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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Matte Look Examples