Getting the Film Look in photos-5 tricks!

4)Getting the film look with a digital camera is easier than you think!


The look and feel of film photography (called the film look) is sought after by photographers. Many think that getting this film look means using a vintage film camera. However, with the advancement of digital technology, it is now possible to recreate the film look using a digital mirrorless camera and some novel techniques. So, for your next film-look photography project, let’s study these shortcuts to get yourself on the way to that vintage film-like photo feel. 

Front right view of a Fujifilm X-H2S digital mirrorless camera
The Fujfilm X-H2S camera is Fujifilm's flagship hybrid mirrorless digital camera
front view of an old vintage film camera
An old Nikkormat EL film camera circa 1972

In this article, we will delve into different methods and tricks to achieve a film-like appearance in your digital photography.  To summarize, here are the 5 ways you can get a film look

  1. Usee RAW files when shooting
  2. Burn in a colour profile
  3. Use film emulation software
  4. Push your ISO setting 1600 and above
  5. Use vintage lenses

So, let’s get to it!

1) Shoot in RAW instead of JPEG


Shooting in RAW format instead of Jpeg gets you to capture more information and detail in your images. Why is this important? Film has high dynamic range and captures a wide range of tones. Shooting in RAW will allow you to capture this detail in the highlights and shadows. Most of your film look adjustments will happen in post-processing so it makes sense to have the most image information when doing the film-look edit.

Camera menu on a Canon G5X
Even small cameras like the Canon G5X offer raw settings. Working with RAW gives you a whole world of post processing options.
Front view of the Canon G5X
Although the G5X is relatively small, it packs a photographic punch

2) Choose the right colour profile (sometimes called a preset or look)


Digital cameras often come with different colour profiles to adjust the tone and feel of your images. Many mirrorless cameras come with presets (sometimes called SCENES, LOOK, FILTER) that mimic the look of film, such as Fujifilm’s “Classic Chrome” or “Provia” presets. These presets can help you achieve a more film-like look straight from the camera.

If the film look is your only priority, I suggest getting a Fujifilm camera, as they offer the option of shooting classic Fujifilm profiles right into photos you shoot. All other camera brands do an OK job of imitating film, but lack a bit in quality.


A small drawback of burning in a look

One of the cons of these presets is that you are restricted to shooting a compressed format like jpeg.

A little tip: By simply putting your photo in black and white, no matter which camera, you can also drive home a film look.

Menu of the Fujifilm X-H2S
The Fujifilm camera line offers many classic Fujifilm look simulations. If the film look is your main priority, Fujifilm might be the best way for you to go.

3) Use film emulation software


Steps 1 is just a preparation for this step.

There are programs available to emulate the look of different film types. Companies like Mastin Labs and Alien Skin Exposure, and Presetlove are popular choices for achieving a film-like look in digital images. Some publication portals like VSCO and Instagram supply some pretty good filters. These presets mimic the look of different film stocks and can be adjusted to suit your personal style and preferences. Also, consider Colour LUTS – colour presets and plugins that can be used with your existing photo software like Photoshop or Lightroom. 

I recommend using third-party film LUTs and presets in plugin form supplied by companies that specialize in getting specific looks, like Luminar

My Phlearn tutorial membership also offers a bunch of LUT packages that can instantly give a film look.

Web page snapshot of a Phlearn LUT package offering
Phlearn offers this film LUT package as an advantage of joining their tutorial membership
Bottom view of a boardwalk ride
This image was crystal clear until I introduced noise to the image in Photoshop
photoshop menu indicating where to find LUTS
LUTS or colour lookup tables are an excellent and quick way to get great results
LUTS can also be masked like any other of the effects and filters
Adding noise give a grainy look to all digital photos. Use with caution though
medium closeup photo shot from below of people walking through time square
This is a before picture with already a black and white look "burnt in"
medium closeup photo shot from below of people walking through time square
This same photo has noise and grain added with a Fuji Reala LUT added in post.

4) Do not be afraid of grain (burn in your ISO)


Grain is a characteristic of film that viewers enjoy. The exposure triad is ISO sensor sensitivity, Shutter speed, and Aperture. If you boost up your ISO setting, you will be surprised at how your photos film look will be convincing. Don’t be afraid to bring up your camera’s ISO settings and compensate with shutter speed and aperture.

Adding grain to your digital images can help you achieve a more film-like look. Shooting with a high ISO setting introduces noise into the image that is very characteristic of film grain. 

Close up of woman on a chair
Shooting at high ISO can give a really convincing grainy film effect
photo of woman on a chair
Image shot at f/2.8 - 1/80th and at 1600 ISO.

5) Use vintage lenses


Achieving a film-like look in your photography or videography can be influenced by the type of lens you use. Newer lenses have developed so much that they tend to be almost too perfect. Therefore, using a vintage lens can add a touch of nostalgia and timelessness to your images.  Using these lenses at their widest opening introduces a shallow depth of field and even old-school faults like vignetting, which create a cinematic effect by blurring photo backgrounds and introducing distortion on the edges of images. 

This goes somewhat against point 4 because by boosting ISO, you will need to close down the aperture. Hence, a closed aperture will kill a shallow depth of field. The key is to find a balance of all elements in the exposure triad.

The Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 is a low cost vintage lens which delivers all the characteristics of older photographs such as vignetting and image softness at the edges.

4) Conclusion


If you’re looking to achieve a film-like look with your digital mirrorless camera, there are a few key factors to consider.

  • Shooting in RAW format and selecting the right colour profile are important first steps, as they will allow you to have leeway to play with your images in post-processing.
  • From there, you can experiment with film emulation software and exposure settings to achieve the desired look. Adding a touch of grain can also help to replicate the texture of film.
  • Finally, choosing the right lens can further enhance the overall effect. With some attention to detail and experimentation, you can create images that capture the timeless and old style of traditional film photography.
New York roasted nut stand on a busy night
Jacques Gaines looking in a camera pointing upward

About the author


I am a photographer, videographer, and copywriter living in Quebec City, Canada. I also have a YouTube channel and an Instagram account dedicated to creation and creativity via my main loves of photography, music, and writing.

To get in touch with me and discuss your collaboration, service needed, or advice, either go to the contact page and write to me via the contact form at the foot of this page.

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