Use Lightroom to Achieve the Feel of Black & White Film


Whether you have ever worked with black and white film or only know digital photography, you can use Lightroom to satisfy your nostalgia for the feel of film photography. With a few steps in Lightroom, you can achieve the iconic look of photos shot on film without the mess or hassle of darkroom photography with a few tips.

create black and white film look in lightroom

Film vs. Digital:

There are two mediums for taking a picture: film or digital photography. Film vs digital photography is similar to comparing regular television to high definition television. Compare a high definition television program to a television program not created in high definition, and you can’t help but note a startling difference. How did we ever enjoy television without high definition? The digital program is crystal clear and sharp while the non-HD looks fuzzier and is a less quality picture. Film photography versus digital photography is the same way. Film photos have a different quality to them compared to the crispness of digital photography. Depending on what you are shooting, the characteristics of film photography might be ideal for the overall mood of the photo.

Bendisa by Erjon Sopaj on

Ethereal vs. Realistic:

Film photography lends itself to a more ethereal look while digital photography is more realistic. Digital doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Film photography does. Instantly recognizable by its less crisp lines, a film-shot photograph offers the same feel and charm of Old Hollywood. There is a certain attractiveness or romance to film photos and never more so than with black and white film photography.

Rummstein – Mutter by Sergey  Piltnik (Пилтник) on

Camera settings for film-shot photography:

1. Select the Right Subject: To make a picture appear to be an authentic black and white film photo, choose an interesting subject and carefully compose your shot. The fewer distractions the better to achieve the feel of film photos. Film photography continues to draw fans because of the mood it offers the viewer. So, create the mood for your photo by carefully composing your picture. Try different or unusual angles and, by all means, shoot numerous takes.

2. ISO Matters: Set your ISO between 1600 and 6400 to create some noise similar to the grain of black and white film. Try shooting in several ISO settings to give you some options later. 

Growth by Laima Kavaliauskaitė on

Recreating Black and White Film with Lightroom:

Thanks to the versatility and technology of digital photography, you can use Lightroom to mimic the qualities that make black and white film so rich. 

1. Achieving the Look: In Lightroom, convert your picture to black & white. There are several ways you can do this in Lightroom, such as pressing V. 

2. Color Film: You can recreate in Lightroom the look of photos taken with color film. However, you should note that it won’t appear as authentic as black & white film and it’s not as easy to recreate as with black & white.

Svetlana by Jack Høier on

Once you have converted your photograph to black and white, there are a few additional steps you can take to get the feel of a vintage film. We suggest you play around with the sliders in your Develop module until you achieve the look you’re going for in your picture. If you haven’t already studied or researched some print photos developed from film, now is a good time to have them as a reference!

In the Develop module, click on Effects. Then it’s time to have some fun with the settings:

1. Film prints tend to have a slight vignette look to them created by the lens back in the day. Set your Post Crop Vignette to about a minus 12. 

2. The Grain slider should be set to approximately 40 and set the size also to 40.

3. The roughness can be set to 25.

These settings should give you the feel of an old black and white photo taken in the film. We suggest you adjust the Grain up or down to suit your taste. You can even adjust the vignette size as well. The results will depend in great part on the ISO used for each image.

black and white film effect by beart presets

Once you find some settings you like, you can create a Lightroom Preset or two so that you can save some time in the future when trying to achieve the same effect on a different image. 

As you can see, it is relatively easy to obtain the look of an old black & white film image. You will probably discover that you will easily turn to a Preset in the future when you want to achieve the same look and feel. However, other times, you will likely want to play around with the Grain to achieve just the right look you want. 

Diletta by Alessio Albi on

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