How to create a retro photo in Photoshop

Create a stylish retro style using Photoshop

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  • retro final Intro
  • retro1 1. Getting started
  • retro2 2. Add grainy mono texture
  • retro3 3. Brighten it up
  • retro4 4. Change the colours
  • retro5 5. Photo filter
  • retro6 6. Surface contamination
  • retro7 7. Brightness and Contrast
  • retro8 8. Add old paper
  • retro9 9. Scratches layer inc brush properties
  • retro10 10. Light leak layer brush
  • retro11 11. Light leak blur
  • retro12 12. Less is good
  • retro13 13. Select border feather
  • retro14 14. Add the vignette
  • retro15 15. Time for a border
  • Action Bonus Tip: Recording as an action
  • More stories
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Intro

Judging by the amount of retro apps appearing on the App Store, retro is this year’s HDR in the photo world. Rather than just use a filter that everyone else has used, why not create your own effect complete with ageing, creases, light leaks, grain and scratches. To start, you’ll need a photo to mess up, and also some creased paper texture. You can get one for free here: http://mrg.bz/01x6tq, though it isn’t particularly large. If your photo is 6Mp or more you’ll need to resize and sharpen it during the tutorial. Firstly though, rotate it so that it matches your photo orientation, then desaturate to remove colour, and save. The other possibility when creating a list of effects is to save the process as an Action which can then be used on other photos, but retains all the steps so it can be individually configured or adjusted for more variation.

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Next Prev retro final

Judging by the amount of retro apps appearing on the App Store, retro is this year’s HDR in the photo world. Rather than just use a filter that everyone else has used, why not create your own effect complete with ageing, creases, light leaks, grain and scratches. To start, you’ll need a photo to mess up, and also some creased paper texture. You can get one for free here: http://mrg.bz/01x6tq, though it isn’t particularly large. If your photo is 6Mp or more you’ll need to resize and sharpen it during the tutorial. Firstly though, rotate it so that it matches your photo orientation, then desaturate to remove colour, and save. The other possibility when creating a list of effects is to save the process as an Action which can then be used on other photos, but retains all the steps so it can be individually configured or adjusted for more variation.

 

Step 2 of 17: 1. Getting started

Load the original and if necessary tidy it up using Image> Adjustments> Levels to balance out the histogram. Don’t use an adjustment layer. This way the process is using all the tones available right at the start. Duplicate this layer in the Layers palette and name it the Working layer.

 

Step 3 of 17: 2. Add grainy mono texture

Digital is much too clean and nice so firstly select the Working layer and go to Filter> Noise> Add Noise. Make it around 5% for the Amount, set the distribution to Uniform and put a tick in the Monochromatic box so it looks more like fine grain.

 

Step 4 of 17: 3. Brighten it up

Now go to the Adjustments and add a Curves adjustment layer. Grab just above the middle and move up and left so there’s a hunched curve, brightening the tones. If you have an image with plenty of white in it, you may need to use the mask to just tone those areas down.

 

Step 5 of 17: 4. Change the colours

The next adjustment layer to add is the Color Balance. Select the midtones and increase the red component against the cyan by 30-40 and add a little yellow against the blue. Repeat the process for the shadows, but use smaller values such as around 15-20 Red.

 

Step 6 of 17: 5. Photo filter

To completely tone the image into these overcooked reds, add a Photo Filter adjustment layer and use the Warming Filter (85) at 25% Density. If it looks too strong then decrease it, if the image is too blue still, increase it. Keep an eye on the highlights as before.

 

Step 7 of 17: 6. Surface contamination

Create a new layer on the top and call it Surface. Ensure the foreground and background are black and white then go to Filter> Render> Clouds. Change the blend mode to Overlay and reduce the opacity to 50% or enough to deliver the effect without introducing excess contrast. This gives an uneven finish to the emulsion.

 

Step 8 of 17: 7. Brightness and Contrast

The image is now likely to have too much contrast so add a Brightness and Contrast adjustment layer. Reduce the Contrast to -50 and add Brightness of +40. Use a black brush on the adjustment layer mask with an Opacity of 20% to retain the skin highlights where they have burnt out.

 

Step 9 of 17: 8. Add old paper

Time to now load the old paper sheet that was prepared at the start. Drag and drop it into place, then use the object handles to resize to fit over the entire image. Click on the tick to apply. Right click on the Old paper layer in the Layers palette and select Rasterize. Then apply. Change the blend mode to Hard Light and set the Opacity to 32%.

 

Step 10 of 17: 9. Scratches layer inc brush properties

Add a new layer and call it Scratches. Select the Brush tool and load the Dry Media brush set. Select the #2 Pencil then toggle the Brush panel on. Click on Shape Dynamics and set the Control under Size Jistter to Fade and the Minimum Diameter to 65%. Add lots of scratches then change the blend mode to Overlay.

 

Step 11 of 17: 10. Light leak layer brush

Add another new layer and call this one Light Leaks. Select a darkish red as the colour and pick a brush with rough edges. Draw some vertical lines and patches onto this layer. Make sure they are fairly straight. One idea here is to produce a few different versions of this on separate layers, and only use one per image. When running the Action later, use a different layer. 

 

Step 12 of 17: 11. Light leak blur

Then go to Filter> Blur> Motion Blur. Set the direction to -90 degrees and apply a 2000 pixel blur. Change the layer blend mode to Color and reduce to 60% Opacity or enough so that it’s apparent but doesn’t take over the image. If the leak doesn’t look like light enough, apply some more blur. 

 

Step 13 of 17: 12. Less is good

So have a look at how the overall effect is looking now. If necessary now add an extra Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and reduce the Contrast by -50 again to make it flatter. Look at the other layers and make any adjustments in Opacity to get the balance of the image right.

 

Step 14 of 17: 13. Select border feather

Create a new layer at the top of the layer stack and call it Vignette. Press Cmd-A to select all then go to Select> Modify> Border. Enter a value of 200 pixels. Then go to Select> Modify> Feather and enter a radius of 150 pixels. You should now have a panel with curved edges. 

 

Step 15 of 17: 14. Add the vignette

Select black as the foreground colour and click on the Paint Bucket Tool. Click in the corner of the selected area to fill it with the black vignette. Press Cmd-D. This may be too dark in which case reduce the layer Opacity to around 85%. Check all the layers for how the adjustments are working as there’s only one step left. 

 

Step 16 of 17: 15. Time for a border

Select the Background layer and go to Edit> Canvas. Enter a new size of 150 Pixels, Relative to the existing canvas. Set the colour as a dark creamy colour – darker than you really want because the other adjustments will brighten it up. Then go to the Filter gallery, select Texturizer and use Canvas. Save the image to finish.

 

Step 17 of 17: Bonus Tip: Recording as an action

One of the interesting things you can do when creating retro images is to save the entire process as an Action. As this uses adjustment layers it means that any area where the effect doesn’t work as well, because it’s a different image with different tones, you can adjust the masks or layer opacities. To start, get everything ready, load the original image and click on the Actions palette. Click on the Create New Action icon and give it a name. Then click on the Record button and start on the process. It’s worth actually doing this once already so you have the exact procedure already done. Everything you do is listed and while you can turn the recording on and off, and also untick actions that were a mistake or where you were trying different Opacities, it’s better to try to get it all right in one go.

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