Back to analog: old stock film emulation

Just recently, I upgraded my Lightroom-plugins with the latest presets from  VSCO. This company takes original (old stock) analog film and recreates its “look and feel” by carefully measuring each detail like gamma curve, grain, color saturation – basically every aspect of its behavior, even push, pull, and cross processed looks.

I’d like to introduce you to my workflow with the VSCO presets by using the photo I took one morning of a balcony just across my kitchen window. The sun just had risen above the roofs and streamed into the backyard of this old brick house in my Stuttgart neighborhood. It was a quiet and warm atmosphere, but capturing this impression 1:1 just was not possible. That’s when I came up with the idea of using one of the VSCO-presets. I loaded the picture into Lightroom, and in the development module quickly browsed through their different “films” by mouse-hovering over the presets and watching the changes in the top left navigator preview window. Agfa Vista 100 seemed to be a good starting point to me (it’s part of their “VSCO Film 05” collection) – you later on can choose from differently developed or exposed versions of that very film, too. I decided to go for the “vibrant” version.

Now, let me show you step by step, how I processed the original RAW file. First of all, I had captured the scene with different exposures. I took the one, where the white streaks of the sun blind were not too washed out (the scene had quite dynamic contrasts). Basic adjustments followed: exposure and contrast, white- and black-point, shifting color balance a bit to the warmer side, working the gamma curve a bit, applying lens correction. Then I went into Lightroom’s HSL section and especially toned down the luminance of the yellows in the sun blind to attract more visual attention to it (the goal always was to make it stand out as the central focus point of the picture). Toning down luminance of the yellows btw also enhanced the structure of the brick walls. Adjusting luminance and saturation of the greens emphasized the ivy. Using an adjustment brush, I toned down exposure of the closed white shutter in the top left corner and moved its color balance a bit to the warm side – it just had distracted the eyes from the center too much, in my opinion.

The biggest visible change in the photo obviously was removing the satellite dishes and the shiny cover of a chimney on the bottom of scene. I am always surprised, how well the repair brushes of Lightroom do their magic. Retouching these areas was quite tricky, though, but I managed. You might say: why didn’t you just crop the picture? I tried, but then the whole composition of the picture was gone. So: retouching it was. Now, take a before/after look of this first step by dragging the vertical slider across the below picture.

The basic adjustments plus retouching unwanted elements

The basic adjustments plus retouching unwanted elementsThe basic adjustments plus retouching unwanted elements

The next step would have been the last in an “usual” development process, had I not decided to use the VSCO presets. I again fine-tuned the gamma curve, so that the dark areas of the picture would not vanish “into black”. Then, I again took an adjustment brush (middle size, soft edges) to work some structure into the picture. First, by using a brush with slightly raised exposure, then one with slightly lowered exposure. It’s a very subtle procedure, be careful not to overdo it, otherwise you end up with blotches in your picture. But doing it properly, it really livens up a scenery. Finally, adjusting sharpness and adding a slight vignette to the picture even more draws focus to the central object, the balcony. As I said: we normally would be done by now. Below, you can compare the subtle changes described in this paragraph.

Making small adjustments and corrections

Making small adjustments and correctionsMaking small adjustments and corrections

But: we’re not finished, yet. Still, the Agfa Vista 100 waits… Below, you can compare, how applying the “vibrant” version of the Agfa Vista 100 preset quite drastically changes the look of the picture.

Applying the Agfa Vista 100 "vibrant" preset

Applying the Agfa Vista 100 "vibrant" preset from VSCOApplying the Agfa Vista 100 "vibrant" preset from VSCO

As you can see yourselves: there’s still some things left to do. Since the dark parts of the picture now – for my taste – are too dark, I again work with exposure, contrast, blacks, whites and midtones. Of course, I want to stay within the look&feel of the preset, so I try to not fiddle too much with the adjustments. But now, I realize, that there are previously unnoticed parts of the picture, that distract the view from the center. The silvery and very shiny aluminum bar next to the sun blind all over sudden is too prominent, since the picture itself is “darker”. The rusty vertical bar next to the sun blind needs a bit toning down. And: the well-lit, right-hand side part of the balcony, that now shines prominently through the blurry leaves in the foreground, needs some toning down, too. Also, the small green branch in the lower left corner now distracts my eye, too – retouch! See for yourselves, how the picture, again, changed between just applying the Agfa Vista 100 “vibrant” preset and performing the final adjustments.

Final adjustments: the finished picture

Final adjustments: the finished pictureFinal adjustments: the finished picture

Let me finish this small tutorial by giving you the big “before-after” comparison: here’s the untreated RAW picture straight from the camera, compared to the final picture. Quite some change, isn’t it? But imho, it was worth the effort, especially with my goal to try to convey the feeling, a scene or scenery evokes in me, through a picture.

What a huge difference: original RAW vs. final picture

What a huge difference: original RAW vs. final pictureWhat a huge difference: original RAW vs. final picture

Maybe, the A/B image comparisons are too small for viewing all the details? Let me offer you a Lightbox-gallery, where you can  browse through the different stages of this tutorial with larger pictures. As always, you are more than welcome to leave your comments below.