How to Get Crushed Blacks and Replicate Worn Film with Photoshop

Despite countless digital innovations and breakthroughs over the past few decades, film photography continues to hold a very special place in the hearts of photographers around the world. If you’ve ever looked at an enlarged film negative, you might begin to understand the allure and attraction the medium holds for many people. Though it’s hard for some people to precisely put a finger on, there’s something distinctive and different regarding the process and results produced through film.

Unfortunately, with the decline of film photography, darkroom access has become sparse and film supplies have dwindled. For some, shooting film simply isn’t a viable option. Ironically, an alternative for many aspiring film photographers lies within our technical strides. Using readily available editing software, it is possible to take digital exposures and manipulate them in such a way that they replicate their film predecessors in appearance and feel:

One of the most distinctive attributes many distressed film negatives possess is dulled shadows, which create a less contrasty overall look to an image. Although it can be difficult to successfully create the exact effect with a computer, photographer Mathieu Stern shares a few techniques capable of creating a tone and feel that seems natural.

applying curves layer in Photoshop

Option 1: Apply the Curves Layer

By adding a curve adjustment to an image, it’s possible to reduce the overall contrast range. In turn, blacks are flattened and the difference between the image’s highlights and shadows are less drastic.

applying color fill layer in Photoshop

Option 2: Overlay a Broad Color Cast

Stern suggests typing #4B4B4B4B into a new color fill tab. By changing the layer type to “lighten” and reducing the opacity of the color fill, it’s easy to control the amount of contrast allowed into the image.

applying selective color layer in Photoshop

Option 3: Add Selective Coloring to Blacks

When using a selective color layer to reduce contrast, focus primarily on the blacks. Obviously, reducing the black point will benefit the image greatly; however, adding a touch of blue to the blacks can give a photograph an unexpected touch of authenticity.

The next time you’re looking to evoke a nostalgic, vintage feel to your shoot, consider using your digital tools at hand rather than dusting off your old film. These techniques can be combined and adjusted to create an ideal edit that will be sure to fool even the most seasoned photographers.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing the detailed guide video, it’s useful!

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