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Tips & Tricks

Creating Bright & Airy Pastel Filmic Images in Lightroom

By Shivani Reddy on August 19th 2016

It is becoming more and more common for photographers to emulate filmic looks due to the cyclical trend of film photography. Using high-resolution DSLR’s doesn’t prohibit you from creating bright & airy images, it all just comes down to the final processing of them.

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Using virtually every tool in Lightroom, we are going to break down how exactly to emulate filmic processing for DSLR imagery, focusing on producing luminous highlights and pastel color grading. The SLR Lounge Preset System has a range of Film presets for Lightroom CC, making you one click away from a Fuji 400h or Illford HP5.


We are going to take a page from our Advanced Lightroom Processing Workshop to show you how to take create this preset from scratch, giving you the freedom to adjust your settings to imitate the filmic look you desire.

Stylize your Shoot with Filmic Look in Mind

Whether it be the props or the directionality of light – stylize your shoot to mimic the post-processing style that you wish to create. Coordinate the style of the shoot with the filmic look you choose to post-produce the images with in order to tell a stronger story, and match the style with the processing.

one click filmic processing

Using the SLR Lounge Preset System we compared the Fuji 400H with the Kodak Portra 800 Preset to show you the mild but significant differences in tonality and color.


While the Fuji leans heavier on the green and pastel color grading, the Portra is rich in color, highlighting the golds and warmth in the image, a subtle yet noticeable difference. In one click, we took an image shot at ISO 100 with full dynamic range, and converted it to a vintage film style. The specifics lie in the HSL section of Lightroom, the first Develop setting that alters the colors in the image.


Dial in the settings to correspond with the film you are trying to emulate. You’ll see that the preset gives us a foundation of color adjustment, pulling the greens to teal hues, reducing saturation in the greens, and brightening up pretty much every color with the exception of the reds.

Camera Calibration for Color Adjustments

Color specifications lie in the Camera Calibration tool as well, unlocking a variety of color options in the RBG primaries and tint shifts. The only way to get familiar with this tool is to adjust the sliders to see how they affect the emphasis of the effect and the saturation selectively for the filmic look you desire.

The Ever Famous ‘Bright & Airy’ Look

Now that the color is exactly where we want it, how do we arrive at the final image? The first step actually starts in camera, as you can see the image was shot to maintain dynamic range, regardless of the fact that we are trying to imitate film processing. The image was shot this way intentionally, in order to have enough wiggle room in post to work with our ambient exposure, and without having to worry about blown highlights or skintones. So long as you have the detail that you need in that raw file, you can push it to create vastly different styles all within Lightroom.


Brightening up the Exposure in the shot, unsurprisingly, is how we achieve the ‘bright & airy’ style that is ever so popular in current photography trends. Decreasing the Contrast & Shadows allows us to brighten the darker areas, a common theme amongst filmic styles, which will help us later when we modify the tone curve.

It’s All in the Curves

Fine tune the highlights and shadows through cross processing, a concept foreign to classic-styled imagery that focuses more on vivid and contrasted color.


Here we chose to adjust the RBG Tone Curves to add in plenty of warmth into the highlights while pulling it away in the shadows. Fine tune the curves to get to a balance between the three colors.

Film Effects in Lightroom


When we said virtually every tool, we meant it. The last two Develop settings we will be tweaking are the Grain & Radial Filter. Classic film processing has a heavy granulated effect, but careful not to have a heavy hand when adding in grain, ultimately this could lead to a muddy image and an extensive loss in quality.

The finishing touch for a bright & airy image is to brighten the edges of the frame, but not by using the Vignette tool. Use a simple Radial Filter with a 0.5+ Exposure Dodge to create a natural edge-to-edge glow, adjusting the strength of the brightness if necessary. And just like that, we arrive at a completely alternate version of our original image, post-produced to fit the style and theme of the shoot.


This is just one of countless start-to-finish images produced from our Advanced Lightroom Processing Workshop. For access to more in-depth post-production tutorials & education become an SLR Lounge Premium Member.

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Shivani wants to live in a world where laughter is the cure to pretty much everything. Since she can’t claim “Serial Bingewatcher” as an occupation, she’ll settle for wedding/portrait photographer at Lin and Jirsa & marketing coordinator here at SLR Lounge. For those rare moments when you won’t find a camera in her hand, she will be dancing, eating a donut, or most likely watching Seinfeld.

Follow her on Instagram: @shivalry_inc

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    Okay, I may get booted off SLR Lounge for advocating shooting film over digital to get that “film look”. But film photography is experiencing a resurgence:
    Why spend time emulating the look of Portra 140, 400, or 800, Ektar 100, or Tri-X, when one can shoot the real thing?
    I use two film SLRs (A-1 and New F-1), one is loaded with B&W and the other with color. I also have a 5D III; I haven’t tried to change the photos taken from the 5D to one of the film cameras.
    Use different tools.

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  2. Bjoern Hirsch

    Hello & thanks for the great tip, I am having the SLR lightroom preset system in the last version , is there any setting already done for the before last curve adjustment for the colors I could use or do I need to do all “manual” ? Thanks in advance

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  3. Vernon Szalacha

    While I think the low-contrast look would look nice in a print, as that’s how film looks when you hold it. On a computer screen, decreasing contrast ends up giving us a look that’s almost too soft.
    Also, I think you forgot to get rid of the fringing on the branches to the right.

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