How to Get “that film look” by Anand Asar

Get the film look by Anand Asar

I have a lot of respect and love for Steve’s site. I have been inspired every time with the daily inspirations – and particularly Khunya Pan’s one, which led me to but an OM10, and introduced me to the world of Tri-X. I first found love for photography when my son was born. This was when Apple released their first iPhone – 2007. As most parents, I wanted to capture all the great moments of him growing up, and have memories to cherish over time. So my son, has been my inspiration for photography ever since I picked up the camera. I moved on and changed brands and jumped ships quite a lot over the last 3-4 years, changed lenses, and basically did it all the hard way, thinking that a better camera would get me better pictures. I realised much later I was satisfying my lust for gadgets, and a change in financial circumstance led me to start over from 2nd hand equipment (GF1 to be precise).

All this time and all the pictures I had taken, I’m finally getting to think like a photographer. I got me some books to read and study, and a change of subject led me to photograph more than just my son. I’m a graphic designer by profession, working in the signage industry for over 15-20 years. And I had already invested in a lot of software. Software that one cannot sell 2nd hand.  So here I am (as of now) with a GF1 + 20mm f1.7 + OM10 + OM 50 f1.8 + Lightroom + Nik’s SilverEfx + Colour Efx + Alien Skin Exposure + Alien Skin Bokeh + LightZone + Dxo Optics +’s daily inspirations.

This site has given me a lot, reviews, guidance, inspiration – so I feel it’s only fair I give something back. And I decided to embark on a project to achieve a film look, from the equipment I had. Now manipulating a film look can be considered as adapting a legacy lens via an adapter onto your camera. As manual focusing with the lens is a challenge, so is post production, especially if you want to manipulate a certain look, a look that only film can get right.

When we talk about film, the first thing that comes to mind is grain. Yes grain is beautiful, some might not like it, but it has a lot of advantages. It can cure a digital picture in ways that words cannot explain. But one has to understand how to apply it, where to apply it, and get strike the right balance. The other is contrast. Again many like to push up the contrast slider, and while it does give the picture a punch, it can also hide detail. Many film looks have added contrast as a signature, along with grain. I’ve noticed the tone cure adapt a S shape (very common in Silverefx) – this could be killing the detail in your picture, try to straighten the curve a bit – if you don’t like it – go back a step.

The software – I will list these in order of preference. (1st being the must have and so on.)

1. Lightroom – This is hands down the best organizer for your picture library. It is not a great editing software, but it builds up your picture library perfectly, and easy to maintain. Plus it is also a hub as in all other that follow in the list can be configured to launch from lightroom as plug ins… and so on.

2. Dxo Optics & Dxo Filmpack – I had only a trial version of this software, bit I intend to purchase them very soon. The Dxo Filmpack has the best grain rendering, and the closet to match and film. (Please note this is only my opinion – do not intend to start and argument over it)

3.   Alienskin – A very nice set of film presets, plus the added bonus of grain control in highlights, midtones and shadows is excellent.

4. Nik’s Silverefx – If you’re a mad about black and white (like myself) this is a must have. Even Leica pack this software in their box with the M9. A nice set of film renderings, a lot of control over image parameters, excellent U-point control. Grain rendering is nice.

5. Nik’s Colourefex – A good set of film presets – a lot of control over image parameters, excellent U-point control. Unfortunately, film grain rendering is not to my liking.

6.  LightZone – I was told this use to ship with earlier Panasonic M43 cameras, but the software is becoming extinct as the company seems to be running out of financial resources to support it. The guys at lightzombie ( are keeping the project alive, and doing a great job of it. This software was has a tool ‘zone mapper’ which is just great. It divides all the tones in an image into zones and gives precise control over their luminance values. If you’re into black & white photography, it is an invaluable tool.

A lot of you might be wondering why I’ve not mentioned Photoshop.  Well, personally I cannot get along with it – I’ve tried and tried, but it takes me longer to work in Photoshop, than in all 6 above combined.

The right software for manipulating the look will depend on how the raw image looks. Please shoot raw if you’re going to try to achieve this look, jpegs just don’t cut it. I start with Alienskin’s Exposure, then work onwards. Alienskin gets the job done 8 out of 10 times. (Dxo does gets it done 10 out of 10 times). Some pictures cry out for Silverefx, and some might need detail enhancing in Colourefx, then over to Silverefx for finishing off.

I’ve also noticed (with the GF1) that adapted legacy lenses will give you a good platform to work from, if your intended final look is to be film like. (the OM 50 1.8 does fine job)

I spend a bit of time on the computer processing these images, yes it does take some time, but that’s just the way it is. I always take pictures knowing I have more control over the image in post than I do when on the street, or elsewhere. It might be against the principle of getting it right in camera, but I cannot help this. We all have our strengths, and weaknesses  – and once we address them, our images will look much better.

The last thing I would like to say is: we should be grateful to software developers for giving us much more control over our images. A photograph taken captures time as it flows, an event that occurred at that time and place that is real…Real…REAL!!! Don’t take this REAL away from the image, adjust the image parameters, give it the look you intend, but don’t use that ‘Clone’ tool, it will take the REAL away from the image.

Best regards


From Steve: Thanks Anand! If anyone reading would like to submit a guest article like Anand did above, send me an e-mail and tell me about it! Thank’s!


  1. Wow ! So many posts on this one. First off, i want to say that i like some of the Images very much. Good work.

    Then again, it is true that it is impossible (if you look real close) to recreate film look in post. But i guess you know that and it was not your intention to blame people who actually shoot film. Of course there is a reason for that even in modern times. Maybe you should have named your article different.

    And i agree with people who say that one could get closer to the real deal than you did. A good film does not even need grain to look “film like”. Check out Images from Ansel Adams for example (and he worked with film that was nothing like modern film, where grain is not so much an issue). I agree with Dirk who pointed out that the tonality you achieve with film (especially if you use medium format film or greater) is in many cases superior still to most digital cameras today. I guess thats what made Leica build the Monochrome. Great tonality.

    Still some of the tools you mentioned are helpful if you want to add some character to your Images.
    So again thanks for sharing.

    To me i am not much after that film look at all, so i dont care 😉 I appreciate Images from days gone by because they do something with me. It is fascinating because it is a like traveling with a time machine. And that what is great about photography – that you freeze time for those that come later.

  2. I too like to develop many of my images in post but sometimes that super clean digital image just doesn’t look right. Lacks character.

    Tools like these might not give you a 100% film look but it does allow the photographer to craft the images (digitally) to achieve exactly the results they want. A way to use their creativity in a convenient way.

    While I like the look of film, other times I don’t and I usually don’t have the time or the resources to process real film. I also don’t have the money to keep a wide variety of cameras and lenses. Digital processing solves this to a certain extent. Thanks for the article.

  3. People really need to chill the heck out. If your point of view is that one should use film to achieve the film look, then don’t even read this article. In any case, enough with the talk of “cheapening the art.” Art is entirely subjective. A lot of it sucks, a very very small amount of it is great. Worry about your own art, not anyone else’s.

  4. Dude,
    Those don’t look like film.


    These don’t look like film.

  5. I agree about Photoshop – I find it’s not optimised for photographers – originally having been developed for graphic artists. For a few years I have been using Corel Paintshop Pro (currently version X4) and find it to be an excellent option for photographers who do a lot of work in post. Its compatible with most Photoshop plugins including most Nik ones (although not yet with the most just released latest version of ColorEfex). It’s cheaper than PS Elements, has more tools, wizards etc than Elements and I find it just works better for post processing. The Nik tools are superb too. I have tried Lightroom and while it’s perfectly adequate for basic post processing I find that I often need and rely on having the option to use tools like layers etc in X4 when I need them. Although I have no connection whatsoever with Corel I often tell people this as its an option that I think is too often ignored by photographers who simply do not regard it seriously.

  6. Steve, Anand, thanks for the great article. To think I actually come to this site to escape the level of arrogance I find on the DPReview Forums…. While many of the more critical comments were very constructive, many were unnecessarily condescending (even if not intentionally so). Anand never claims to duplicate film to the point of surgical, microscopic precision — the article aims to give his individual interpretation of achieving “that film look.” And as others have noted, there is no single definitive look to film — I’ve seen plenty of photographs shot with film (my own and others) that Anand’s work emulates quite well.

  7. People should just appreciate this man’s photos instead of heavily criticizing his work. Sheesh!!!.


  8. Its really pitiful that some seem people only want to post negative thoughts on this blog. I’ve seen it before in other posts too. The information that Anand has shared IMHO is valuable. And Anand has put him self out there, and Steve has seen it fit to post too.

    I’ve spent countless hours in the darkroom developing my own film and making fiber prints. It was a labour of love. But as a professional photographer don’t have the luxury of spending 8 hours to make the perfect print. Hello digital. I was an early adopter of the digital medium with the advent of Canon’s first pro digital body 10 years ago. I love the fact that digital can provide me with instant visual feed back and I sometimes massage it so that it looks like film. I defy 99% of people out there to be able to discern a film print form a digital print. I’ve printed from 35mm negs to 8×10’s all the way up to 30×40”s prints from film and 50″ prints from digital myself on large format Epson prints on different substrates. The thing is, even if you are shooting film, you’re still scanning it in, it then becomes digital! 🙂 Sure it retains most of the analog nuances, but once again, you can imbue those filmic nuances onto the digital image also.

    Instead of posting negative thoughts, about how his doesn’t look like film, or he should be shooting film instead, I invite you to embrace what Anand is trying to share. I’ve seen this in so many other posts too. Please grow up! If you don’t like the content of a post that’s fine, but like your mama used to say, if you don’t have anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut or in this case your typing fingers off the keyboard. Being negative, and slamming someone for sharing does nothing to support Steve’s blog or the balls it took Anand to ask Steve to post his ideas. Yes of course its a free world, but your negativity certainly contributes nothing to the photography community as a collective. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and software that I may not have heard of. Bashing someone for sharing is juvenile at best. I challenge the negative posters to put your balls on the line and share your own work and your original ideas …. if you have any?

    Anand THANK YOU for sharing your joy of photography and insights, they have not gone unnoticed.

    • Well said Marc! Traditional film and processing was nice, but now the advantages of digital outweigh, if any, the film look. 10 years ago, I thought it would never happen. I would never shoot digital. As the quality of the sensors and the price dropped it has happened. I haven’t touched one of my film cameras, what ever format, in almost 2 years. I thank Anand as well, for the great article. I do not like to make generalizations, but in my experience, those that say digital can never replace film, do not fully understand the process, the tonal values, let alone the software. They tend to be set in their ways. Which is fine, but they also speak down towards a digital workflow. I think it is partially a fear of change. Everything they knew needs to change and learning new software is not easy and it is time consuming. However, there is a lot of benefit in knowing traditional silver practices. A traditional photographer knows what an image can do through their years of working in the dark room. They might even be shocked to realize that they can take an image even further with a digital workflow.

      • So true James. And, at this point more than a decade into the digitalness of photography, there should no longer be a question about film or digital.

        I started out in the 80’s studying painting, sculpture, drawing and photography at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. Digital, like film is a medium. In the visual arts that are many, many artist who imitate life and are able to manufacture/produce art that looks just like wood but is made from clay or other materials. Or produce life like human sized sculptures down to the pores of skin and the whiskers/hairs on their faces to wit: Duane Hanson, a sculptor know for his life-castings. They are a marvel to see in person. No one has ever said his sculptures are not real, or he should have used another medium. He is simply imitating a from with his art, and convincingly so.

        There will always be something magical about the latent filmic image and how that is interpreted by a master printer. For me I’m quite content with digital as an art from.

        If you want to see someone that is doing wonderful things with wet plate photography, look up Mr. Mark Tucker, the guy’s a visual genius. or look up Paker J. Pfister and see an abundance of creativity and what he’s doing with both film and digital

        Like you James I also believe that we can take an image even further with a digital workflow. That being said I’m still jones’n to try wet plate photography. 🙂

      • You should have a chat to Alex Webb about film vs dig from his perspective. I’m guessing you know who he is.

        He gave a great little talk to a few friends on this very issue. It’s just not tones, look etc. It is the WAY you shoot film compared to shooting digital. Just as we read a hardcopy newspaper and essentially respond to it in a different way than when we read news on an IPAD or on screen.

        You move differently, you think differently, you never remove yourself from seeing a scene via looking down to chimp the back of a screen You are always in the ZONE and do not pull yourself from it. Something Alex has issues with when shooting on the street.

        There are are myriad of reasons many art photo doc photographers still shoot film. More than just how sharp something is etc (which, if you guys have ever met any, means very little to working pros or visual artists).

    • If you don’t shoot “outside working hours” you have lost the passion and the joy of photography. Making images without deadlines and invoices. Making images not to sell but to share. Just taking in whats around you. That’s when you can take your timeless analog camera and just let go. Evolve from worker to artist.

  9. As an avid visitor of photographic exhibitions I often cannot see whether a picture was shot digitally or on film or whether the print is an inkjet or a classic darkroom print.
    Sebastiao Salgado has switched to digital as it became too difficult to get his films through the control scanners in the airports.
    It was a difficult process for him and his team because he wanted to preserve his trademark look, but now he is satisfied. He uses DxO film pack.

  10. While I think a much better fist of making a digital file look like film could have been made (sorry Anand) what worries me are the suposedly knowledgable comments along the lines of ‘if you want to make it look like film, use film’.

    I say supposedly knowledgable because anybody who does regularly and creatively use film knows there is no ‘film look’, but rather a million manipulations to get a personal look to the film of your choice. And that personal choice is in part from the eye/brain of the user, and in part a cultural preset. So dark moody and grainy will traditionally suit one type of subject, while bright grain free and detailed will suit another. Its how we see things. And that visual language should be the same if you are using film or digital, unless the critics are suggesting you are not allowed to use the same common language between film and digital. It is similarly ironic that these same critics aren’t trying to define as fake anybody who uses a particular developer to make a normally grain free film more grainy, or a low contrast film more contrasty, that sort of fakery seems to have gone over their heads. Double standards rear their ugly head if a digital user wants to ‘mess up’ the image with some digital noise, they get abuse, but a film users gets a pat on the head for the same offence.

    So I think the ‘use film or nothing’ argument is trying to impose the worst kind of censorship because it is not only aimed at personal expression and the wider cultural visual language, but it is so innocent of what the tradition of using film is all about that it just sounds plain dumb.


    • “I say supposedly knowledgable because anybody who does regularly and creatively use film knows there is no ‘film look’, but rather a million manipulations to get a personal look to the film of your choice. And that personal choice is in part from the eye/brain of the user, and in part a cultural preset. So dark moody and grainy will traditionally suit one type of subject, while bright grain free and detailed will suit another. ”
      So true!

  11. I find it strange that many photographers seem to mystify film and the processes that belong to it. And with that I do not mean the author of this article but his critics here in the comments!

    From what I gather the pictures do indeed not look like film. They look much filmier than film itself! This is where the author of the article transcends the copy-cat dullness of mere photography and ventures into the fabulous world of art. After all, hyperrealism is an advancement of photorealism.

    Photographers everywhere: Don’t beat people for ‘cheating’ on historic photo techniques. Praise them for being actually creative!

  12. Black & White film is amazing when it’s exposed correctly and printed well optically on gelatin silver paper. If you’re taking the time to shoot film and scan it and post on the Internet then you’re just taking a digital image of an image. What’s the point?

  13. your pictures look pretty awesome and film-like to me. it’s nice that you draw some inspiration from film in processing.

  14. I have to say that this is one of the best posts I have seen here recently because it has sparked so much debate and that is good. I seem to have sparked a side debate on decorum which I didn’t really mean to do but I reacted to a comment. To clarify my feelings on the subject of decorum:

    1. I think critique and debate is healthy. I enjoyed it the last time I submitted images.
    2. If you don’t think his images look like film you should say it but think about the way you are saying it. You can deconstruct a building in several ways. You can smash it to bits and grind it up which is certainly more efficient if time is your goal or you can take it a part piece by piece to learn how it was built and perhaps figure out a way to build it better next time (though better is certainly a debate in itself). I would think the latter method is more appropriate here and more fun for the poster and readers.

    Arnand – please accept my thanks for a great post and a spark to a great debate. Btw – forgetting the film vs digital thing for a moment – I like your photos!

    Kendrick Howard

  15. I believe an inherent part of the film look is the print look. It is the combination of the grain of the film and the grain of the paper that gives you the “film look”.

    If you want the film look:
    1) shoot film
    2) print in darkroom
    3) scan print

    On the level of physics there is a significant difference between digital and film. Actual particles of light bounce off the subject, pass thru the film, light is passed through the film onto the paper. There is a unbroken trail of light particles from subject to the viewer of a print.

    In the digital world the trail is broken when all light is converted to a numerical string of 0’s and 1’s.

    • The only problem- granted there are many pluses- with the very physical film is that there just aren’t enough holes that the light pushes through-unless your at large frames.

    • In film the light particle trail is broken and encoded twice : first in the negative and in the print). Light particles, by the way are either there (1) or not (0).

      In digital photograpy, the light particle trail is encoded only once, in the sensor. It can be decoded directly to a motor or printer.

      Therefore, digital photography is closer to the actual light phenomenon – it allows us to shortcut the second imaging process.

  16. Wow, look at all the comments. I’ll try not to add to the mayhem much but since I love shooting film so much I want to encourage those who haven’t to try it out. I develop my own B&W, C41, and E6 film. Developing film is not nearly as intimidating as it looks initially. Once you start developing you will wonder why you didn’t start sooner. The results are very satisfying. The first time you pull a roll of slide film out of the tank and hold it up to the light you’ll be hooked. Here is a link to my film work.

  17. On luminiouslandscape one reviewer displayed i think apsc having more detail than scanned film MF.
    Resolution yes digital has lots.
    Yet Bayer sensore have a flatness
    Understandible as Bayer sensors are just one layer.

    No amounnt of lightroom, SilverFx can get rid of Bayer flatness.

    The most approximate to film look is Foveon with its 3 layer.
    Foveon has a depth due to its three layer as film.

  18. Give us a tutorial on professional color grading instead. The above article provided nothing except some opinion and a list of software.

    • Why conceited, why arrogant?

      The OP headlines his contribution “Getting the film look”. Some of us think he didn’t get it. We’re not allowed to say that?

      It is an interesting and challenging subject, trying to give digital an analogue look. It invites contrasting opinions, one of which could be “It’s fundamentally wrong”, like airbrushing a Rembrandt or oilpainting in photograph style 🙂 . Nothing wrong with pointing out that someone has not achieved his stated goal.

      • Of course you are allowed to say that. Argument and debate is healthy! Its the style of argument and debate that is being discussed here I think – at least on my end.

        • People usually complain about style and tone of the reactions because they are not used to being criticized, in whatever way, and certainly don’t like to be. They come here to receive applause, are then disappointed and start complaining.

          It’s still an interesting discussion that provoked interesting opinions. Let’s get on with it!

          • Some replies here look a bit arrogant. I complain about the style of people giving dry and unuseful quick responses about… about what? Style!
            The work of the OP is interesting, and in my view the search for “that film look” is not an imitation exercise. It goes further. Or it tries to.
            No, Michiel, it’s not looking for applauses. It’s sharing one’s own experiences, and that deserves kindness also in negative comments.
            The “if you want film look, shoot film” recurring comment is avoidable to say the least.

          • Well Alessandro, that’s an interesting thought. My view is that film will only look like film (the b&w Tri-X look, you may have noticed) if it is film. I’ve tried to emulate that through LR4, didn’t work. I don’t want to go the plug-in route, too artificial for my taste.

            As for the critical comments, the OP came in asserting something his images didn’t live up to. As simple as that.

            As for the images? Well….

  19. Nice overview of the various post production programs. And I agree, using “film” lenses on digital cameras is a must to purify the digital out of the camera. Digital lenses are just too, well, digital. Film lenses just have that, well, film look and a raw image shot with them lends itself well to post production into a film look.
    I have an OMD and have settled on the Zeiss Biogon 35mm and the Voitlander Heliar 15mm to serve all my capture needs.

  20. An interesting debate. I’d like to use it to get some feedback. I’ve been trying film but the cost of Tri X, developing, and low res scan at a lab costs me $20. C41 to DVD at Costo is $5 plus film cost. Can PP with SE Pro 2, for example, get the Tri X look? Or is this just another futile end around that dosen’t cut it?

    • Hi John, I use to shoot tri-x 120 and 35 mm, before scanning and then scanning my old negatives. The cost became too much. I am happy with now shooting with the Fuji x100 and printing 13×19. Feel free to check out this link for my portfolio and see if it looks too digital.

      I shoot raw and process in Adobe Raw and Photoshop CS5.

    • John,
      It’s quite correct that having your negs developed and scanned by a lab is going to be prohibitively expensive. You simply have to develop and scan at home. Its really not that hard. But you control the results to how you want them and it’s infinitely less expensive and more satisfying. BTW the link below is Tri-x re branded in case you did not know. Even cheaper, roll your own, some HC-110 and you will be surprised how cheap you can do it.

      • Appreciate the link for low cost Tri X. With so many other interests developing at home sounds overwhelming but I suppose I have to try.

        • easier than you think and fun 😉 If you really don’t want to get technical try Diafine and rate your tri-x at 1250 ISO. 3 minutes in sol A, 3min sol B wash fix and presto. Temp is not a big deal with an easy range. Diafine is reusable and most people use it for a year or more before throwing it out. Use a ND filter when speeds get too fast.It could not be easier.

          • I agree with Patrick — if you’re shooting B&W you gotta dev your own. I started with Diafine, myself, then “graduated” to Rodinal (still easy). I scan my own. You get total control, and honestly, while my scanner is not the greatest, the results are much better than what I was getting at my lab.

            Color is another matter, though, for me anyway. I still let the lab do that, but it’s only about 25% of my shooting.

  21. Ok, I’m done with this website. Sometimes reading an arrogant biased review of a digital camera was fine but an article about how to digitally manipulate photographs just to look like film is really absurd and it’s just enought. You guys only need to have the most recent brand new camera, right? Where is the process of shooting? It has become a race.

    • Hey Petr, No hard feelings but this is nothing new. Through out the history of photography we have been imitating the process the came before. historic process of the late 19th century were specifically made to imitate paintings. Soft focus lenses and brushed emulsions were an attempt to make photography reach an artistic status. When flexible film was invented the sharpness and crispness was a constant evolution of the material to have a large format look. Tilt shift lenses were made so we could have the control that large format lenses had over the focus plain. Now that we have digital many photographers would like to have the look and feel of film. Until digital can find it’s own path we tend to look to the past for inspiration. It is what we are comfortable with. So if we take the long view, after 5 years or so, everything will change. Someday we will be trying to make our holograms look more like digital of the mid 21st century.

  22. My interest is how to get the silver print look. To me photography evolving from the traditional darkroom fiber based print to inkjet has been a rough road. I feel that digital is so clean now I forgot how rough tri-x was. I shot it for 20 years, and loved it. I don’t want to recreate it but be influenced by it. I can develop a workflow in CS5 that allows me to get the tones that I want with a consistency that before was difficult to achieve. I have found that the new Epson Exhibition Fiber papers has the surface of an air dried fiber print. It is about balancing the convenience of shooting digital while trying to stay inspired by and working in the style of traditional black and white photography. Like all processes it has it’s growing pains. I try to learn something new by reading these types of well written articles and glean some information that works for me. It may not work for everyone, but give things a try and see how it effects you vision and work. That is how artists evolve through technique.

    Great article, Thank you for sharing your workflow!

  23. Useful information Anand, thank you. And as for film “purists”, if this was advertised as another daily inspiration where photographer has seen the light after buying M3 and shot some film, it would get rave comments saying how film beats the digital cameras and their sterile look (especially from camera brands that are popular to be the target of hatred such as Canon and Nikon). I am not saying anything against the film as a medium of expression, I’m just saying that loads of people roaming the forums just read the title and then blindly repeat the same mantra like “film has soul, digital is bland” etc

    • You are spot on here Mika!
      @Anand: i love your pictures they are full of life. Don’t get stuck in the stupid debate of film vs digital. That is not what it’s all about. Kudos for your post here.

  24. To me these lack the depth and life that film can offer, only on the very rare occasion have I had to question if a photo was digital or film.

    if you want the look of film them just shoot film, film cameras are so cheap and so too is film, dev and scanning

  25. Many tanks for posting these pics. I must sayI agree with most of the above comments, nothing will give you the tri x in rodinal apart from tri x developed in rodinal.

    However the pics on the screen are a fraction of the story, compare a tri x wet print versus a digital print of any of the shots above and you will see what the magic of film is really about

    But film may not be practical or even worthwhile to everyone which is fine nothing wrong with that

  26. Film can be frustrating. Here’s two images, taken within seconds of each other with Tri-X, but different cameras and lenses (Nikon/Nikkor 85 and Contax/Zeiss 85), possibly slightly differing exposures. They look totally different (but filmlike 🙂 ). Different developing, different scans? I really should get back to doing it myself…

    Which is which?

    • the files from the GXR seem the closes to film from a digital camera I’ve seen but you still have to put some effort in to processing them

  27. Before you buy DxO please make sure that the trial version does EVERYTHING you need it to do, I had terrible experiences with DxO changing the way they integrate with Lightroom between version and not reading NEF files converted to DNG in Lightroom. They didn’t want to refund, and their EULA technically does not allow you to re-sell the license… just a word of caution, I’m happy I got out of it with only slightly less than $100 ‘damage’ (they also dropped the price by 50% just after I bought…).

  28. You have some good photos there. I think your post processing is very well done, but I don’t think it’s required. You have some good images which don’t need PP to look good, they probably look just as good left alone.

    I’m not biggest PP fan, but you have done a very good of it IMHO.

  29. Funny how we all try and recreate film isn’t it?

    I prefer Apple Aperture to LR personally and regard Adobe with rather the same deep suspicion that I reserve for Google and Microsoft.

    Silver Efex is very good and I can also recommend Visual Supply Company’s ‘Film’ plugins for Aperture, which go as far as using genuine scanned film grain overlays rather than digital re-creations of grain.

    All Nik’s products are excellent and in my view far more use to 90% of photographers than Photoshop will ever be.

  30. Thank you all for taking the time to read this article. I appreciate the feedback… negative / positive all taken in with a constructive mindset. My wife warned me I’d be stepping on shaky ground when I wrote this, as traditional photographers would not take this topic lightly. I tried… Thank you all and thanks to Steve.

    • Anand, please don’t be defensive. You’re not being attacked.

      It hasn’t got anything to do with “traditional” photographers. I take exception to that.

      • Agreed. I don’t see myself as a traditional photographer since I have moved on to high end digital equipment many years ago. Still I know what film looks like and I am accepting that I won’t be able to replicate it fully. But I would get to something that communicates the intent.

      • I don’t see how you consider his response to be defensive or why you would take exception to being called “traditional”; it’s hardly derogatory. Aren’t you being defensive here?

        And why would someone say “negative / positive all taken in with a constructive mindset” if they felt like they were being attacked?

    • Anand, I’ve looked over your photos a few times and to me the only photo which comes close to having a film look is the second photo, the one of the child in the green woolly hat and dark coat with hood, if you cover the bottom two thirds just under the child’s eyes the top third does IMO make me question if it’s film or digital, as a whole the processing on the child’s face is the weak link, it’s too clean.

  31. Actually, it’s “Niks Silver Efex Pro 2” and “Color Efex Pro 4”..

    4. Nik’s Silverefx – If you’re a mad about black and white (like myself) this is a must have. Even Leica pack this software in their box with the M9. A nice set of film renderings, a lot of control over image parameters, excellent U-point control. Grain rendering is nice.

    5. Nik’s Colourefex – A good set of film presets – a lot of control over image parameters, excellent U-point control. Unfortunately, film grain rendering is not to my liking.

  32. The images, interesting as they may be (though the post processing is not to my taste; too unnatural looking for me) certainly don’t look like film.

    I’ve tried that too (without the shelf full of additional software; just LR3 and then LR4) and never got even close to a film look, although some b&w conversions (D700 files) can look nice.

    Why don’t they look like film? Imho, the gradation/contrast characteristics in digital are hugely different from film, and “noise” will never really look like grain (well, 6400 ISO in raw with the D700 comes close 🙂 ).

    I have a lot of analog slrs, usually loaded with Tri-X, and get the films developed and scanned in different places. The results then differ as well, in gradation, contrast and grain. But they always look like film, honest, true film, and never like manipulated digital.

    I just gave up trying to do what cannot be done. Well, except when you have an M8, which turns out amazingly smooth b&w files, sort of Plus-X like. Still not quite though.

  33. Thanks for sharing Anand but I have to agree that these don’t look much like film. Nearest is the pencils. Closest I got to film using digital was with the Fuji S2 Pro. The CCD sensor had soft transitions between tones and didn’t blow highlights. The best way to replicate film is to use film. Check out the film groups on flickr.

  34. No, sorry..none any of them look like film.
    Not even close.
    The magic of film is way too magical for digital to imitate and duplicate.

    • What’s so magical about film? It certainly doesn’t have the glass plate look, does it.

      The point of photography is to grab the attention of the viewer. Whether that’s done old school, or with film or with digital doesn’t matter.

  35. I think this is great advice for people that are looking for the film-look. My personal tastes are such that I prefer to keep the changes more subtle. You can also achieve this look mostly without plug-ins, although it might take a lot more look to imitate a specific type of film. The basics of it are usually an S curve(although it helps to lift shadows and retain highlights in LR to not lose detail), and using non-pure blacks(raising the darkest point of the image to a very dark grey), since film rarely/never has pure blacks, especially when scanned.

    This photographer has great examples of what I consider a good application of the film-look more to my tastes. To me, she’s bringing in some of the character of film, without trying to completely imitate it. She uses a set of presets called “vsco” to achieve the look:

  36. Very nice images and interestin article.

    The first one reminded me about some english WW2 picture – maybe because of the flag and the colors. The second picture of the boy is very good and has nice colors and also looks most film like to me (together with the first image). I also like the picture with the pencils which has very nice colors.

  37. It would be easier to just shoot film from the get go. It’s not like it’s a difficult process.
    Nothing replaces the feeling of shooting, processing, and printing a real film image. I’d rather spend hours in my darkroom instead of staring at a computer. But, hey, to each their own…

  38. Nice images!! I like the boy playing skateboarding. 🙂

    BTW, why don’t you just try films?

  39. Well, I think all of your pictures are fabulous and ignore the negative posts here.
    Thank you for explaining the various plug-ins available -this is very helpfull.
    Hope to see more of your work Anand.
    All the best

    • I would like to also thank Anand for his thoughts and opinions. They were very helpful and the article was nicely written. I did like the last photo of the boy. The others, however, not so much.
      Sometimes commentators can seem like a den of AH ‘s rather than a den of Lions…..
      Maybe someone should write an article about the art of criticism. Some of us could profit from this type of instruction.


  40. What film looks like to me is money flying out of my pocket. I can aspire to the film look, but when I think how much it would cost to process the 123 photos I took yesterday, I don’t mind the digital look at all.

    BTW, the last one comes closest to my eye.

    • I agree with how much 100+ exposures cost, but shooting film has made me more precise. I’d rather work on getting good shots out of a couple rolls than out of 60+Gb. I shoot digital also, but every photographer only gets better when they use film.

      • That is simply not true. I come from 35 years of shooting and I shoot no differently today with a digital camera than I did with a film camera. Because you can rattle off hundreds of exposures doesn’t mean you should.

    • One of the things I love about film is that you discipline yourself not to shoot thoughtlessly. I found I was coming back with 10 times less shots but still the same number of keepers when I returned to film. Don’t get me wrong, I love digital but it does encourage bad habits.

        • Because they are not photographers and would have never been interested in photography if it was not the tech that now accompanies it.

          If it was 1990 they would have had no interest in photography. They take 1000 terrible digital photos a week and complain they cant shoot film cause it would cost them too much. Maybe start by composing and framing and just machine gunning it.

    • lol you can say that, but I can also say the money is flying out of my pocket just as quickly upgrading bodies every year to get a better sensor on digital.

      • Which why I stick to my D700 (an obsolete camera if there ever was one) and 5 primes. I just can’t afford to upgrade to the latest marvel, and my photography (never published here) suffers as a result.

        So be it.

  41. Thank you for the info, Anand.
    I guess we sometimes try to add something more to our digital images, a plus that makes them look more “physical”. May be we are looking for a picture which is less only information and we think that adding grain or texture or… it will give us some feeling and the picture will become more real. I think I will try this Dxo. Thanks again!

  42. Beautiful images and interesting processing… Like a retro high contrast HDR. I agree they dont really look like film but they have a unique quality which is identifiable in all your shots.

  43. I love the Tower bridge photo.
    Always nice to hear what others do for post. Maybe the title should have been something different.. No big deal. Nice job.

  44. Agree, They mostly look processed as HDR with grain added. I shoot 95% film. I occasionally shoot digital and I have to say when I use silverefx it looks nothing like the film shots I take. I love tri-x and anytime i convert a digital file with the tri-x “simulation”I always gasp at how bad it is. I understand if you shoot digital it gives a film look and most are fine with that or they don’t know better in that they are so conditioned to a digital look and the various filters and processing people apply.. But when you are used to shooting film and you look at the output from silverefx I (IMO)am severely disappointed. Yes i am not an expert at processing it, but out of the box it is horrible. It seems to be nothing more than different contrast and grain settings of which film is so much more. Film is more than just grain…

    • Not trying to take anything away from the author or a judgement on the pictures themselves.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Since 1962, when I was in the seventh grade and began shooting, I have shot thousands of pictures both in b&w and in color positives. Now, at this point in time, I shoot digital. Overall, the experience is a lot of fun and practical, but still unsatisfying from my viewpoint. Whenever I attend an art exhibit, I can easily (yes, easily and quickly) see the difference between a film and a digital print. I know that that may sound egotistical, but that’s not me: its just a matter of having a “critical eye” w/regard to the sheer “texture” of the image. Film just has that ability to achieve a creaminess, a blending of color and edges that I have yet to see in digital format. I’m not criticizing digital, its just that I wish that the film industry and camera manufacturers had continued to develop film alongside digital. The range of films is paltry compared to an earlier time. I still wish that I had the variety available to me for shooting. Thankfully, I still have my Contax N1, a Contax (Zeiss) 24-85mm and a Contax (Zeiss) 400mm f1:4 lens. Time to get them out once again, I think.

      Great forum, by the way.

  45. Good information, but I feel you should just shoot on film if you want to achieve the film look, sides, nothing is as therapeutic as loading a roll of Tri-X and advancing that lever!

  46. Nice work and interesting information about the software, but with the exception of the boy with pumpkin (OK, the crayons are look natural as well) the photos do not really have ‘that film look’ – but why it should be so important?

  47. The examples still look digital. That is fine. Reproducing a film look from digital files is almost impossible. On a screen they may look ok, but once printed they end up in different buckets. Often I feel great about a B&W converted shot but when I go back to some of my old B&W films I get grounded again. It is the tonality of film that I have not seen in digital yet. The frustrating thing is how easy it is with film. You put the negative on an enlarger, even scanner and it just looks great without fuzzing around too much. Maybe we have looked at film for too long. Sometimes I wonder if we would tolerate film if digital would have existed before it. Would we see the beauty or would we complain about the grain, lack of detail, and the strange tones? 😉 D!RK

    • “On a screen they may look ok, but once printed they end up in different buckets.”
      SPOT ON! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • What happens if you
      a) scan and print the film photo and
      b) develop the digital photo on photo paper?

  48. 1st point: VSCO should definitely be included as a film emulation option. These are very presets

    2nd point: can’t agree with you saying you have more control over the image in post than on the street. Main part of an image is subject and exposure

    • Erm yes I agree, I even put my glasses on to re-check I wasn’t seeing things.

      What I really do not and cannot understand about these “Get the film look” type postings is why the writer didn’t just make it easy for themselves and …. erm … agh …. use film to begin with? I would have thought (in fact I know) that is by far the best way to get the *film* look. 😀

      • Yup I agree, two different mediums. Not many painters using oils try to make it look like they used watercolour, not many glass blowers try to make it look like they are using wood, I could go on but you get the point.

        I think most photographers go through the phase of thinking if they force a “look” to their work then it’s gonna be their signature. Eventually you realise to just relax and let it come naturally.

        Want a film look, then use film. Want a different look to your digital shots (which anyone with a bit of cash can also have) then use some of the software above.

      • I don’t think this type of reply isn’t fair. We don’t shoot film because frankly, it’s inconvenient, particularly for certain types of shooting. For portraits or studio work, where you have time to check settings, there’s something wonderful about using film. But when you’re churning out thousands of images… not so much =P

        That said, I do think these aren’t the best examples of film processing, but the advice is certainly helpful for those wanting to add a bit more character to their images.

        • If you want the film look then you should take an “inconvenient” route and shoot film, photography should not be entirely about convenience, and neither is art.
          This post is a good example of forcing a look onto digital that looks completely fake and unnatural. Digital can be beautiful, but when you apply all sorts of silly instagram looking filters to it to attain “that film look” it cheapens the craft. If you absolutely must replicate film then actually shoot film so you understand what the look is before trying to replicate it. In turn you might even become a better photographer, not only can film also produce a beautiful result, it is also a great teacher.

        • If your shooting weddings, i get the thousands of image comment. But if your just a weekend warrior street shooter, you shouldnt be shooting thousands of images. Ever heard of less is more.

        • the moral of the story is, Don’t churn out thousands of ‘images’, quality ‘photographs’ over a quantity of ‘images’.

      • Indeed. This type of article could probably look something like this
        How to get the film look by So and So

        1. Shoot film.
        2. Develop film.
        3. Scan film.
        4. PROFIT!

    • Cant you find a nicer way to reply Mark – seriously. The guy puts himself out there only to be slapped back by you?

      • I think this responsibility lies more on Mr. Huff than the person who submitted his work. True, his shots look nothing like film but Steve should have used better judgement before throwing this guy out into the lion’s den.

        • I posted the article as I liked it…I knew I would get a few “these do not look like film” and the truth is they do not, as no digital can replicate film 100%. But there are tools to make your digital files a little more “analog like” and thats what this post is about.

          • I like these guest articles big time! There is always someone who is complaining – Those people should go somewhere else.

            Thanks Steve for doing great job!

          • Well Steve I think these really missed the mark. Perhaps if you shot more film (hint hint) you could have seen how far off the mark these were.

        • It’s a perfectly fine little ‘inspiration’ that briefly describes his goals andtools, comments on thr process, and shows some of his work. These ‘daily inspirations’ are not textbooks nor gallery shows, just a place for photographers of all kinds to talk about what they’ve been doing and maybe pass on some of their enthusiasm and a few tips.

          So, the pics he has shared don’t look quite like film and that offends the film shooter, or at least the least secure and most pretentious film shooters.

          As for analogies drawn from the art world, there is some inaccuracy. Oils and acrylics have different properties, but can be user to achieve similar results, if the artist chooses to do so. It’s just paint and can be used in many valid ways. Hell, in high end art of the last hundred years there has been constant playing with faking one material with another. Cubists painted fake woodgrain on collages and even fake pieces of cut paper. Now sculptors patinate bronze to make it look like wood, or vice versa.

          Artists (painters and such) do not understand why photography has so many hangups about technique. Painters don’t get condemned if their work is on a rough canvas that shows through or that the brushstrokes are too fat or that they used a cheaper brand of paint. Sure, doing school projects those things might matter, but generally painters judge work on its visual strength and appeal and how effectively it succeeds relative to the artist’s own work and that of his contemporaries. My days as a painter are over, but I miss the open-mindedness most artists show towards work unlike their own.

          Photographers could learn something from that. I look at Anand’s work and I don’t see perfect replicas of film, but instead a set of retro images that make me smile because they do remind me of film days. The overall look is there even if the details aren’t exactly like film. Nice work, Anand. Keep having fun with your tools.

      • Sorry, but I think Mark was quite polite and certainly not harsh in the way he made his critique. He certainly wasn’t insulting and certainly made no personal attack on Anand (which would have been out of order). Direct yes, but he makes a valid point in that the article & post title seem at odds with the images posted. 🙂

        • Agreed, cidereye.
          Nothing kills off a blog quicker than uncritical cheering of every and anything that gets posted.
          It leads to boring mediocrity being lauded instead of anyone learning something useful.
          I suspect most posters here are not delicate petals who must be patronised by saccharine “niceness”.

          • Im not suggesting that people should be showered with praise just for posting. I’m simply suggesting that we can critique with a little more smile and a little less smug. Also I would offer that ALL CAPS in a critique does not smack of politeness. It is universally understood to be yelling and I don’t think that is instructive at all.

      • I feel this is very tricky. I didn’t like the article and the photos didn’t look like film to me, I think that can be relevant information to some readers, but I also want to support Steve and his guest writers. What to do?

    • Have you ever seen the grain on 800 asa film before? It’s pretty terrible, man. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing that a digital image doesn’t look indentical to film.The look of film can be done in camera by software or through post.The problem is that once you make a digital file more like film, ei- randomizing the dots of color, you will then lose resolution due to the lack of precision of the color dots.( or pixels or however you wish to call it) When that happens, the same folks who want the look of film will complain that the picture isn’t “sharp” enough. It’s like a dog chasing its tail, this will go nowhere. You should pick one or the other, but dont ask a dog to be a cat or vice versa.

      It’s like when Steve wrote about the Nikon V1 and what a good camera it is. Many people still weren’t satisfied with anything less than a full frame sensor on that thing. Why do so many people ask for things the camera isn’t supposed to be to begin with?

      • Yes, I’ve seen 800, 1600 and 3200 ASA film. Done properly (or with some luck) it looks great. You can not replicate the film look through digital capture and post production. This article so clearly demonstrates that. Most people complaining about image “sharpness” are from the digital fan-boy camp. Sharpness has little to do with the look of film.

        • If people really wanted the film look, a good software can do that, even more. The thing is, do people REALLY want their digital files to look like film? With all the randomness and faults as well? Dont forget too, that film differs due to when it was made. The films made in the 60’s certainly isnt as good as the ones made these days. Even film doesn’t look like film….depending on the period. 800 asa looks goos nowadays, have you ever seen any of those films back in the 70’s? I have.

          The good old days…everyone talks about the good old days.Folks who have never seen the hard times of the “good old days” would never say that and folks who have never seen the horrible days of film would never ask for film gain. It’s also not about sharpness from the digital fanboys that are a’s now the “film look” that many art photo fanboys want. It was bad enough when fanboys wet themselves over “sharp” pictures but now do they wet themselves over the “film look”? What ever happene to a thing called the photo itself?

          • Please provide us a credible link, with image examples, the explains in some detail the way “a good software” created digital images that look like film.


          • I think if you notice, most of the critical replies don’t yearn for a film look from their digitals, they simple say “just use film” because when you use film, you get it by default.

            As for the “photo itself”, the “look” of the photo plays no role? If that’s the case there would be no post processing needed ever.

          • Art photo fanboy, LOL, what is that exactly, you think they know any actual commercial gallery owners, ha, NO?

            Their certainly not practicing commercial artists, i realise that. The gulf between the internet photographer and the actual photographer who is represented by commercial galleries is so massive is can not be summed up easily, Most commercial artists use actual film and have the pressure of one or two shows a year.

            Something 99% of the people of this site simply can not understand. Too busy with your finance or IT jobs im guessing.

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