Capturing the Look– How to Make Digital Look Like Film

If you mainly shoot digital but want to have that cinematic film look, there’s only one thing you should pay attention to – lighting.

While lighting is overall an important factor when shooting your scenes, it’s especially crucial if you want your digitals to echo that classic film look. It’s important to understand that when telling a visual story, you’re after the mood and perception of the viewer. And the core of this mood and perception comes from the lighting.

Digital video has plenty of advantages, including its convenience but when it comes to rendition of highlights, shadows and tones, it looks different from that of celluloid. You’ll notice these in soap operas or even certain independent movies bearing that high key and flat-lit visual. There are times when this can help the story but most of the time, it doesn’t make for a nice visual appeal.

Of course, if you have no choice in the matter but use digital instead of film, then there are several things to note:

First, shoot the video with a cinematic effect in mind. Create pools of light, good modeling, shadows, backlight and other techniques.

Second, never overexpose your highlights. If you can find a camera with a zebra pattern, this will help you out.

Third, avoid flat-key lighting as much as possible.

Fourth, diffusion filters can help create that soft effect but use it sparingly or not at all. They can make your video look and feel cheap instead of high quality. This is especially true if you have plans of transferring the video onto film. You can use NDFs or graduated filters though as they can help enhance your scenes.

Fifth, add smoke or textures in your video or scenes to create the illusion of depth as well as enhance the mood.

Bottom line, knowing what lighting can do and not do for your scenes and overall film is important. It’s fundamental to know how to properly light your sequences and understand how it can work to enhance your digital video and capture that film look.