Digital images are marvellous. They are clean, high resolution and colourful. However, sometimes that’s not really what you want. With digital, everything always looks good but the subject may not warrant that style. In the old world of film you would counter this uniformity by using different films with specific characteristics. In digital, you have to add these elements in Photoshop.
The object here is to take a digital photo that was shot at a re-enactment weekend, and to age and style it as though it was shot 70 years ago. This consists of introducing wear and tear, converting it to sepia, and adding grain, plus throwing in some scratches, cracks and water damage. There’s also some elements of lens halation and softness from age. Your source image should, of course, be one that will look the part for the era you are trying to emulate.
Step 1: Sepia layer
The first stage is to strip out the colour and add a sepia tone to the image. From there all the effects will be applied on top. Duplicate the Background layer and call it Sepia. Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. Tick the Colorize box, set the Hue to 40, Saturation to 25 and Lightness to +10.
Step 2: Alternative styling
The Hue sets what tone the image has, so if you want a different process such as Cyanotype use something like 200. The Saturation sets how strong the colouring will be. Also, we’re going for a faded-into-light look. To reverse that and make it dark and dingy, reduce the Lightness to -10.
Step 3: Reducing contrast
For a faded image there needs to be little contrast, and while this is fairly light and flat it can be flattened a little more. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. Grab hold of the middle control triangle and move it left to 1.24. Don’t use the left triangle to remap the input tones as this will create more contrast.
Step 4: Define border colour
Most images from this era would have some kind of border. Create a new layer by pressing Cmd-Shift-N and call it Border. Press Cmd-A to Select All. Now click on the Foreground colour and select a creamy-beige colour. With a faded image, tend towards a lighter colour.
Step 5: Create the border
Now create the border itself by going to Edit > Stroke. Enter a value of 50 for the Width and Inside as the location. Obviously, the higher a photograph’s resolution, the bigger this number will need to be as well. Click on Select > Deselect or Cmd-D.
Step 6: Border texture
You can either make the border look like card that the print was stuck to, or the actual border of the print itself. For a card backing use Filter > Texture > Texturizer with the Canvas texture. Otherwise go to Filter > Artistic > Sponge with a Definition of 0 and Smoothness of 10 for a discoloured pattern.
Step 7: Prepare the backing
Later on we will remove some of the surface gloss from the print to show the paper underneath. First, we’ll need to position the paper. Click on the Background layer and press Cmd-N for a new layer. Call this Paper. Now go to Edit > Fill and, using the Foreground colour, fill in the paper area.
Step 8: Halation effects
This term is used to describe highlights in the emulsion blowing out or glowing. It was a real problem in 1930s film stock, but was better controlled in the 1940s. Click on the Sepia layer, then go to Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow. Set Graininess at 0, the Glow Amount to 1 and the Clear Amount at 10. Click OK.
Step 9: Surface blur
There’s too much detail in the skin tones thanks to our digital camera and sharp lens. Still on the Sepia layer go to Filter > Blur > Surface Blur and enter a Radius of 3 pixels and set the Threshold to 10. This should sufficiently even out the image so it isn’t so sharp. Click OK.
Step 10: Mask off emulsion
To remove surface emulsion, a layer mask is needed. With the Sepia layer selected, click on Add Layer Mask in the Layers palette. Select the Brush tool and then click on the tool properties box. Click on the right arrow and select Wet Media Brushes. Load this and select the Oil Medium Brush Wet Edges.
Step 11: Start scratching
Click on the layer mask on the Sepia layer. Check that the foreground colour is black. Next, using a large brush, paint over the corners, edges and sides of the print. Do it in small amounts to make the edge look rough. Finally, reduce the brush size to 5 pixels at 15-30% Opacity and add some scratches.
Step 12: Discolouring the surface
To introduce some surface damage, click on the Border layer and create a layer called Dirty. Set the foreground colour to white and the background to black. Go to Filter > Render > Clouds, then Filter > Render > Difference Clouds. Set the Blend mode to Color Burn and reduce the Opacity to 14%.
Step 13: Crease it up
The final effect is to add a crease or crack. Press Cmd-Shift-N and call this Crease 1. Select the Gradient tool with a Foreground-Background fill. Ensure Linear Gradient is selected in the Options bar. Click and hold the pointer at the edge of the mouth and drag to the left, then release by the edge of the face.
Step 14: Create the crack
To create the crack go to Filter > Render > Difference Clouds. Then go to Image > Adjustments > Levels to reveal it. Change the Input levels to 0 on the left, 2.5 in the middle and 50 on the right. Set the Blending mode as Color Burn and reduce the Opacity down to around 40%.
Step 15: Duplicate and finish
Duplicate Crease 1, then press Cmd-I to invert the layer. Change the Blend mode to Screen to produce a white edge to the crack. Click on the Move tool and using the arrow keys move the layer one step to the right and one step upwards. Merge all the layers and then use Curves to brighten up the result.
Bonus tip: Extra effects to apply
You could degrade the image even further. Click on the Dirty layer and duplicate it. Next, change the Blend mode to Screen and set the Opacity at 18%. This will introduce dirt across the surface as well. If you use the Multiply blend mode the effect is even more dramatic but it will significantly darken the image.
Another option is to click on the Sepia layer and go to Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow. Remove the Glow by setting it to 0, though you’ll also need to increase the Graininess to 5. If you use the regular Grain filter it renders it as coloured specks.