Create A Retro Effect In Photoshop

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“Retro” refers to an image or a design from a previous time period, such as the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s. Just like any other design style, these styles have their place. For example, you might be asked to create an album cover for an artist that has a ’80s rock n’ roll sound, or perhaps you’re tasked with designing a dinner menu for a retro diner. It’s important to be able to achieve these styles so that you can create a convincing vintage look.

Retro ’70s Photography

We have all seen those vintage photographs where the color is a little off. The look was so common with vintage photographs that the look reminds most people of ’70s photography. The key characteristics of this era of photography are accentuated blue and yellow tones in the photograph.

Step 1: Find Your Image

I have selected a photo of a bird near the water. The grass is a vibrant green, and the water is a true-to-life blue.

Step 2: Duplicate the Image

Duplicate the background image. We do this because we want to leave the original to work untouched, just in case we make a major mistake and need something to come back to. We also do this because we are going to apply different effects to the duplicated layer.

Step 3: Apply the Image to Itself

With the duplicate layer selected, select “Image” > “Apply Image.” A window will pop up, and we will be applying the source image (the one that we are working on) to itself. The default is for the blending to be set to “multiply,” but we are going to change this to “screen.”

Step 4: Blur the Duplicate Layer

We need to apply a slight blur to the duplicate image layer, to give it the “fuzzy” quality usually found in vintage photos. Go to “Filter” > “Blur” > “Gaussian Blur.” For this image, I set the blur to 3.0.

Step 5: Lessen the Effect

You only want this effect to soften the image slightly, but you still want the original layer to show through. Go to the layers panel, and with the blurred layer selected, change its blend mode to “soft light.”

Step 6: Add a Blue Photo Filter

We need to add blue to the image to help create the vintage look we are after. Go to the Layers Panel, click the adjustment layer icon, and choose Photofilter. Select blue as the color, and set the density to 35.

Step 7: Add A Yellow Photo Filter

We need to add yellow to the image to help give it the vintage look we are going for. In your Layers panel, click the adjustments layer icon and select Photo Filter. A window will pop up. Select Yellow from the list and set the density to 70. This will create a slightly yellow tone to the image.

Step 8: Add Some Texture

Texture is one of the key elements to most vintage or retro styles. The look of decay or imperfection really makes your work look convincing, as if the image had been around for decades. You can find thousands of free grunge textures online. Import a rich grunge texture into your Photoshop file, and change the blend mode to either “multiply” or “overlay.” Your choice depends on how dense your texture file is. If it is too dark, then your whole image will look muddy. I set our example to “overlay.” I also dropped the opacity to 75%.

Step 9: Lighten the Center

To add a slight vignette look to your work, create a new layer, and select your brush tool. Set the hardness to 0, and make the size as large as the middle portion of your image. Select white as your foreground color and click once to create a blurred white area in the center of your image. Set the blend mode of this layer to “lighten.”

Option 2: Vintage Without Decay

Sometimes you just want to achieve a vintage look without the decay and destruction. There is another method where you can add a vintage look to your photographs without having them look so aged.

Step 1: Duplicate Your Image

Hit Command/Ctrl + “J” to duplicate your layer.

Step 2: Tweak Your Colors

Create a new layer above your photo layer. Select your marquee tool, and select the left portion of your image. Go to your swatches panel, and click on the bright red color to make it active. Fill the selection with red by hitting Command/CTRL + Delete. Select the other half of your image and go to your Swatches panel again. Select bright green to make it your active foreground color. Hit Command/Ctrl + Delete to fill your selection with green.

Step 3: Bend Your Image’s Colors to Your Will

With your duplicate photo layer elected, go to “Image” > “Adjustments” > “Replace Color.” A dialog box will come up. Click on Source, and select the name of your Photoshop document. Under this menu, there will be another menu where you can select the layer. Select the red/green layer that we created earlier and click “OK.”

Step 4: Adjust to Taste

This step is a subjective one. You really have to decide on the effect that you are going for. I set both Fade and Color Intensity to 70. Here, I am already getting that ’60s look and feel to my image.

Step 5: Add a Warming Filter

This really just depends on the look you are going for. For the example, I clicked the New Adjustment Layer icon and chose Photofilter. I selected a warming filter and set the density to 50.

Step 6: Add a Vignette

Choose black as your foreground color. Go to “Layer” > “New Fill Layer” > “Gradient.” Choose a radial gradient and make sure that the gradient is foreground to transparent. You may have to check the reverse option in order to get the vignette. Set the scale between 140-150. Set the opacity to 30-40%, and your will have a vintage vignette look.

Either method will add age and character to a digital image, which could serve you well during retro design projects.

Lomography

Lomography has a distinct look that seems to be popular with fans of vintage or retro-style photography. It is pretty easy to get this effect with Photoshop.

Step One: Select Your Image, Duplicate the Background Layer

You can download the sample image from here. I chose a vintage car which seems to work well with the effect. With your image, Hit command/ctrl+J to duplicate your background layer.

Step 2: Lower Your Exposure

Click the new adjustment layer icon and select Exposure. You will have to adjust this setting to your photo, but I set the exposure to -0.66. This will darken your image, which won’t look good at first, but we are integrating more blacks and shadows, which works well for the effect.

Step 3: Add a Vignette

Lomo images usually have a vignette around the edges. Go to Filter> Lens Corection and move the vignette slider to somewhere between -80 or -90.

Step 4: Add a General Curves Adjustment

Click the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Curves. We need to enrich the colors with this adjustment, so we will bring up the highlights and darken the shadows with an S curve shown below:

Step 5: Add a More Precise Curves Adjustments Layer

Click the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Curves again. This time we are going to control each channel. Select the Red and Green channels and make an s curve similar to the one in the previous step. The difference is, on the Blue channel, you will make the curve in the opposite direction. You will lower the highlights, and increase the shadows as in the examples below:

Reds:

Greens:

Blues:

Step 6: Adjust Your Levels

Click the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Levels. Slide the Gray slider in the middle to the left to bring up some of the areas that are way too dark.

Step 7: Lower the Impact with A Gradient Map

Click the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Gradient Map. Choose the black-to-white gradient to give your image a more muted look. 100% is too muted though, so now we should lower the opacity to 50% or less.

Step 8: Add Some Saturation

We want Saturated colors, but part of the Lomo look is having an slightly off colors such as exaggerated blues or orange-reds. Create a new Saturation Adjustment Layer and increase the saturation until the focal color, such as the red in the vintage car, really pops. Then, for the Hue, adjust it to taste. I adjusted the hue for this image to the right 27.

Step 9: Add a Slight Amount of Texture

Create a new layer and hold down shift and click Delete. A dialog box will come up asking what fill you want to use. Choose 50% gray and click ok. Then go to Filter> Noise> Add Noise. Choose Gaussian and Monochromatic and set the amount to around 20 and click ok. The key here is subtlety, so lower the opacity of your layer to around 20%.

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  • Mike McDaid

    Thanks for a very insightful article, I wonder how much of this can now be achieved with the new css filters?
    http://updates.html5rocks.com/2011/12/CSS-Filter-Effects-Landing-in-WebKit

    I might give it a try when I have some time.

  • http://TOVOdesign.com TOVO

    James- thanks for the great post!

  • http://think360studio.com/ Think360studio

    Hi James . Interesting Article you had given. In your article you had mentioned about tweak Colours and you had given bright red and bright green. But what would be the effect of other colours if we used. Is it necessary to use Bright red and Bright green always?

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    Great tutorials, Its really lovable one

  • http://www.debbshosting.com Debbs Hosting

    Wow! Great tutorial! Though there are many apps out there that could give us these kind of photo effects, I still wanted to know how to do it with a software like Photoshop. Now I know! Thanks! :)