How to Edit Photos to Look Like Film

  • 2023年8月16日
  • Edit

Hello, my name is Nocchi.

When you usually use a digital camera to take pictures, you may sometimes want to try taking film-like pictures as a change of pace.

It would be a waste to buy a film camera and film to satisfy this temporary desire, and it would be cheaper if you could retouch your photos to make them look like film.

In this article, we will introduce a technique for creating a film-like look for your digital photos using Lightroom.



Characteristics of film photography

First of all, before retouching, it is important to have a clear understanding of the characteristics of film photography. Without understanding the characteristics of film photography, it is difficult to know the direction to aim for,

So, I googled “film photography” in the image search.


Here are some of the differences from digital photos that you can see at a glance.

・Gradation of light

In particular, colors are the most different.

Blue is pale and almost light blue, green is more blue, and orange, such as skin, is yellow and has high luminance.

The gradation of light is also called dynamic range, and in digital photography, a wide range of light to dark areas of a photo is expressed in detail, making it difficult for white skipping and blacking out to occur.

Conversely, film photographs have a narrow dynamic range and are prone to skipped whites and blacks.

Finally, digital photos have a glossy, smooth impression, while film photos are characterized by a smooth, grainy look.

By expressing these characteristics through retouching, a digital photo can be reborn as a film-like photo.


How to edit digital photos for a film look

If you already have Lightroom, please start it up and operate it as you read this article.

Here is the subject photo for this retouching. I’m going to give it a film-like look to create an emo-like atmosphere.

The key to practicing retouching is to choose photos that have a lot of color information.

It is good practice to see the effect that tinkering with one color will have on the other colors and make detailed adjustments, or to check the overall tone while retouching.

For this subject, the blue of the sky, the pink of the cherry blossoms, and the orange of the hands make up most of the colors in the photo.



Basic Correction

The first step is to change the exposure (light in Lightroom).

The main thing to be aware of here is to get the exposure just right. Aim for a neutral tone that is not too bright, not too dark, and not habitual.

If shooting conditions are good, exposure adjustment can be completed simply by raising or lowering the exposure level, but in this case, since the hands are brightly lit, we will lower the highlights so that details of the hands can be seen.

The cherry blossom petals also seemed too shadowy, so we will adjust them by raising the shadows.


Tone Curves

The next adjustment is the tone curve. This process may be the key to creating a film-like photograph.

Raise the lower left point and lower the upper right point. In this way, the wide tonal range is narrowed, and the darkest areas (black) and brightest areas (white) become grayish.

This adjustment gives the photo a film-like matte texture.



Color Corrections

This is how exposure compensation works, and next we will get into color compensation.

The first step is to lower the natural saturation and saturation a bit. The color rendering varies depending on the camera and lens, but the setting used for this photo was highly saturated for landscapes, so I lowered the saturation to balance the saturation.

The lower saturation setting also leads to slightly lighter colors, so that is my goal.


Blue Adjustment

In digital photography, blue tends to appear bright and rather purple.

On the other hand, with film, blue tends to appear light blue with a hint of green. To reproduce this, the hue of the blue is made light blue, and the saturation is increased a little.

Since tweaking hue and saturation will also change the tone of each color, adjust them by increasing or decreasing the brightness at the end of the process.


Orange Adjustment

In digital photography, the color will be orange with a reddish tint to make the skin look healthy, but with film, the opposite is true: the key is to suppress the reddish tint and bring it to a yellowish color.

Since suppressing the reddish tones also slightly reduces the saturation, adjust the saturation of the orange by adding it separately.


Pink Adjustments

Finally, adjust the pink color. Pink is also a color that makes up about 70% of the photo, so we want to proceed with caution.

This cherry tree, called Kawazu-zakura, is characterized by its deep pink color, but the pink color is too deep and vivid.

By removing the saturation of the pink and increasing the brightness to a point where it is a little too bright, we can change the vivid cherry blossoms to a lighter shade.


White balance and color cast correction

The next two adjustments are white balance and color cast correction.

White balance, also known as color temperature, allows you to determine the temperature of a photo. Color cast correction is a function that allows you to improve green or violet tints that are caused by shooting conditions.

The white balance was adjusted slightly to the yellow side because of the overall blue tint.

Although there was no particular violet tint to the image, I intentionally made it look green in order to reproduce a film-like appearance.


Color Grading

The color grading function is used to finish the color correction.

Color grading is a function that allows you to apply a color to shadows, highlights, and the middle part of each.

In this case, we will add orange to the shadows and a hint of green to the highlights. The trick to creating a film-like effect is to use relative colors for the shadows and highlights.

By using relative colors and shifting the saturation a little, we dare to create an unevenness. This unevenness is what leads to exquisite film-like colors.




Finally, as an added bonus, add more grain to express the graininess that is unique to film photography.

This will give a rough feel when viewed on a PC or smartphone.



If you have made it this far, you have successfully completed the process.

I think we have succeeded in bringing the contrast from a modern photo to a very film-like image.


Before and after development comparison

Let’s compare before and after retouching.

Left is before retouching, right is after retouching. You can compare before and after retouching to the corners by shaking the slider in the middle to the left and right.


Other examples

I did similar retouching on three other photos. Please take a look and compare.





In this article, we have tried to explain the retouching techniques to transform a modern digital photo into a film-like photo using Lightroom.

It may have been a little complicated with tone curves, color grading, etc., but once you understand the functions one by one, you will be able to easily get closer to your ideal image.

Please read the many other retouching explanations on this blog.