How to Create Instagram Filters in Lightroom

The ease of being able to publish photos has changed the way in which people think about photography. Nowadays it’s all about the likes. Digital photography has always been pushing towards higher resolution images with more megapixels. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of our photography ends up highly compressed and posted online.

Instagram has been a key contributor to the current photography revolution. Apps like Instagram and (originally) Hipsamatic popularised the use of filters in photography. They were created to mimic a “retro” film look. However, it has since become so popular that it is hard to find a camera app that comes without filters. The washed out look has gained in popularity rapidly over the past couple of years. Many of the top Instagram feeds use this effect liberally. Myself included. Some examples of accounts like this are below:

The aim of this article is to teach you the following:

  • Where does this look come from?
  • How can we manually create this look in Lightroom?

A link to the Lightroom preset created during this tutorial is available using the link below. You can download it for free if you don’t want to fluff around with all the sliders.

Where does this look come from?

These filters exist because they are replicating the look that different types of film have. These looks were the unique selling points for each type of film. This difference created a loyalty within groups of photographers for the different makes and speeds of film. The filters have expanded on this “film look” and pushed it a little further. But, to get where we are going we must know where we came from.

Here are some examples of different film simulations when applied to the same image in Lightroom. VSCO has the most accurate film simulation software on the market. No other post-processing has taken place:

Agfa Vista 400 Agfa Vista 400 Fuji Provia 400 Fuji Provia 400 Fuji Superia 400 Fuji Superia 400 Fuji Velvia 100 Fuji Velvia 100 Kodak Portra 400 Kodak Portra 400 Ilford HP5 Ilford HP5 Kodak TRI-X 400 Kodak TRI-X 400

How can we create the washed out look in lightroom?

Start by shooting in Raw. I prefer Raw + Small JPEG. That way you have all of the image data in the Raw image but also have a quick JPEG to share out on social media. Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed and not ready to be printed or edited. Sometimes it takes weeks to edit a photoshoot to post up on the blog. It is always good to have a small JPG to share in clients/friends in the meantime. Take the raw image and open it up in Lightroom.

I chose this photo:

Start by checking the boxes for lens correction and to remove chromatic aberrations. This wouldn’t happen back in the day but I always do this as a matter of good practice. Just because we are mimicking a retro look doesn’t need we need to fully turn our nose to modern technology!

Follow along with the following steps to create the look with your photo:

  • Increase the contrast by + 20 points
  • Decrease the highlights by – 20 points
  • Increase the shadows by + 10 points
  • Decrease the whites by – 20 points
  • Increase the blacks by + 25 points

Next comes the most important part of the procedure:

Start by clicking the small picture of the curve tool in the bottom right below the curve itself. Next, click a point on the curve about 1/4 the way up the curve from the bottom left (shadows). Click the point at the very bottom left of the curve and drag the slider up until you achieve the look that you desire.

From this point, you can make any other small adjustment to the image that you like. I always like to add a little clarity, saturation and vibrance to help the image pop. Feel free to tweak it in any way you feel. Sometimes cooling or warming the image can make all the difference.

Finally, we can prepare the edit for final export by sharpening the image. Start by dragging the sharpening slider to around + 20-30. The most important part of sharpening is to mask the sharpening. You do not want to sharpen the whole image this will lead to noise. Hold the option key on a mac (alt on windows) and drag the masking slider until only the edges are sharpened. If required you can then reduce the noise with the luminance slider but take it easy around + 20.

Just remember that with any edit to an image, less is more. It is so easy to get carried away and make an image look crazy. While this may catch people’s eye initially, it will surely not win you any awards. It has the potential to turn people away from your photography altogether.

Make the preset. Use this preset on some of your images to see how it works. Look at how the blacks become “washed out”. Experiment by playing with the curve to see what you can get the image to look like. Once you have the most “hip” image possible. Post it up on imgur or another image sharing platform and post a link to it below.

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