There’s a proliferation of lifestyle and food photography that is getting a bit precious. I want to blame hipster food magazines like Kinfolk, Gather Journal and Cereal but the reality is it’s been around since old school color film. Yet, there’s seems to be a renewed interest in cool muted photos with their matte film look and exceedingly pasty white folks all deadpanning for the camera. Isn’t food suppose to be about happiness and joy? Why does everyone seem so serious about their quinoa and summer bean salad? As an Asian, am I suppose to identify with the token Asian girl wearing those oversized heavy black rim glasses? When did high-waisted jeans come back into fashion, because they are really not flattering on anyone’s body type. And why did they put a man with an unkempt beard in the bushes, obfuscating him with leaves? He doesn’t look very happy there.
But more importantly, how do they make those photos look so cool and uninviting? Each photograph is blue-gray and looks as if it was printed on uncoated matte paper, as if their lives are constantly awash in a dull slate fog-diffused light. I want my life like that, beautiful and austere, untouchable and unsoiled by humanity. Is it possible to live a life like that, or at least pretend to? Well fear not my fellow readers, because I am here to show you how to create the illusion of matte film photography using Adobe Lightroom.
Now most people who want to create this look just go and buy a preset for it, and certainly there are number of them out there that are lovely. But, if it’s one thing food hipsters are notorious for, is not just their rustic hand thrown bowl full of citrus mint kale salad. It’s that they are always broke. Spending tons of money on heirloom ancient grains means they have less money to spend on buying presets for the computer applications. With that in mind, I create this simple tutorial to show you how to give a photograph a cool matte film look.
First off, select the photo you want to use. I decided on that my main hero shot was going to be those meatballs that I placed on the ground next to some firewood. It seemed a suitably rustic and utter ridiculous scenario (what, you don’t eat your meatballs off the dirty ground?). Perfect for this look, don’t you think? Select the side-by-side comparison tool so you can see what the image looks like as you change it. In the Develop module, crop the image (if you want to) but don’t do any other changes.
Go down to the Tone Curve section. If you’ve ever used Tone Curves in Photoshop you should be familiar with how it works but if you’ve never touched them before, they can pretty daunting. Don’t worry, I’ll hold you hand through this.Now ignore the Region part of the Tone Curve, and instead click on the little square with the diagonal line in it, the one at the bottom right of the Tone Curve Section. This will allow you to actually modify the entire curve. Once you click on that square the Region section will disappear. Go up to main box with the linear curve and click on the line, somewhere in the first third of the line. You should see some numbers appear at the top left where you clicked. I usually aim for around 35% give or take. No need to be precise, what you are doing is just anchoring the line to that point.
Next go to bottom left corner and pull that point directly up. I usually go to around 13%-ish but how much you want to bring that up is up to you. Some photos will require you bring it up even more, and some less. Basically what you are doing is lightening all the blacks on the photo, to give it a matte look. Easy right?
So you have a matte look but you want to give it a bit of cool blue-gray feel to the image as well right? I mean, hipster folks don’t feel warmth. Well it’s just as easy. Go to the Split Toning section and adjust the Shadows so it has a slight blue tone to them. Split Toning adds colors to the shadows or the highlights and is a great way to warm or cool a photo without turning it yellow or blue like the Temperature slider up above has a habit of doing. It’s also how you get funky cross process colors in your photos (if you are going for the upscale cool fashion look). I usually go around 225 for the Hue but you can play around with what sort of blue you like, maybe you want it more green or more purple. If you click the gray rectangle next to the Shadows you can even just use a picker to pick a color. I usually keep the Saturation around 15 (any higher and it starts to feel too artificial) but again feel free to play around with it, as you might want your image very cool blue.
If your image has a lot of highlights in it, you might also want to add some Split Toning to the Highlights but I usually don’t unless the photo is very bright. When I do, I usually use the Balance slider so that the shadows have more color than the highlights. If you slide the Balance to the left, it’s means you’ll get more concentrated Shadow colors, if you slide to the right, you’ll get more concentrated Highlight colors. Play with it a bit to get the feel that you like. Every image is different so not every setting should be exactly the same either.
Of course, once you’ve lighten the blacks and added the different Split Toning colors, you should go and do the other adjustments as you see fit. Perhaps you want to bring the shadows up higher, or you want to add a slight vignetting to the image. Do that AFTER you’ve adjusted the Tone Curve and Split Toning to make sure it’s the effect you really want. If you REALLY want to go all out, you can even add Grain under the Effect section to the final image, achieving that much sought after film look that all hipsters love.
Finally, once you created the image look that you like, go over to the Presets and click on the + button next to it. You can save your settings with it’s own preset, meaning you can apply these changes to any photos you want. Since we’ve only changed the Tone Curve and the Split Toning, be sure to click off of all the rest of the settings. Leave the Process Version checked though (in case you upgrade your Lightroom to a new version this will notify the new Lightroom what version you saved the Preset as). Name the preset whatever you want, and you’re good to go! Precious photos in less time than it takes to iron those acid washed skinny jeans or comb that overgrown beard. Oh wait, they don’t bother to groom them. That explains so much.