How I Get Airy, Pastel Film Images

Airy photos with soft, pastel colors. It’s easy to achieve this look when you’re shooting on film, but what if you prefer to shoot digital? What then? 

I have good news.

You CAN shoot in digital and STILL create airy photos. 

How so?

First things first…

1. Take note of your backdrops and colors 

Creating images that have an airy quality is going to be difficult if you’re shooting with a dark colored backdrop.

Remember, dark colors absorb light, whereas light colors reflect it, creating softer light.

2. Make use of good light

 The best advice I can give you is to shoot on overcast days or during the golden hour (the hour right after sunrise or right before sunset).

Shooting during these times is going to prevent harsh light/shadows in your photos. The softer, more diffused light you can get, the more “airy” your photos are going to look. 

If you have to shoot during midday, look for shaded areas with even lighting.

Natural reflectors will always help bounce some light onto your subject.

Natural reflectors include:

  1. light colored ground: Sand, white floors, light colored gravel, etc.
  2.   light colored backdrops: as it leads to the cleanest, softest light without casting a tint on your subject.


3. Place the sun BEHIND your subject

Having the sun in front of your subject will create lots of contrast. Whereas having the sun behind them will create that airy, sun drenched look.


4. Shoot in RAW

If you want pastel tones and you’re shooting digital, you’re going to have to do a bit of work in post production. The more information you have in your photos, the better. Shooting in raw captures MUCH more information than shooting in JPEG. 

Also, if you’re not crazy about spending time post processing, check these out. 

They’ll make your life WAY easier and give your photos that soft, pastel look within seconds. 

5. Overexpose in camera. 

I have found is that it is MUCH easier to obtain pastels in post production if you shoot a bit overexposed in camera.

The key here is balance. You don’t want to get so carried away where you’re completely blowing out all of

your highlights, but in all honesty, I’d rather blow out my highlights by a bit and achieve a soft, pastel look,

than get the “correct” exposure and have harsher tones. 

By overexposing by a bit, you’ll lift your shadows, lessen harsh contrasts, and push the shadows and mid

tones into a higher tonal range, this is the tonal range that’s associated with pastels. 

I want to mention that raising the exposure in post production won’t achieve the same effect as shooting a bit overexposed.

The colors created within an image are effected by your original exposure.

While I do like to brighten up my images in post, they still need to be overexposed in camera first.

If not, it can easily lead to artificial looking results. 

6. Expose for skintones

Since overexposing by a bit will help you achieve pastel tones, it’s important to note that one should always expose for skin tones while shooting portraits.

Personally, I like to expose for my subject’s skin and than once I get the correct exposure at zero, I’ll overexpose by +1 or +2.

Exposing this way may blow out other parts of your image, but personally, I’d rather get my subject’s skin looking great before anything else. 

Something to note is that I would not overexpose by anything more than +2, This will most likely leave you with blown-out images with little detail. 

7. Master Bokeh 

Bokeh is fancy word for blur. This is created by selecting a wide aperture.

This is done by choosing a low f stop. The lower your f stop number, the more blur you’ll get.

This will help create dreamy portrait shots with a lot of focus on your subjects, while maintaining a beautiful, blurry background. Also, selecting a wider aperture will let more light into your camera. 


As for post processing….


1. Pull up a light and airy image with pastel tones

This makes it easier to gage how bright/warm your image should be. If you compare your edited image to your original, it may

look too bright, but if compared to an airy, film photo, you may find that it looks just right! 

2. Add Pastel Tones

As for post processing, there is A LOT that can be done, but here are a few of my favorites. Lift the shadows and mid-tones within the tone curve tool by a

bit. Also, film images tend to have softer, minty greens. An easy way to do this is to move the green hue slider to the right.

Lastly, film photos always tend to be on the warmer side, so heightening the temperature is definitely a good way to go! 

If you’re looking to SAVE TIME, I recommend downloading the Pretty Pastel Collection 

Below are a few examples of the collection.



It is available for Lightroom, Photoshop, and Photoshop Elements, so whatever you use to edit, you’re covered! 


If you’re looking to specifically create airy edits with pastel tones, the Pretty Pastel Collection is definitely for you.

It makes creating that look so easy and will cut your post processing time in over half.


Let me know if you have any questions about anything!

Until next time,


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