE MOMENT and the STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE rather than the photo itself.
How much grain you add is entirely up to you, but keep in mind the larger the size of the grain, the less detail of the photo will remain. Here are the Lightroom settings I generally use for grain:
The third step is to adjust the color. Even though I'm striving for a film look, being a digital photographer, I still love to play with the colors to make certain objects in a photo stand out. This is my personal preference.
I like my photos to be on the warm side, so I always increase my temperature a little. To avoid the image being too orange, I want to add some purple tint. Color theory tip: to reduce a particular color found in an image, consult a color wheel to find the opposite color and increase that "opposite" color in Lightroom.
I also like to increase the vibrance and saturation just a tad to add a bit of color pop.
The edits that we already completed did most of the work, so you CAN END YOUR EDIT HERE, but I like to do some additional color editing to make my images really stand out. To do this, I will adjust some of the individual colors found in the photo.
I want the sunlight shining over the person in the water to stand out a bit more, and I want the blues found in the mountains and water to pop. I achieve this primarily by increasing the saturation of the blue, red, orange, and yellow colors and making more minor adjustments to hue and luminance (see settings in the image below):
Film photos tend to hold less dimension than digital photos. Reducing contrast is the best way to achieve this effect, so go back into the light section and increase the shadows in the S-Curve.
Lastly, I will make some adjustments to the color grading panel. I want the shadows and highlights to show more reds/oranges/yellows to reflect the sunlight of the photo and capture its warmth. I also saturated the mid-tones to a green-blue hue to brighten the water and trees.
As an additional step, I want to remove the second person and dog from the photo so the viewer's attention will focus on the main subject. This is easy to do using the healing brush in Lightroom Mobile.
As you can see with this final before and after comparison, the edited film photo appears more “in the moment,” brighter, and tells a better story of the man in the water.
If you want to try film photography but lack an actual film camera or don't want to deal with the additional expense of real film, look to the POWER of Lightroom. It will help you turn regular photos taken with a digital or phone camera into FILM PHOTOS that tell a story and capture that nostalgic look.
Do you have any questions or comments about Editing Photos to Look Like Film in Lightroom Mobile? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And PLEASE SHARE our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we appreciate it)!
I will be going into my fourth year of undergrad at Queen’s University for my Bachelor of Applied Sciences this September. My passions outside of school include photography, hiking, bouldering, ultimate, and snowboarding! I love photographing the outdoors and being able to share the beauty of nature with others! I feel like photography keeps memories alive and it allows me to remember a specific moment forever. You can find me on Instagram: @serenali__