Mobile Editing: Making Your Phone Photos Look Like Film

Make your mobile photos look like film. This editing guide featuring VSCO and Polarr from Josue Barrias (@josuebars) walks through curves, tones, and more.

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Film vs. Mobile Photography

Film is making a strong comeback in the world of photography. Thrift stores have demand for old cameras, and Kodak is profitable again. But one thing that hasn’t changed is how expensive it is to shoot analog. So how can you get that tasty film look, without breaking the bank?

The answer is EDITING! There are tons of apps and tools to help you achieve that sought-after look. Save the extra bucks, and put them toward your next adventure instead! Here’s a step by step guide to creating the film aesthetic:

Gran Canaria 12

Tip 1: Filter

The first step is choosing the filter you want to use. For this, you can use the VSCO App. There are some free filters, but you also have the ability to purchase cheap but effective preset packs that more accurately fit your vision. Browse the store to find the tones you are looking for.

If you are into Kodak Portra, go with warmer tones (Try A6 for starters). If you like the look of Fuji, look for presets that offer greener tones in the shadows (Try the C pack). And similarly, if you are into pungent saturated colors like Ektar, pick a pack that has colors that pop (C, E, and even Q can be fun)! In this tutorial, we will use the J5 preset. You can also adjust the intensity of any filter you choose in VSCO, so here we are going to lower it just a bit.

Film Tip 1
Film Tip 1 Edit

Tip 2: Highlights

Some photos can have blown out areas (where the certain parts of the image are too white to capture details). This can often happen on subjects faces and clouds, where light naturally hits. Try sliding up the highlight tool to soften your highlights, which will give the image an overall softer and creamier tonality.

Film Tip 2
Film Tip 2 Edit

Tip 3: Grain

This is probably one of the most important adjustments you will make to your images to really give it that “film” appearance. Traditionally, film has a gritty and grainy look to it. Of course, the higher you go with this slider, the grittier the grain will be. So keep that in mind as you decide which look you are going for. Staying in the light to medium grit range is probably best. Too much grain can be overwhelming in a photograph and draw attention away from the subject.

Film Tip 3
Film Tip 3 Edit

Tip 4: Contrast

Contrast is essential in any photograph. This step is about lowering the intensity of the contrast just a little. Don’t lower it too much because you will lose too much detail in the photo. With film, you want to try to create as much of an organic look as possible. Film tends to be a little softer in the shadows and tends not  to have such harsh contrast. If you want to have more control over your fade or shadows, you can achieve this by using the curves tool in the app Polarr. (We’ll get to this on Step 7!)

Film Tip 4
Film Tip 4 Edit

Tip 5: Style

Of course, we will still want to implement our own style with our images. You are able to make full adjustments in Polarr, such as temperature, exposure, and shadows. You can even change the hues of colors by playing with the curves tool. Check out how we altered the hue of the leaves in this photo.

Film Tip 5
Film Tip 5 Edit

Tip 6: HSL

With the HSL tool (Hue, Saturation, Luminance), you can take full control over every color in your photo. Intensify the colors by sliding your saturation, changing the color hues, and adjusting the exposure in the colors with the luminance too. This will get you closer to the edit you have in mind, by being able to have full control of the colors in your photo.


Tip 7. Curves

Enter the Curves tool, and select the bottom left tip, then drag it up till you get the final level of fade you want. Play around a bit more with the shadows, in order to eliminate or add more of that “faded” look, until you get exactly what you want. This tool can be a bit tedious, but it’s worth it.


Tip 8: Don’t be scared

The best way to ultimately get better is by continuing to learn and experiment. Try different editing tools, grain coarseness, filters, subjects, and repetition. The best thing about shooting digital and editing like film is that experimentation isn’t so costly! With real film, you may pay (time and money) to develop photos you ultimately don’t like. But with digital, you can experiment as much as you want for free, so don’t be scared to get weird with it!


Happy Shooting!

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