How to make your digital images look like they're shot on film

Watch video: How to make digital images look like film

As the price of film continues to rise, photographers have been left with no other option than to look for alternatives. This usually means switching to shooting digitally or shooting film less often and more consciously. With your average roll of film costing between $10-20, and development around the same depending on what film and lab you pick you could be faced with a $40 bill for just 36 photos.

Luckily, if you know how, you can edit your photos to give them that film effect using the best photo editing software. My preferred app is Lightroom Classic, as you can save presets to easily apply to all your photos and each one gives its own aesthetic. In the video above, I show you how you can turn a digital image into something that looks like it's shot on film without spending any extra money.

As a general rule, to make digital photos look more analog I will “crush” the highlights, bring up the shadows, add a small amount of contrast and then color grade my image so that it looks like a well-known film type, such as Provia, Velvia or Portra. You can even go one step further by downloading light leak overlays and applying them in Photoshop as a layer.

Depending on what ISO I shot on, I will also normally add a bit of grain – but if you’ve shot in a low-light scenario and already boosted your ISO to 6400 or more (dependent on what camera you use), you probably won’t need to.

If you have a set of images you want to apply the same preset to you may have to adjust things like exposure, shadows and highlights depending on the original exposure of the image which can be affected by the time of day it’s taken.

(Image credit: Hannah Rooke)

Creating a preset

Once you're happy with your edit you can save the preset in just a few steps, which will then be located in a menu on the left-hand side under User Presets. Simply select the + icon at the top-right of the Presets tab, then choose Create Preset. 

Make sure that any gradual or radial filters are unselected, as these are photo specific, then name your preset and select Create.

If you want to persevere with film, check out the best film for 35mm cameras along with the best film cameras to shoot with. And if you're serious about editing, take a look at the best monitors for photo editing

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.