How to Edit Your Digital Photos to Look Like Movies

Analog photography has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, but despite an increase in demand, film prices are exorbitant and availability is scarce. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to edit digital photos to look like movies.

We spoke with portrait photographer and editor Dustin Stockel, who started The Archetype Process (TAP), a company dedicated to creating realistic emulations of classic films in the form of camera profiles. Prior to founding TAP, Stockel worked as a photo editor in film labs and for private clients.

Profiles vs Presets

Modified using The Archetype Process Kodak Portra 400 +1 Normal Frontier profile. The Archetype Process

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There is no shortage of choice in the market when it comes to emulating a movie in post. Mastin Labs and Noble Presets have made a name for themselves among the leading preset manufacturers in the market. But how do presets differ from profiles? Although both are intended to be applied to Raw files, they actually work quite differently.

Presets are exactly what they sound like. When using a Raw processing platform like Lightroom or Capture One, a preset is applied to an image or series of images with just a few mouse clicks. This automatically adjusts various editing parameters, such as exposure, contrast, grain, etc., within the rig to mimic a specific film look. Once applied, these parameters can be lowered (or increased) at the discretion of the user.

Color profiles, on the other hand, are usually applied to images right after they are ingested and before any changes are applied. In most Raw processors, users select a color profile at the top right of the editing panel before fine-tuning their shots with the various parameters available. Working with a film-mimicking color profile, right from the start, gives users the advantage of potentially dialing in a more nuanced celluloid look, faster, compared to presets alone.

Both are efficient options in your editing workflow, however, and combining them may be the missing piece to the aesthetic that either won’t provide. In addition to TAP, other analog-mimicking profiles include Kodachrome from Digistock and Chroma and Aero Infrared from The Digital Darkroom, among others.

Get to know the movie you want to imitate

This may seem like a no-brainer, but Stockel notes that this is a common mistake. To accurately recreate the look of film, you’ll ideally want to film first. If you don’t know how your favorite movie reacts in a given situation, it will be difficult to imitate it digitally or to know if you are on the right track. Although filming a movie requires an investment of time and money, familiarizing yourself with the stocks you want to work with can save you frustration in the long run.

“Understanding the process of working with a film lab and getting film scans that [you] it goes well with that,” he explains. “Another mistake I see is thinking that a specific film has a locked or preset look. In reality, there are so many variables that the photographer and the lab control that are actually responsible for that look.

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Modified using The Archetype Process Kodak Tri-X Normal profile. Daniel Kim Photography

Tips for Editing Images to Look Like a Movie

When testing film, it’s important to make sure that the shooting conditions you’re experiencing match those you’ll likely be working in. the same way they would shoot a movie,” Stockel shares. “Specifically, shoot with the same amount and quality of light.”

Another thing he recommends is to understand that a filmstrip doesn’t have a predefined “look”. Depending on how it is shot, film stock can produce a wide range of results. TAP’s profiles are meant to give photographers leeway to achieve any of the various possible options. Applying a profile or preset will put you in the stage where you want to be, but then it’s up to you to dial in the settings to get the exact look you’re after.

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Modified using The Archetype Process Kodak Portra 400 +1 Normal Frontier profile. Daniel Kim Photography

The process 1, 2, 3

Often, Stockel will advise photographers on what he calls the “1, 2, 3 process”. The first step is vision. What are you trying to create? Once you have an idea, you can move on to the second step. Think about how you are going to record all the information needed to get the look. This includes cameras, lenses, location, light, and the exposure triangle, just to start.

When looking to emulate film in post-production, it’s best to capture raw files that contain as much exposure information as possible, which is why your exposure settings in step 2 are so important. When in doubt, Stockel recommends underexposing an image rather than overexposing it.

“I don’t think there’s anything unique to filming to emulate a movie that needs to be made,” Stockel says. “Just exposing right is still the best overall way to save the data needed to get the look you want.”

The final step is where profiles come into play. Now that you have a Raw photo with plenty of exposure data, it’s time to choose your profile, make your adjustments, and see your analog emulation vision through .

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