How to Make Digital Look Like Film

Film is beautiful, isn’t it?! It has so many advantages over digital, but it comes with a cost. Yes, if you have ever shot film, you know that it’s quite pricey. In fact, each medium format photo costs around $3. I don’t recommend thinking about that while you’re shooting because it could be distracting, but it’s one of the reasons that many photographers incorporate digital into their workflow. And another reason? Well, digital just sometimes looks better.
So what’s the solution to blending the two for a beautiful gallery? I’m sharing all of that in today’s post. These are the 7 things that I do to make sure that my digital work is going to look like my film work!
How to Make Digital Look Like Film Photography - The Jordan Brittley Blog

Pay attention to the highlights

One of the biggest advantages that film has over digital is it’s ability to photograph detail in the shadows and highlights. If you want your digital work to look like film, then you are going to have to pay attention to every element of your photograph. Be aware of certain lighting situations that will make for a difficult edit and avoid them if you can.

Pull down the highlights in post

This trick is my secret sauce. It enables me to shoot backlit photos on digital and helps me get as close as possible to the film look. When you do this, you want to be extra cautious of skin tones because they can start to look muddied if you’re not careful. I typically add an equal amount of contrast.
How to Make Digital Look Like Film Photography - The Jordan Brittley Blog

Avoid bad light

Bad light is everywhere. But the good news is that good light is everywhere too. When shooting, make sure you pay attention to any pink or green hues that might be affecting the coloring of your subject’s skin. While you might be able to make adjustments later in Lightroom, it’s going to take a lot of work and the end result will not be as beautiful.

Try using a reflector or changing the position of the subject.


Look for the coloring that you want

I love it when the greens take on a deep blue and when yellows are crisp and not overwhelming. Because I know this about myself, I am not going to shoot in a situation where the grass looks yellow and the image looks yellow as a whole (and I’m not talking white balance here). You know the situation: the grass looks like it hasn’t been watered and the trees in the background have that unhealthy yellow covering their leaves.

I avoid those situations at all costs. It’s possible to find the lighting and the coloring that you want in your photographs. Try approaching the scene from a different angle. Bring your subject into the open and leave the tree in the background. Watch those greens change and watch the lighting change for the better in your photographs.

How to Make Digital Look Like Film Photography - The Jordan Brittley Blog

Don’t try to match it to film 

After all of this work, don’t spend your time trying to match your digital work to your film work. I know that this goes against popular opinion, but I have found that my digital work looks better when edited on its own. This will help you especially when trying to get the right white balance and tint/shift in Lightroom.


Add grain

I started adding grain to my digital work this year (like in this preset) and am loving the results. I find that the look is much closer to film. It almost makes the photos look more authentic.

*note about color and grain: I make sure that the grain is as smooth as Lightroom will allow so that the grain isn’t distracting in my color photographs.

How to Make Digital Look Like Film Photography - The Jordan Brittley Blog

Create presets

Creating presets for Jenna to use while she is editing has saved so much time and kept our digital work consistent. We are still making tweaks to the presets here and there, but for the most part they are just perfect.

We accomplished this by creating presets as she started editing photos in different lighting situations (i.e. sunny, partly cloudy, etc.). The best part is that ANYONE can create their own presets!! Click the post below to see how you can start making yours!

Related: How to Make Presets That Work for You

Adjust the reds, greens, and yellows

I always tweak the reds, greens, and yellows in post just a little so that the coloring looks more like film. This looks like increasing the saturation for the reds, and decreasing the saturation for the greens and yellows. There is a full tutorial coming soon!!

How to Make Digital Look Like Film Photography - The Jordan Brittley Blog
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