How To Make Photos Look Like Film In Lightroom

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If you love the film aesthetic but don’t have the right camera, then learning how to make photos look like film in Lightroom is the perfect solution. This type of edit favors a softer, more muted look, and once you know the basics, you can adjust it to any film style you want.

In this post, you’ll learn how to create a general film look in Lightroom and Lightroom Mobile. Both processes are relatively similar but use a few different tools. Let’s start things off by talking about getting that film look in the desktop version of Lightroom.

How To Edit Your Photos To Look Like Film In Lightroom

Although different types of film offer different looks to your photos, these steps will create the typical film-like edit you commonly see on social media. This effect is created by softening the photos’ shadows and colors to make them look more faded. Lastly, with the help of some grain, you can add a more convincing film look to the edit!

Now, before we get into the steps, I created a free Lightroom Preset Starter Kit with a few presets to help with this film look. You can get access to all 12 of these free presets here.

Step 1: Lift The Shadows And Bring Down The Highlights

Within the Develop Module of Lightroom in the Basic Panel, start by lifting the photo’s shadows and blacks. Then, bring down the whites and highlight sliders slightly to flatten the image further.

Just remember to adjust these sliders sparingly to not overdo the effect.

If your photo still appears slightly too dark, increase the exposure slider until your entire photo has a balanced exposure. This slider will only affect the photo’s brightness while leaving the contrast adjustments you just made untouched.

Step 2: Adjust The Temp & Tint To Favor A Yellow-Green

You’ll find the White Balance (Temp) and Tint Sliders at the top of the Basic Panel. To give your photo a film-like feel, you want to favor a warmer green hue.

Start by adjusting the Temp slider to favor a warmer (more yellow) hue. By moving it to the right, the photo will become gradually more yellow.

Next, adjust the Tint slider to favor a green hue by moving it to the left. Once again, the further left you move this slider, the more intense the green will become.

Every photo will require slightly different white balance and tint adjustments. You want to make it look slightly noticeable without overwhelming the image with one hue or another. After this adjustment, your photo will be left with a more retro old-timey look.

Step 3: Lift The Shadows And Reduce The Highlights Using The Tone Curve

Scrolling down to the Tone Curve adjustment, select the Region Curve for the most simplicity.

This adjustment is great for adding more creative contrast, but in terms of editing light film, you can further flatten the image. Start by lifting the shadows and darks sliders to see what looks you can create.

In some cases, your photo might look too flat (not enough contrast), so you can bring down the darks to help solve this problem.

Depending on the style you like, you can increase or decrease the highlights and lights sliders. Whenever I’m editing for this effect, I tend to boost the Tone Curve’s highlights slightly.

The goal of this adjustment is to improve on the reduced contrast in the edit.

Step 4: Use The Hue Adjustment To Add Blue And Yellow To The Image

Now, you can adjust the colors with the HSL adjustment. To make your photo look like film, you want to mute the dominant colors in the image and favor more teal or green hues. That means you’ll mostly work within the hue and saturation adjustments.

Starting with the hue adjustment, click on the color sample and click on any color in the photo. By dragging up or down, you can quickly change the hue of the selected color. In my image, I’ll click on the paddle to make it more yellow and then the background to favor a blue hue.

Whatever hue adjustments you make, remember you don’t want any crazy colors in the photo. For example, I wouldn’t want to make the mountains in the background of my photo look purple or the paddle to look red. This kind of edit can work for other editing styles but doesn’t look good for film edits. So try to keep the hues natural and neutral!

Step 5: Mute The Colors By Bringing The Saturation Slider Down

Next, click on the saturation adjustment, and once again, click on the sample option and click on any color in the photo. This time, you’ll adjust the saturation rather than the hue when you drag the cursor up or down.

With the saturation adjustment, you want to mute any dominant colors left in your photo. In my photo, the yellow paddle is quite noticeable, so I’ll desaturate the yellow slightly. Try desaturating a few parts of your image to see what kinds of looks you get.

Step 6: Increase The Grain Amount Using The Grain Slider

For the final step in the film edit, let’s add some grain. Grain is a staple of all film edits and really helps to sell the effect. In Lightroom, it can be easily added via the Grain slider in the Effects panel.

Start by increasing the grain until it becomes barely noticeable in the image. Depending on the shadows and highlights in the image, the right grain amount will vary.

To further enhance the effect, increase the grain’s size and roughness to make it more noticeable. Try boosting the size slider just a little while boosting the roughness slider a bit more.

If you don’t want the grain to be too noticeable, you can leave the size and roughness adjustments alone.

Now you’re left with a realistic film grain over your photo that completes the look of your film edit in Lightroom!

By softening the shadows, favoring a more warm-green white balance, muting the colors, and adding grain to the image, you’ve successfully made your photo look like film!

Want To Make This Process Even Faster? Get 25 Vintage Film Presets For One-Click Editing!

Making Photos Look Like Film In Lightroom Mobile

In Lightroom Mobile, there are some slightly different steps to follow to get a film look to your photos. Luckily, the process is still straightforward and doesn’t require any technical masking or spot adjustments!

To make your photos look like film in Lightroom mobile, use the “Light” Module to boost the darks and shadows in your image. Moving into the “Color” Module, adjust the white balance sliders to favor a more yellow-green hue. You can further enhance your film edit by desaturating any dominant colors via the Color Mix tool or adding grain with the Grain Slider in the “Effect” Module.

Let’s go through creating this film look in Lightroom Mobile, step by step.

Step 1: Lift The Shadows And Bring Down The Highlights

Start by clicking on the Light Module and lifting the darks and shadows in your image. These sliders will soften any dark areas in the photo and create a matte look in your image. This is very important for film-like edits in Lightroom Mobile!

Next, bring down the lights and highlights sliders slightly to flatten out the image further.

Like with the previous steps in Lightroom Desktop, you can then use the exposure slider to brighten or darken the entire photo if things aren’t looking quite right.

Step 2: Lift The Highlights And Shadows With The Tone Curve

Still inside of the Light Module, click on the Curve adjustment.

Clicking on the shadow’s anchor point, drag it upwards to add a matte look to the photo. This will help to accentuate the flattened contrast from the previous step.

Next, click on the highlights to add an anchor point and drag it up.

Then click on the mid-tones and drag it down to add back a bit of contrast.

Step 3: Increase The Temp And Lower The Tint

Now that the contrast adjustments are complete, it’s time to switch over to the Color Module.

The first order of business is to adjust the Temp and Tint sliders to favor a yellow-green hue typical of the film aesthetic you see online.

With the Temp slider, drag it right to add more yellow and warm up your image.

Then move the Tint slider left to add more green into your edit.

This may take a bit of experimenting, going back and forth until you find a nice white balance for the image. The goal is to make the image look slightly yellow-green without being too overpowering.

Step 4: Mute The Colors With The Color Mix Adjustment

With the white balance adjustment complete, click on the Mix tool. This is essentially the HSL adjustment, just with a different name.

Start by clicking on the sample button and selecting the Hue option. Click to sample any dominant color in your photo, and drag your finger up or down to adjust the hue. Make sure that whatever hue adjustments you make favor a natural tone, nothing too vibrant or unrealistic.

Next, click on the Saturation option and repeat the same process. Clicking on any dominant colors in the photo and dragging your finger down, you can desaturate any dominant colors. This helps to give the photo a muted look and enhances the film look we’re going for.

Step 5: Add Grain Using The Slider In The Effects Module

To complete your film edit in Lightroom Mobile, you can add some film grain with the Grain slider. To access this slider, select the Effects Module.

Start by increasing the grain amount until it’s slightly visible in the photo.

Then, increase the size and roughness sliders to make the edit look more like real film.

With a few simple steps, you’ve now edited your photos to look like film with the help of Lightroom Mobile!

Learning how to edit your photos in this way is a lot of fun and surprisingly easy. Especially if you love that retro film aesthetic, this is a great effect to use with your images. Now you can bask in the glory of film-style images, all while using your digital camera!

How To Edit Photos Like Film With One Click!

Learning how to create this effect can be fun, but there’s no doubt that it’s super time-consuming. Having to remember all these steps is one thing, but having to repeat the process for all your photos is a huge pain. Luckily, there’s a way to speed up the process with my free Lightroom Preset Starter Kit Bundle

I created this preset pack to help you spend less time editing and more time sharing your photos. With a single click, you can apply a variety of tasteful editing styles, including some film-like styles, as you learned about here.

Happy Editing,

– Brendan 🙂

Photo of author
I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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