How To Edit Digital Images to Look Like They Were Shot on Film

Travel photographer and content creator Pat Kay has released an extensive and detailed video on how to edit a digital image in Adobe Lightroom to make it look as though it was captured on film.

In the nearly 30-minute video, Kay begins by discussing the resurgence of analog photography over the last few years stating how digital photography has brought so many incredible advances and improvements in the way photographers capture and edit their images, making the possibilities nearly endless.

“People are turning to film for their imperfect looks and aesthetic. They’re turning to them for the physicality of the act of photography; slowing down, taking their time,” he says.

While Kay says he doesn’t personally shoot film, he says he understands and can relate to the idea of being more intentional and focused with his images rather than the general digital methodology of “spray and pray” as he believes this slowing down will make for better images. Plus, he believes there are many visual aesthetics to film stocks that are just incredibly appealing.

“There are some film photographers who claim that this look cannot be replicated in digital, and in those instances, I flat out disagree, and the video above aims to show you why,” he says.

He begins by discussing how there is no such thing as a single specific “film look” as there are an incredible amount of different film stocks as well as different ways of processing and developing each one.

“Add to the fact that there can be minor discrepancies even between rolls of the same stock, and you can start to see that there really is no such thing as one ‘film look’.”

While there is no one overarching look, film images do have similar characteristics, such as a slight desaturation, less sharpness, a significant amount of grain, or even light leaks and dust marks. Since there is so much variance, Kay demonstrates how there needs to be a greater understanding of how to replicate a “film look” using digital tools, and how to achieve a particular style.

Original digital photo.

In the tutorial, Kay shows how to break down and analyze film images into their most important defining characteristics so that an editor can make a digital photo more “film-like” through adjustments to those particular characteristics. These include exposure, luminosity, individual colors, grain, and more.

“Once all of the analysis done you can move into lightroom and take what we’ve learned and apply that to a digital version of the image,” he says.

Editing in Process
Edits in progress

Throughout the rest of the video, Kay goes through every detail of the reference film image and how to replicate that look and style with a digital image he has taken using the tools available in Adobe Lightroom.

Edited To Look Like Film

More of Kay’s work can be seen on his website, and other videos and tutorials can be found on his YouTube Channel.

Image credits: Photos by Pat Kay.