How to Give Your Photos a Film Look

This is such an easy, simple edit and includes more of the tone curve than a basic edit. Take your time though playing with the curve to figure out what you really like! 

a film style edit before and after

My photographic style evolved into a more film-like quality these past couple of months. I’ve taken a long time to develop my style and it is only after I took a workshop over at Clickin’ Moms on creative processing that I really saw it blossom. Because the film style is so popular now, I thought I would show you a simple way I do it.

There are tons of presets, actions and filters out there that you can apply to a photo, but I found many of them didn’t match my shooting style, and actually I wanted to know how to create my style. Now, it is my philosophy that it is vital you learn how to use all the tools available to you so you can create your own unique photos.

For me, I found it really helps to watch other people work their magic on a photo, so I thought I’d do it here! This is a simple and easy edit and I don’t get into other tools I use a lot, like the adjustment brush and the radial filter. Instead, it all boils down to the tone curve. I work in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW but whatever program you may use should have similar capabilities – which there are others out there that do – these are only the most well-known and what I use.

Create a Film Style Photo:

Directly below is the video on how to give your photos a film look, but for those of you that would rather follow a step by step, that is below the video! And feel free to ask questions in the comments!

My Simple Processing Steps

This is the original

original photo of my daughter playing hopscotch

Step 1 – Crop and Profile Calibrate

Step 1 in the Lens Calibration and Crop panels

The first thing I always try to do (because sometimes it’s not the first) is click on the profile for the lens I used in the Lens Calibration panel. Then I click on the top left crop tool and crop the photo to my liking (and usually straighten because I tend to shoot crooked).

Step 2 – The Basic Panel

Step 2 - the basic panel

My next step is to usually adjust the white balance – here I had to bring it way up and bump up the magenta. I talked about my flat edit in this post and I started to do that here, except I knew I wanted my shadows down. This was later in the afternoon and even though you can’t really see her long shadow to her left, I wanted to try to pull it out as much as possible. I pulled the shadows all the way down and moved both the highlights and whites down as well because her bright white shirt was too bright. I moved the highlight slider to -40 and the white slider to -20. I also moved the blacks down to -40 because it gives a little more richness to the colors that I really like.

Step 3 – The Tone Curve

Step 3 - Tone Curve

Here is where you are going to get the film effect. This is a powerful tool and I am still learning to master it. Here, I pulled up on the middle tones only slightly, then I placed a point on the middle blacks in the lower left part of the curve. Then, I moved the bottom left handle up to create a matte effect. Finally I wanted to pull the highlights down a little so made a point in the top right and moved it down to the original linear line. You can see in the photo above my final curve. This is an almost typical curve for me.

Step 4 – Back to the Basics Panel

step 4 - the basic panel again

I almost always do a little dance (que music) between the panels and end up back in the basics panel after messing with the curve. Mostly to mess with the following sliders: Exposure, contrast, clarity, and vibrance. Here, I felt like I needed a little bump in Exposure so I moved it up +24, then I moved the Clarity slider up to +30 because I loved the contrast between her soft skin and her dirty feet and sidewalk. I wanted this emphasized. I also bumped up the vibrance to +30 to bring out the richness in the colors. Here I couldn’t decide but ended up bringing the contrast down -10 to add a little softness back in.

Step 5 – Finishing It Off – Noise Reduction & Vignette

step 5 noise reduction and vignette

To finish it off I bumped up the noise reduction slightly to around +15. You can see a more thorough explanation about how I use noise reduction here. I also added a vignette to this photo around -10 to really draw the viewer’s eye to my daughter. I am usually very light on my vignettes.

And that is it!

Here is the Before, completely unedited (SOOC):

the straight out of the camera photo of my daughter

And the After!

final film style edited photo of my daughter

I promise you, playing with the panels yourself and really learning how to use Lightroom or ACR instead of using presets is supremely beneficial.