How To Make Your Photos Look Like Film in Lightroom CC

Simple tips and tricks to make your digital images look like film using Lightroom CC, whether it's a natural tone or a funky 70 aesthetic.

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The nostalgic charm of analog photography has grown increasingly popular over the last few years, though not surprising. Its effervescent tones, manual touch, and relatively simple approach sparks a fresh kind of inspiration to artists around the world. And while the tangible process of film is hard to replicate, the pictorial outcome is much easier to manipulate. Softwares, like Lightroom, make it fun and easy to process images similar to the vintage goodies. While this guide is simple in essence, and relatively basic in terms of technicalities, the below tips are a beginner’s guide to understanding the steps needed to host a similar color profile to film.

So, let’s dive in, you nerds!

Mango Street Creator Page Featured Image 04

Shot by Mango Street.

Recognizing The Various Film Stocks

To plot your specific edit, you’ll need to discover which film stock(s) you’d like to emulate. I’ve combined a list of some of the more popular film stocks, below.

Additionally, if you’re hungry for more, I wrote an example article on the 7 best Kodak 35mm and 120 film stocks that feature more information about each roll, as well as additional visual examples from other photographers. There’s also a guide for FujiFilm, and CineStill in case you’d like to take a gander. I highly recommend reading these pieces if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of the various stylizations per stock.

Which colors best suit your subject? What stock might look best for your photo’s lighting condition? Do you want a funky hue, or a desire for more natural skin tones? Choosing to emular a real-life film stock to emulate will craft a better edit in Lightroom.

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Shot On Film

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Shot On Digital

Clarity, Sharpness, and Grain

When editing an image to mimic film, your aim will be to emulate the characteristics of vintage cameras. Many of the cameras had lenses that were less sharp and had fewer problems with fringing and flares. It'd be worth starting your edit by positioning the clarity down very slightly to copy that effect.

Mango Street Preset Pack Location Collection Feature Callout 01 2

Shot by Mango Street.

Play With Tonal Curves

Although there are a plethora of characteristics that make old film unique, a well-known feature are the faded shadows and highlights. Fortunately, this is easy to recreate in Lightroom. Use the tone curves to pull the dark shadows, while simultaneously giving a more faded highlight but pushing the whites down.

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Shot by Maris Jones.

Warm It Up

Have you ever noticed that vintage cameras tend to leave a warm, golden tone on the images? Recreating this vintage tonal hue can be easily done using Lightroom’s HSL panel (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) and is a major part in crafting your film-like image. Simply start by adjusting the hue to warm up your image, slide the luminance down in bright areas, and ensure there’s plenty of saturation within certain colors, like yellow or orange.

Three Primary Colors

Although it may sound intimidating, this is perhaps one of the easiest, yet most impactful ways to shift the vibe in your image. It’s similar to the HSl panel, but instead of a range of colors you’re only working with the (3) primaries: Red, Green, and Blue. Tweak the blue to a few degrees left for a more aqua shine, that always gives your image a pop of unique color.

Create your roadmap, right? One you find the particular film stock you desire to emulate most, do a study of the colors within the stock’s shadows and highlights. Place a more purple-by contrast in the shadows to mimic Portra 160, or bump the golden warmth in the highlights to fancy Kodak Gold 200. Focusing on these 3 primary colors will impact your image best.

Grain

Many film photographers lust after its natural grain, be it soft or gritty with strong texture. I, ironically, dislike fake grain in a digital image because replicating that feature seems a bit gimmick to me. However, adding texture in your image will definitely create a more film-like vibe and can easily fool those who don’t know the difference. Add it tastefully, of course, especially under darker, moodier conditions.


Mango Street Creator Page Featured Image 03

Shot by Mango Street.

Classic Collection Preset Mango Street Featured Image.

Shot by Mango Street.

Try Presets!

While it’s fun and experimental to create presets of your own, why not make it easier on yourself and purchase some film-like presets to start with. We offer super batches that are more natural and timeless, to a more 70’s nostalgic vibe. Compatible with both Lightroom and Photoshop, these Professional-made presets are perfect for having a go-to consistent look to your photos.

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Moment

FILM I

Made for portrait and landscape photographers, the Film I lightroom preset helps you achieve a classic film look inspired by Portra 400.

Buy for $15.00
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Moment

FILM II

A classic film lightroom preset for any time of day. It's versatile to make golden hour, blue hour, mid-day, or foggy images transform into cinematic snapshots.

Buy for $15.00
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Moment

The 70s - Nostalgic

A Lightroom preset pack made for street and lifestyle photographers who want an authentic 1970's filmic look. Grainy, warm, and reminiscent of old instant film

Buy for $30.00

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