The ‘Pixel to Film’ challenge by MPB & Cherrydeck celebrated the artistry of emulating the film aesthetic through digital photography. Over three weeks, photographers participated for a chance to win an exciting prize, submitting their best efforts to capture the nostalgic feel of film in their digital shots.

We received hundreds of incredible entries and ultimately, three skilled photographers won €700 vouchers from MPB with their outstanding pictures: Claudio Cimmelli, Carla Heyworth, and Marina Kalcheva.

We asked a couple of questions to our talented winners about their best practices for achieving the film look in digital photos. Keep on reading to see the equipment and techniques that they prefer, and their tips for recreating film.

We cover:

The Appeal of the Film Aesthetic

The appeal of film photography holds a unique charm in the digital age. For Claudio Cimmelli, the fascination lies in the ability to immerse oneself in different reality through any vintage object or image.

Sometimes I fancy a “vintage film look” for my photo when I want to make the images more magical and romantic.

Claudio Cimmelli

Carla Heyworth’s love for film is rooted in her early experiences with photography, appreciating the depth of analog images and the discovery of new methods of developing film. Meanwhile, Marina Kalcheva’s journey to the film look was more organic, born from her search for a distinctive photography style. “Looks like I am a kid of the ’90s, and it is just inside of me”.

Key Settings for Achieving the Film Look

To mimic the look of film, certain camera settings play a crucial role: Cimmelli prefers to avoid using flash, especially in daylight, and often underexposes his shots.

While Heyworth emphasizes the importance of low ISO settings to achieve a film-like quality, Cimmeli leverages the high ISO resistance of modern digital cameras to maintain a natural look, even during nighttime shoots.

Finally, Kalcheva recommends 1/100 shutter speed, with an open aperture (f/2.0), and shooting in RAW format – as she often does herself.

Picture by Claudio Cimmelli – How to Achieve the Film Look in Your Digital Photos
Claudio Cimmelli’s ‘Pixel to Film’ Winning Photo

Essential Tools and Software

The power of editing software cannot be overstated in the quest to achieve a film look. Lightroom and Photoshop are particularly highlighted by our winners as essential tools thanks to their useful features, continous updates, and the introduction of AI.

As Cimmeli states “They can help any editor to give a film look to the pictures”. Additionally, Heyworth recommends VSCO for its variety of film type filters to play with.

On the other hand, if you prefer minimal postproduction and retouching, like Kalcheva, you should focus on good lighting. Capturing real moments in beautiful light is Kalcheva’s main way of work.

Light is essential. It is one of my inspirations and the main component of how my photos look.

Marina Kalcheva

Techniques for the Film Look

Creating the film aesthetic involves a blend of technical adjustments and personal artistic choices.

Cimmelli uses Lightroom for its tools like curves, dehaze, and HSL saturation to achieve a light faded effect, manage the contrasts and reduce the brightness of certain color tones. He has already developed different vintage presets there as well.

The grain tool is pivotal, used by all our winners the film-look. Cimmeli describes it as a “superpower” and very important to correctly balance the amount, size, and roughness for the desired effect depending on the picture and its lighting. Likewise, Kalcheva says “Adding grain is essential, I love it.”

To replicate the film look, besides from playing with the grain, Heyworth in particular enhances reds and yellows, and reduces blue and green tones. And, Kalcheva’s

Kalcheva’s postproduction work includes tweaking curves, color grading, and adding grain. She highlights adapting the editing of each particular photo according to its unique settings, despite using presets from previous shoots. “Sometimes, I change color and saturation in the Calibration section. I like to add a tiny bit of color to highlights in the Color Grading section. Also, I like to make shadows deep but with low contrast in general.”

Accordingly, for her winning photo, she lowered the contrast, increased dehaze, adjusted curves, and added a green tint to the highlights, among other tweaks.

Picture by Marina Kalcheva– How to Achieve the Film Look in Your Digital Photos
Marina Kalcheva’s ‘Pixel to Film’ Winning Photo

Recommended Cameras and Lenses

When it comes to equipment, our photographers have their favorites. Cimmelli relies on his Nikon D750 for all kinds of projects with a Sigma Art 35mm lens, “absolutely the best lens I have on my kit”. Heyworth enjoys experimenting with LOMO cameras, while Kalcheva finds that low-quality cameras from the 2000s offer a genuine film vibe.

Explore MPB’s Top 10 Digital Cameras for Film-like Photography with up and downsides explained!

Film-Editing Use

While some photographers reserve the film aesthetic for specific projects, others incorporate it into all their work.

Cimmelli typically uses this style for travel and street photography but is beginning to suggest it to his clients, especially for wedding reportage.

Heyworth distinguishes between her professional digital work and personal projects, where she embraces the film look.

In contrast, Kalcheva applies the film style to most of her photos, but she enjoys the spontaneity and simplicity of unedited shots for Instagram Stories and personal use.

Extra Tips for Achieving the Film Look

For those looking to start editing like film, our winners have valuable advice.

Cimmelli encourages exploring the world, seeking out the best light and emotions. “Anything else is only in the eyes of the photographer,” he says.

I find it helps to look at photographers who used film and replicate the colours. Find second-hand books and study how the colours look.

Carla Heyworth

Kalcheva advises beginners to find photos they admire and attempt to recreate the editing process on their own photos. “Analyze, think, search, and look at more photos from great authors,” she recommends, emphasizing the importance of following one’s intuition and passion.

Picture by Carla Heyworth – How to Achieve the Film Look in Your Digital Photos
Carla Heyworth’s ‘Pixel to Film’ Winning Photo

What will they do with their MPB vouchers?

Each winner has exciting plans! Cimmelli is set on purchasing a second Nikon D750 to enhance his wedding reportage capabilities, as he states “It is the best camera I’ve ever used”. Heyworth is eyeing a Leica lens, while Kalcheva seeks a small, everyday camera to complement her Canon 5D Mark II.

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Achieving the film look in digital photography is a blend of technical expertise and creative vision. We hope you loved our winners’ insights offering valuable guidance for photographers aspiring to capture the nostalgic essence of film in their digital work.

Get to know the winners!

Claudio Cimmelli

Born and raised in Naples, Claudio has a very strong passion for photography, which he has been cultivating for more than 10 years. He specializes in street, travel and portrait photography. And he also photographs ceremonies and commercial shoots, working in recent years on dozens of events and for various clothing and accessories brands.

Carla Heyworth

Carla Heyworth is a professional photographer based in Lisbon, Portugal. “I’ve always loved light and shadows, I think my love of photography stemmed from observation. I’m also extremely voyeuristic (!) and love people watching…”

Marina Kalcheva

Ukrainian-born photographer, Marina, has been working in the audiovisual sector for more than 7 years, and is an experienced video editor. Last year, she held her first personal photography exhibition in Barcelona, where she is currently based. “Photography is not only a passion or a job, it’s a way of discovering the world around me and myself, a way of talking with people and about them. My concept is to get to know a personality and tell their personal story with my aesthetic vision”

Posted by:Cherrydeck Editorial

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