September 11, 2012#

When does digital look like Film? Tones over Actions

I can pretend NOT to be to concerned what the Photographic community in general are doing, with regards to trends and actions. But the truth is we do trend, and when we do we create market driven product. When we trend there are two reactions – the people that run with it and the anti trend setters that are busy being what everyone else is not (which by the way starts a new trend ha) We are followers by nature. Part of me thinks I know about being different, because I kept Glamour alive when it was a filthy word so I was going against the grain for most of my career.

BUT, I am also totally open to admit that I have tried, experimented and enjoyed most trends that have come and gone in the last 23 years. Film Styles E6 cross processed & 3200 35mm BW the list goes on. . . shooting styles and Yes that includes Actions, treatments and certain looks. People always email me and ask if they can buy my actions and I don’t have any. I use Totally Rad Actions Jesh De Rox Actions, Itty Bitty Textures by Jinky Art and Sheye Rosemeyers Eye Candy, all of them I love. But they do not make the base of my Style/Brand they simply enhance certain images when they fit.

Getting to the point of this blog. I wrote a guest blog post 2 years ago about Actions and someone ripped me apart blah blah unoriginal bad form using actions instead of being better educated WHAT EVA. It occurred to me in this moment, that actions and trends are everywhere but what I have been really trying to do for 10 years (since I transitioned into digital) is replicate FILM. I finally think with the amazing cameras that we now have and the editing software available to us that replicates all of the old film styles we are finally there. I choose an image open it in Photoshop RAW and then when I open it in Photoshop I choose the tone and mood of the image, like below. Would love to hear what film editing software you are playing with?

All of these images are treated with Curves not actions. All of them create entirely different moods and I like them all.


  1. Hi Sue, I LOVE the 1st, 2nd & last images…actually the two in between are pretty cool as well. I’m still teaching myself photoshop and playing around with different things within the program but find myself sticking to the same things when editing a shoot. I guess its the safe stuff and it what my clients like.
    Thanks again and again and again for sharing ♥ ☺

  2. Hi Sue, I left a detailed message on Facebook about this post and your points re actions etc. Lovely images by the way, and it is so much fun to get different looks, just by using curves as you say.
    I have finished a 4 girl shoot, in your style, had a great time, and am very happy with the results. I can not not see when hands are wrong, when mouths are tight, when the chin is not out and down, when the wrong thing is out, and right thing is in…they are on my website if you care to check them out….of course, NOW I can see all those things…after the shoot!! :} Thanks so much for all you are giving and all the buttons you are pushing to get people to take action!!


  3. VSCO for lightroom.

    Nothing else comes close for it’s look and simplicity.

    I basically binned 4 years of collected and refined processes and started a fresh with these as a base.

  4. I use Lightroom and my gut.

  5. Hei Sue,

    thanks a lot for sharing. I love the first image over all the others. I always struggle because my images do not look as in magazines. First, when I started photographing I thought it had to do with my camera. But, soon I learned that all of this was done in Photoshop and you can create whatever look you like despite the camera. I still don’t know though how to achieve those looks and I personally find that there is not much virtue in applying blindly an action. I would rather pre-visualize what I want to achieve and then do it myself in post.

    As many I have taught myself post-processing and I appreciate very much when you share your little post-processing secrets because I still don’t understand how to create those looks. For example the “add a bit of green” in George Varanakis I never thought that adding green would do to my images any good :D

    I am waiting for the post-processing videos for the CreativeLive course. Hopefully you have time soon to add the voice-over to them :D

  6. Hello Sue and thanks for sharing.

    Like you I have tried everything, from 4×5, to medium format, you name it.

    I am using Photoshop and Lightroom for all my editing however I use LR for 80% of everything. Unlike you, I have done a lot of editorial work and for this using special effects is a big no-no but then again an editoral photography is there to capture things as they are with little interpretation for art other than composition and style. However, I feel that outside of this realm, a photographer is an artist and is there to express what they see through their eyes. Of course, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and for someone to say that your work is not original is for someone to force their interpretation of what they believe on you, something that I totally dispise. So, it’s OK to be trendy and it’s OK to be different, heck, Picasso in his day people thought he was “mad” and what are his painting worth today? Of course, this doesn’t do anything for him because he was not able to enjoy some of the benefits his work has brought the world but he was different and that’s what’s being an artist is all about.

    If you are not different then you can’t show the world something they are not used to seeing; what we use to accomplish this task is irrelevant, period. Be it a camera, a film type, a lens type, or software type, that’s irrelavant when you are showing your vision and interpretation.

    I love all your photos above, they each show something different, from mysterious, to flashy, each has it’s own unique characteristic so I personally love them all. So, it appears that ACTIONS and PRESETS are here for a while, let’s enjoy them and use them as an additional tool to express what we feel. We as visual artist have the power to create emotions that will last a lifetime, don’t be pulled back with some that are so blind they can’t see their nose let alone something beautiful 5 feet away.

    Keep it up girl, I love your work and you are great.

    David Macias

  7. I am really liking the first and the third image, with cooler tones. Looks amazing Sue! :)

  8. so actions and what not are just tools within an artists medium right? watercolors, oils, pastels and acrylics, spatulas and brushes, fingers, twigs, found objects, paper… no artist in his RIGHT MIND (or hers) would ever apologize for it. why as photographers should we? is it a trend or fad or is it a tool or a new medium? I love your work, and I love that we can replicate film. I’ve got instagram actions on my PS, I’ve got old polaroid actions too, I’ve got 4×4 old format dirty load actions, I love love love playing around with them. When I play to where I get them right, I print it and keep it. I love the best thing about these digital tools is that they only get better and better and our creativity as artists can continue to grow.

    i used to be ashamed to shoot at a high ISO and have my images look grainy, because I’m in digital and they should be sharp… but I came from film. I remember handling it and washing it and processing the images. There is nothing like the ability to literally see your image appear. Digital just means I can do it faster, but I miss the grain and I love the grain. 800 gives me grain. I’m going to stop being ashamed of it.

  9. Loved reading this blog … thank you. I love the second image from the bottom the best but that is just me … they are all beautiful … I love the old style film look and I love playing with curves .. will continue to play and learn and evolve :)

  10. Well, Alien Skin Exposure 4 does an amazing job of replicating a lot of film looks. Yup, a dreaded PLUG IN but what EVA…

  11. I LOVE the new Radlab from Totally Rad and creating ‘recipes’. The Poitraiture plugin has changed my life as have you. Thank you!

    Love all your images, Sue. Have always been partial to the grainy black and whites. The ‘film’ style will never die.

    Cheers! xoxo

  12. I think using actions are like getting an epidural. You can choose not to use them but you would be wasting God’s amazing gift that evolved through time and technology. HA! Actually, I don’t really have any idea what I am talking about. I just love your work and read your blog. My blog….it’s a design blog that includes food and crafts! (Although I LOVE taking the best photos I can take and I absoultely use actions every time!) I love the photos above you did….My fav might be #2.

  13. I love the look of film but I also love the instant gratification of digital. I use VSCO Film for Lightroom to process 98% of my images. I’ve used their presets as a base to create a few of my own “magic mixes” and I think they’re so beautiful and so simple to use. Love them!

  14. I love these! They are gorgeous! I saw your CL courses and love what you do. thanks!

  15. Can’t think of the flim with this girl in my face!!!! lol but nice Images I like the out of the camera look best!!!

  16. I dare say you have been trying to replicate film all these years cause film has character, it has a little something in it’s flaws and grain that digital just misses. The perfect plastic skin and over bright eyes are getting boring, perfection is boring. When I see a great photo on film it tends to have a certain beauty that goes beyond digital. (not saying digital can’t take great photos, it can). Just saying film has that extra charm that is lost in the perfect world of digital.

    I also got to laugh at how many of us shoot digital hoping to make it look like film – why is that? Yes VSCO is great, it’s all I use, I’ve ditched all the tons of actions I once had and my life has become simpler. But to get the real look I shoot film. It still has softer transitions to the tones and gradations, skin looks better with less retouching. I guess it’s the real deal. (highlights are way better on film).

    BTW the first two images look like under exposed film to me.

  17. Thank you Sue, for sharing…

  18. Beautiful image! Favorite processed image is the third down, but right out of the camera looks beautiful as well. Curious, do you find clients have a preference for images that have more of a film feel to them when you you are going through image choices with them?

    I also learned on film and can certainly appreciate the different feel images had based on which film you chose and how that added to the images artistic impact. Digital crispness can also be gorgeous as well, each have their own look and what I prefer depends on my mood and what or who I am shooting.

    I’ve found that Nik software has some great software for mimicking film as well as a range of other very useful tasks.

    I know others have said this, but I have not (and I have been following you since your first CL session), so, thank you Sue for being such a mentor, and being so willing to share your knowledge. Learning from you has changed my path and given me so much inspiration. I am looking forward to focusing on Glamour ‘Sue Style’ and watching my business change and evolve.

  19. Awesome! I like the 2nd-to-last the best, but I do prefer strong colors and contrast most of time. Just goes to show, though–curves, not just for women anymore! :P

  20. Lovely Sue .. I use these fantastic film plugins .. Ones called Porta and the other Tri-x :P .. Sorry couldn’t resist.

  21. I love your inspirational writings from the heart . . . as always you provide points to ponder and great information. I like all the renditions above, but probably the fourth one down best because I personally like warm skin tones . . . .and that is what it all boils down to isn’t it . . the fulfillment of the artist’s vision . . how we get there is irrelevant to the end result . . it is the finished product that matters . . . as long as the artist loves their creation and the client loves it, what anyone else thinks doesn’t matter and it certainly doesn’t matter how you achieved it. Soooo, for someone to call you out on using actions and such . .. they just don’t have enough to do or enough joy in their life.

    That’s my two cents worth for the day!!!!

  22. I agree with Sean – VSCO presets are incredible.

  23. I was just reading this post in my RSS reader…clicked through to the page to read comments…I figured I would see 100 comments recommending VSCO films! I can’t believe only a few people suggested them. They’re great.

  24. I shoot film to get that film look ;D VSCO is a lame substitute…Can’t beat fuji 400H medium format for pure creamy skin….xoxoxoxo

  25. Lovely Sue .. I use these fantastic film plugins ..Absolutely beautiful works.. This is what called “Creativity”

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