If you were a film photographer who has switched to digital, one thing you miss is Kodachrome. Digital cameras have given us images that are superior to film by most objective technical measures, but they haven't yet made a digital sensor that looks as good as Kodachrome did 60 years ago.
If you want to get closer to that look with digital, Adobe’s free DNG Profile Editor can help.
With the Profile Editor, you can create camera profiles to be applied to your images in Lightroom or Camera Raw—shoot a Macbeth color chart, bring it into the editor, click a few times, and presto. As it turns out, we can abuse this feature to generate a profile that is intentionally wrong in exactly the way we want.
Here is an image with great reds and yellows that screams out for Kodachrome. I got pretty close to what you see here in Lightroom, but still couldn’t quite get the reds I wanted without messing up the overall color. The picture you see here, however, is the result of just a few minutes in Lightroom with a “Kodachrome” profile I generated with the DNG Profile Editor.
First, I took a picture of a Macbeth ColorChecker chart. The DNG Profile Editor uses this chart to correct colors to known values. What I wanted was the exact opposite.
So, I downloaded and installed the demo of Alien Skin’s Exposure plug-in for Photoshop, which simulates a wide variety of films. I ran the Kodachrome setting on my ColorChecker image, and turned the result into a linear DNG file I could load into the Profile Editor. (Later, I took a picture of the chart on actual Kodachrome film and scanned it.)
Loading the image into the Profile Editor gave me a target I could run the calibration on. The result of this is a profile that, in theory at least, un-does Kodachrome’s colors. So, I inverted all the settings, which should do exactly the opposite—apply the color “correction”. Then I threw in a few manual adjustments, and generated a profile. Boom: there are my reds and yellows!
You don’t have to do this.
If you don’t understand the previous section, or don’t want to do the work, you're in luck. You can download my profile recipes right here.
Color profiles are camera-specific, so there’s still a bit of work to do. You'll need to have the DNG Profile Editor installed for this. If you don't use DNG, you needn’t switch to use these profiles: just convert one RAW file from your camera to DNG. You can delete this DNG after generating the profile.
The zip file contains two profile “recipes”, corresponding to Kodachrome 25 and 64. Open the Profile Editor and load up a DNG file from your camera (it is not important what the picture is of). Then choose “Open Recipe” from the File menu and open one of these profile recipes. The Base Profile should be set to Adobe Standard (unless you know why you want something else). Finally, from the File menu, choose Export Profile. This will save a .dcp file, which is the actual profile Lightroom and Camera Raw can use.
The Save dialog should default to the right place to save it. On the Mac this will be
~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/CameraRaw/CameraProfiles, where it will be picked up by both Camera Raw and Lightroom. There is also a Color Profiles directory in Lightroom’s own Application Support directory. Once in place (after re-launching Lightroom or Camera Raw) the profile will be available.
This profile adjusts colors only. Color isn’t the only thing that makes Kodachrome special, so after applying the profile to an image, you’re not quite finished. You'll want to adjust the contrast, apply a tone curve, and whatever else the image needs.
Don’t be shy with the Blacks slider. Crush the shadows till they scream for mercy! Give it some vibrance, and boost the highlights on the curve. A neat trick is to drop the Saturation quite a lot, then compensate by increasing Vibrance on what’s left.
Finally, warm up the shadows using Lightroom’s Split Toning tool. Set the Balance to 85, Hue to 40 (a warm yellow), and Saturation to around 23. Adjust to taste.
I’ve used this profile on quite a few images. You can see a few more by clicking the thumbnails. It doesn’t work for everything (neither does Kodachrome) but when you want the look, this is a whole lot quicker than trying to do it from scratch.