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Tips & Tricks

Adding a Matte Look In Lightroom Is as Easy as a Kardashian & Nearly as Overdone

By Kishore Sawh on June 12th 2015

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. *Cough* That’s such an overused platitude I need to go bathe that comment off of me. And, to some degree it’s rubbish. There’s a reason there’s been an epidemic-like proliferation of apps and presets that emulate or mimic film stock, because generally we all like how they look.

Sure, some photographers use them to mask a poor image, but generally it seems people like the feel evoked by the ‘look.’ As photographers we often become obsessed with precision, and that leads us to marvel at immaculate preparation and execution of an image from the technical side. When an image trades blown out highlights for the subtle nuances of those areas, and images so sharp and clear that in the right light they seem less like looking at a photograph than looking out the window into a real scene.

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But if being around photographic and art circles long enough have taught us anything, it’s that a technically, surgically precise image doesn’t necessarily do much in the way of emotion. It can, but by no means does it make an image a great one.

Anyway, one of the things the majority of the film emulations have in common is a sort of matte or faded effect. I’m somewhat surprised at how often I get asked how to do this in Lightroom and Photoshop because it’s simple, and I’ll show you the basics of it which you can then tweak as you like. Just use discretion would be my advice.

Typically, that crispness of a digital image is removed by clipping/fading some highlight and shadows, and really, all it involves is a few clicks and manipulation of the Curves, so it can be done in Lightroom, Camera Raw, and Photoshop.

Step One

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Open your test image in whatever application you desire. As the majority of you are Lightroom users, we’ll use that here. Just ignore pretty much everything in your Develop Module. You can somewhat achieve the look you want by fiddling with various sliders and such, but no need. We’ll be working exclusively with Curves, and to that fact, ignore the sliders within the Linear Tone Curve and work just with the Point Curve option.

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Similar to a histogram, the far left will represent your dark shadows, and the right, your bright highlights. You can click anywhere on that line and drag/bend it to change the shadows, highlights, or anywhere in between.

Step Two

Simply click somewhere in the left third of your point curve, and release, and you’ll have added a control point. This cements that particular point on the curve regardless of what else you do to the rest of it.

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Step Three

Go to the very bottom left that represents the blacks, click and push those up. As you do this, you’ll notice that immediately your image will begin to ‘lighten’ those dark areas and the ‘matte’ look begins to appear. The further left you add a control point, the darker the areas will have to be to be affected when you lift the shadows up. You can play with this as you see fit per image.

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You could stop here when you’ve achieved a look you want, but you can edit further as you please.

You can also do the same on the highlight side. You can set another control point and, in this instance, bring the highlights down, which will provide a bit of a highlight face, which I quite like.

That’s it really. Sure you could add some grain to increase the film look, but really, you can do this in a matter of seconds. Now, as you do this, you may notice some other facets of the image have altered, and you want to change that. Now you can simply develop as you wish, and I typically up my contrast, and clarity, and raise or reduce vibrance.

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If you come to a final setting on your image you really love, and perhaps you have a whole set of images you want to apply it to say, within a wedding shoot, saving the changes as a preset is also as easy. Just click the little ‘+’ sign as shown below, and select ONLY the changes you have made and deselect all the rest. Name it and voila.

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[REWIND: PHOTOSHOP TRICK USING THE BW ADJUSTMENT LAYER TO BRILLIANTLY ALTER COLOR]

Further examples:

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About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Philip Dev

    Great! Thank you so much 

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I’m glad you liked it Philip. If you have anything else you’d like to learn, drop us a line. Cheers

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  2. Brandon Joseph

    The thing that makes me sad about this article is this: It is very informative, useful, and descriptive. Yet it’s almost ruined by the post title. The post title is sexist and involved too much opinion. It doesn’t add anything to the article, in fact it kind of takes away. Even if it wasn’t so sexist and insulting, adding a celebrities name in an unrelated post about photography/editing is distracting. I’m not sure if this was done for clicks or just because of personal bias from the author but a professional photogaphy site like SLR Lounge should not slut-shame women in a title of a tutorial.

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  3. Naresh Kal-el

    Amazing! Thank you!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Anytime. if there are things you want to know how to do but don’t, let us know.

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  4. Felix Mulderrig

    Epic, thanks so much

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  5. Dee Gordon

    great read an tip…thanks

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  6. Scott Pacaldo

    I’m surprised this ‘trick’ was shared just now. (or I wasn’t looking enough). I use to try and search how to apply fade but gave up when I can’t find anything as easy as this article’s step-by-step process.
    Luckily, I experimented enough in Lr and Ps and found my way to this ‘matte’ look. I didn’t even know it’s called that haha xD

    Thanks for this article! It will be useful for anyone trying to achieve this look.

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  7. Sean Gannon

    Great tip, I have used actions for this in PS but would much rather use LR. Just created a preset. You have saved us lots of time!

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  8. Joacim schwartz

    Thank you for pointing out that it is overdone! Some other commented that “erything is overdone”, which is true, but some things shouldn’t be done in such lenght this particular “trick” has. Some stuff has it up and down with popularity, as the ring flash, which was really prominent in the 90’s, but sometimes find its way to a few people,

    As Zack Arias said about it in one of his posts/videos, it tries to emulate a “film” look, but all it does, it looks like film that has gone bad or old. Sure it can look good in certain situations, but I’ve seen people with portfolios that has only this type of “trick” to it. It just looks cheap in that case.

    And whenever I try to point this out to people who use it, they try to defend it with “it is my form of telling art”, as if my judgement isn’t good enought, or they just get butthurt and can’t accept that their way of art sucks.

    I might use the fade on occasional images, but I know that some things you need to take with ease.

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  9. Gabriel Rodriguez

    Awesome!! Thanks!!

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  10. Thomas Horton

    Getting a handle (pun intended) on the tone curve is one of the things I struggle with the most using LR. It is a very efficient tool to ruin a good photograph if you are not careful. :)

    This was a good article on using the curve. Thanks

    BTW, the first paragraph of this article needs to be rewritten. The logic flow is flawed,

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  11. Stephen Jennings

    “overdone” … wtf isn’t over done today? And why is it clear photos are never called “overdone” or color photos “overdone” or whatever.

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  12. Ralph Hightower

    I’ve heard the adage to rescue a color image, convert it to B&W.

    Why not just shoot B&W? Oh, the majority don’t use film. But I have had to adjust the saturation of Kodak’s BW400CN from a sepia tone to a traditional B&W look.

    A “Show-n-Tell” theme of the local photography club was “Special Effects”, so I went to my B&W photos and remembered “Solarization”. The images turned out interesting, particularly with the infrared B&W film.

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  13. Rafael Steffen

    Great results when applyin them to Black and White photography! Thanks for sharing!

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  14. Jesper Ek

    I prefer making the haze with an overlay to be able to control different areas.

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  15. Lauchlan Toal

    Handy trick to have, thanks for sharing Kishore. Usually I’m trying to get maximum contrast for what I shoot, but I can see where that somewhat hazy look can be useful.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Lauchlan, good to hear from you again. I have a love hate relationship with the matte thing only because it’s typically so overdone. Play around with it, and after you’ve made the effect, intensify the contrast and clarity and see wha you think… I do that from time to time with nice effect. Cheers

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  16. Chuck Eggen

    Just put this to use. Thanks for the tip!

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  17. Brandon Dewey

    thanks for the tip

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