Should you edit your film photos?

To keep it straight and simple : yes, you should!

This is a frequently asked question now that more and more people are shooting film. Indeed, developing your photos in Lightroom or Photoshop (or both) is a huge part of the process of shooting digitally. So it gets logical to wonder if it is ok or not to do the same with film photos.

And yes, it is ok. And no, it is not cheating! I mean : that’s what photographers did in darkrooms. They adjusted the contrasts, they cropped the image if needed, the erased some small imperfections, they even changed the white balance. That’s what photographers still do today in Lightroom. If you don’t scan your films yourself and you let a lab do the job, you may ask for a specific look – like warmer, low-contrast, slightly underexposed etc. But even that way, your scans won’t look exactly how you wanted them. So you might do some slight adjustments.

Here is an example with a portrait I took of a friend of mine.

Thomas AVANT
Thomas APRES

I liked the original look of the scan. But I wanted to do minor adjustments. As you can see, the edit is very subtle. I cropped the image, I adjusted the contrast and I faded my blacks a little. I underexposed the background, I slightly corrected the white balance and I added a subtle amount of clarity on his face. The photo is almost the same, this new version just looks better to me. I didn’t cheat to achieve this result : you can still get that it was taken on film – and you may also guess it was taken with a Kodak Portra 400 as I tried to maintain the original and typical look of the film.

Of course, because a scan is a jpg, you won’t get the same clean results you have while editing a huge RAW file. So you can’t go completely crazy on the sliders in Lightroom and get a clean image at the end. That’s also a reason why I think editing your film photos in Lightroom is ok : the file won’t be rich enough to completely change the original mood of the picture.

So don’t feel bad about digitally editing your film photos. Do all the small tweaks you need to do to get the perfect image you want. But don’t spend too much time doing it, remember that one good thing about going From Digital To Film is to shoot more and edit less!


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