My Editing Workflow
(And my Favorite Film Emulation Preset)
I get a lot of questions from other photographers about my editing workflow and what my medium format film set up is. The truth is, these days I shoot mostly digital (I actually sold my medium format camera back at the beginning of the pandemic) and honestly I sometimes had a hard time remembering which photos are film and which are digital until I look at the filenames. What I have found over the years is that with the right understanding of light, a good camera body/lens set up, and a light touch in Lightroom you can get the images to look indistinguishable from film.
When I started my career as a photographer I loved the look and feel of 120 film (still do) and found it was pretty difficult to replicate with a digital camera. There were lots of presets out there, but many of them took a lot of work to match to film and still didn’t get me very close. I actually worked as an editor for other photographers for several years, and edited hundreds and hundreds of weddings using every film preset on the market.
I’ve used Jose Villa, Mastin Labs, KT Merry, Refined, and the Archetype Process and the clear winner (head and shoulders above) was the Archetype Process (TAP for short). TAP is not a preset, but a profile in Lightroom, and does not make any changes to the HSL panel or Tone Curve panel in LR after application. After you apply the profile, it is almost like working with a blank slate because you still have full freedom over the contrast and colors, so if something isn’t quite right with the RAW file, it is super easy to make adjustments. My biggest hangup with Mastin Labs (a preset that I used for several years exclusively) was with all the changes in the HSL panel, once you started making adjustments things started getting pretty wonky really quickly.
Here is an example of a film photo compared with the digital TAP profile.
Can you tell which is film and which is digital? I can’t.
Top photo: Mamiya 645 with 80mm f/2.8 Fuji 400h rated at 200
Bottom Photo: Nikon Z6 with 58mm f/1.4 with TAP Fuji 400h
Aside from a few color differences, it’s pretty darn close. This is where TAP really shines. Because it is a profile, not a preset, the HSL panel remains untouched so it is really easy to make changes to individual colors without affecting the overall feel of the image.
Here is the digital SOOC image:
Here is a look at my basic panel after editing the digital image…
A few changes to blacks, color temp/tint, and tone curve adjustments and you are 99% of the way there. When you are editing a gallery of 800+ images to match to film, this is a HUGE time saver.
Full disclosure, I did have to make some minor adjustments to the color panel to get me that extra 1% of the way there.
The “Secret Sauce”
This is not based on any real research, but I’ve found that the “secret sauce” to getting a photo to look like real film is in the right grain mixture, a little bit of texture, and the right tone curve.
There is nothing really outside the box happening with this particular image, but I’ve found with heavily backlit images or bright images the dead giveaway of a digital image is the “density” of the shot. Film always has a lot of texture and body in an image (probably not the right word, but makes sense in my head) so I sometimes throw in a little “S” curve to help with the black point.
The “J” Trick
Another trick I love to do is use the “J” trick- a helpful tool I learned a few years ago. If I’m looking at an image where the contrast just doesn’t look right, I will hit the J key which shows me where the black and white clipping is. Anything that is blue is pure black, and anything that is red is pure white. I always like my images to have a tiny bit of blue and red in the image- I’ve found it helps me if I’ve gone too far in either the light or dark direction.
Here is a screen shot with the J key toggled…
… and the final image.
And that’s it! For almost all of my images, that is the extent of my editing workflow. For me, TAP is a huge time saver and even without matching film I think it looks great.
Want to see more from this shoot? Click HERE.
TAP in Cinque Terre
Here is an older travel image of mine that I recently reedited with TAP.
First step is to apply the profile, in this case is Pro400H Frontier Pushed 1 EXP +2, with some basic exposure, tone curve and WB adjustments.
I then hit the J key to check my white and black clipping. If you can tell, there is only a slight bit of black clipping down by the boats which is perfect.
I make some minor adjustments to the HSL panel (just eyeballing to my taste).
And that’s it! The whole edit takes around 5 minutes and I love the result.
Want to see more from this trip? Check out my print shop HERE.
And that’s my editing workflow! Leave a comment if you would like to learn more or see more articles like this!