How to edit digital images to look like they were filmed

Travel photographer and content creator Pat Kay posted a comprehensive, step-by-step video on how to edit a digital image in Adobe Lightroom to make it look like it was captured on film.

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

“People turn to movies for their flawed looks and aesthetics. They turn to them for the physicality of the photographic act; slow down, take your time,” he says.

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

“Some film photographers claim this look can’t be replicated digitally, and in those cases I emphatically disagree, and the video above aims to show you why,” he says.

It begins by discussing the fact that there is no such thing as a specific “movie look”, as there is an incredible amount of different film stock as well as different ways to process and develop each of them.

“Add to the fact that there can be minor discrepancies even between rolls of the same stock, and you can begin to see that there really is no ‘movie look’.”

Although there is no overall look, film images have similar characteristics, such as slight desaturation, less sharpness, a significant amount of grain or even light leaks and dust marks . Since there is so much variance, Kay demonstrates the need to better understand how to replicate a “movie look” using digital tools and how to achieve a particular style.

Original digital photo.

In the tutorial, Kay demonstrates how to break down and analyze film frames into their most important characteristics so that an editor can make a digital photo more “film-like” by adjusting those particular characteristics. These include exposure, brightness, individual colors, grain, etc.

“Once all the analysis is done, you can switch to Lightroom and take what we’ve learned and apply it to a digital version of the image,” he says.

Current edition
Changes in progress

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

film edited by sameplimage
Edited to look like a movie

More of Kay’s work can be seen on her websiteand other videos and tutorials are available on his Youtube channel.


Picture credits: Pictures by Pat Kay.

John C. Dent