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Making your digital images look more like film images

Carolyn Hodges , May 18, 2007; 08:40 p.m.

I've been working on making my digital photos look more film like. There's something in the depth that I'm not getting in digital that I admire in film. (No, I don't want to switch to film.) I use CS3 and shoot in RAW. I have a Nikon D80. Besides increasing the blacks in RAW, what else can I do to get that depth? Carolyn Example: This is a photo of my son that I love, but it's still missing the depth (I can't come up with a better term) 4-28-07f.jpg


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Mike Ferris - Omaha, NE , May 18, 2007; 09:09 p.m.

Part of the depth you are looking for is called "Dynamic Range". Film has more dynamic range than digital. There are many actions, filters, and processes that can get close to a certain type of film reproduction...i.e slide film, kodachrome, etc.

I don't think I would be a qualified authority on this though, as I am strictly digital, and lack the ability to reference film comparisons. Someone will come along with some explanations though.

J. Harrington USA (Massachusetts) , May 18, 2007; 09:12 p.m.

Making digital images look more like film images

I think viewing film based images on photographic print paper usually shows more contrast than does viewing digital images or film scans, on a monitor.

You might try upping the contrast a bit.

Geoff Sobering , May 18, 2007; 09:24 p.m.

Is this the direction you are looking for?

I applied a little "dehazing" USM, a slight S in curves, a small increase in the red saturation, some local sharpening of the hair, and a little blurring around the edges (although honestly most of change comes from the dehazing, curves, and saturation increase).

J. Harrington USA (Massachusetts) , May 18, 2007; 09:28 p.m.

Making digital images look more like film images

BTW, if you view film based print scans, on a monitor, you'll see much difference between that and viewing a negative scan on a monitor, of the same image. The print scan will be more contrasty, showing less detail in the shadows.

Very often the shadows are darker in film based prints.

Don't forget we are talking about film based PRINTS which are often changed by the auto color/exposure features in 1-hour film processing, print making machines.

You make one exposure in your camera for the film, then the lab's machine makes another exposure setting for the paper print, based on what it "sees" through the negative.

Scanned negatives are usually less contrasty than are film based prints themselves.

To sum up, print paper may have less dynamic range than does the actual film...and...viewing reflected light from prints is a different animal than viewing emited light from a monitor.

Carolyn Hodges , May 18, 2007; 10:18 p.m.

Thank you Mike - that is what I was thinking of, dynamic range. Geoff, not quite what I was thinking of but thank you for your efforts. Tell me if they is more "film" looking. I did a dynamic range action I have sans the screen layer which I felt wasn't necessary for this image and I adjusted the levels to darken the shadow areas. http://farm1.static.flickr.com/204/503983457_617a553022.jpgSharing" rel="nofollow">4-28-07f dynamic range.jpg

Benny Spinoza , May 18, 2007; 10:27 p.m.

Those are interesting comments. I suppose you need to be more specific. Are you interested in the final print, or just how things look on a monitor. I assume you mean the final print, otherwise, what's the point. Photographic paper has a relatively sharp characteristic curve, so that in the old days when people actually made optical prints by using an enlarger, the hard part was for the paper to reveal what was recorded in the negative, particularly if the negative recorded a scene with a large number of stops between highlights and shadows. Having recently moved from the darkroom to the digital darkroom, I find it satisfying (and amazing) how one can scan film, adjust the tonal range, and get a print that reveals what was recorded in the film. Having said that, the key here is that color negative film has a larger dynamic range than a digital sensor. It can record both hightlights and shadows that are not possible with todays consumer digital sensors. (At least with regard to the affordable sensors. The high-end, very expensive backs are supposed to have a high dynamic range. Interestingly, Fuji has some interesting technology that is supposed to give a more film like result, using photodectors of varying size.) So the problem is that for many scenes, you will not be able to get a final print that matches what you could get by using color negative film. To me, prints from digital sensors look more like prints from color slide film, which doesn't have the same dynamic range recording ability as color negative film. For many high-contrast scenes, you are probably stuck with the limitation of final prints that will not look like prints from color negative film. This is one of the reasons I have not switched to digital cameras. As technology increases, one would expect digital cameras to get closer to what color negative film can do.

XB Liou , May 18, 2007; 10:46 p.m.

I use D80 too, and try to make the digital images like film .this is the practice of mine .

Digital images' Dynamic Range is narrow than film.but both the shadow and light part is enough the film quality.the mid tone looks like more gray. Hence ,take out the mid-tone ,and creat a new layer ,choose the model as "Overlay" or "SoftLight", with "opacity"

then to change the Curve , especialy the Blue chanel.

good luck to you !

this is the effect of my pic , by d80 ,jpg format,

Ironsmith http://hi.baidu.com/lioufoto/blog/item/f779b6028344cd0e4afb5112.html

A practice of elder Portrait http://hi.baidu.com/lioufoto/blog/item/a21e6dee086004fab2fb95fc.html

welcome to talk about more ,


Andrew McLurkin , May 18, 2007; 11:13 p.m.

If this link works, here is my version using the shadow/highlight tool in photoshop to bring out the shadow detail. To my eye that is what shows up more in prints. BTW, I'd say the original image is slighly overexposed.

Geoff Sobering , May 18, 2007; 11:28 p.m.

Carolyn, you should probably look at how the "Curves" adjustment works. It's similar to "Levels", but gives you much more control over the shape of the function that converts the starting image values to the resulting values. It's probably the most powerful tool for adjusting the contrast and "feel" in an image. It's no coincidence that different films are described by their "characteristic curve".

BTW, I like your processed version - mine ended up a bit oversaturated in the non-color-corrected browser world.

Can you post a reference to the "dynamic range action" you used?


Geoff S.

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