Photo Effect Vintage: A Simple Photoshop Tutorial

Although digital photography is on a continuous rise, the timeless beauty of vintage photographs will always be appreciated. Even though film is an expensive, dying breed, you can recreate the look of vintage photographs with a few simple Photoshop tricks under your belt. The photo effect Vintage will transform even the crispest of digital photographs into a sepia-toned photograph with noticeable film grain.

Choose your favorite photograph, open up Adobe Photoshop, and let’s begin!

I chose an image of natural hot springs in Steamboat Springs, CO.

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First things first, we want to add a little grain to the photograph to give it more of an old-time film look. Choose Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Check the box that says ‘Monochromatic’, and set the percentage to around 5%.

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Now you’re going to want to give the entire photograph an old, desaturated look. To do this, take a look at your Layers palette. On the bottom you’ll see a little button that looks like a black and white cookie (or a half moon). Click on this button and choose Hue / Saturation. Make sure the box marked ‘Colorize’ is checked, and set your settings so that they roughly resemble mine. When your settings are correct, your photograph should look sepia-toned.

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Your photograph should now look like this:

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You’ll want to adjust the exposure settings to make the photograph look even older. To do this, we’re going to add a vignette to the photograph. In order to create a vignette, we’re going to use a radial gradient. It’s not as complicated as it sounds! If you can’t find the gradient tool, click and hold on the Paint Bucket button. You’ll see a button that looks like a gradient – click on that. Once you choose the gradient tool, at the top of your screen you’ll see all of the gradient options. Choose the one that I have selected; it’s the one that looks like there is a lighter circle in the middle of it.

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Now, you’re going to want to create a new layer over your image. To do this, choose Layer > New > Layer. This will open up a new layer in your Layers palette. Making sure you have clicked on this layer, choose your gradient tool again and click and drag in a straight line from the middle of your photograph down to the bottom. In order to ensure that the line is completely straight, hold down the shift key while you’re dragging.

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Your image should now look like this:

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What happened to it?! There’s no need to worry, you simply have a gradient layer on top of your image. To blend the gradient layer with your image, you’re going to need to change the type of layer it is. At the top of your layers palette you’ll see a drop down menu that says Normal. Click on that, and choose Overlay instead.

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Your image is back! And the middle of the image is lighter. If this is the vignette effect you want, you can stop here. But if you’d like the edges of the photograph to be a bit darker, we can do that with the marquee tool. The marquee tool can be found in the Tools palette on the left side of your screen. You’ll see a button that’s a square made up of dashes. Click and hold on that, then choose the Elliptical Marquee Tool.

Click and drag from close to the top left corner of the photograph to close to the bottom right corner of the photograph – as shown in red below.

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This will create an outline of an ellipse that leaves room around the edges for a vignette. If your vignette is not quite in the desired place, you can use your arrow keys to shift it around to your liking.

Now you’ll want to inverse your selection. To do this, press and hold Command+Shift+I. You’ll see that your selection has switched from the inside of the photograph to the outside, as marked by the moving dotted lines.

You’ll want to ‘feather’ your selection, which means to smooth it out to make it look more realistic. In order to do this, choose Select > Refine Edge. When the selection box comes up, pay attention to Feather under Adjust Edge. Smooth it out to your liking (Photoshop should show you a preview as you move the slider). I chose to feather my image a lot. When you have smoothed your edge to your liking, click Ok.

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Now choose Image > Adjustments > Brightness / Contrast. Drag the brightness bar as far left as you like, making sure Preview is checked while you are moving it so that you can see the changes you are making.

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Your image should now look like this:

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To finish things off, I added a bit more noise to my photograph. Going back again to Filter > Noise > Add Noise, I added another 25% noise to my final image, resulting in this:

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The result is a vintage looking image with visible film grain, much like you would find in your grandparents old photo albums. Though it seems as though there there are a lot of steps, the most important things to remember are sepia tone, vignette, and film grain. The three of these combined make for beautifully vintage images, no matter what the subject matter! From there, it’s all about perfecting the final image. Adding a bit more film grain or taking some away, increasing or decreasing the brightness and contrast, and perfecting the smooth edges of the vignette. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to turn all of your digital images into vintage memorabilia in no time!

If you’re just starting out with Adobe Photoshop and want to learn more about the different tools and possibilities available to you, Udemy has a great class for beginners that will help get you started. And if you’ve been using Photoshop for a while but want to learn a bit more in-depth techniques, Udemy has a class for you as well! Regardless of whether you’ve never touched Photoshop or you’ve been working with it for years, there is always something new and exciting to learn.