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Vintage Style: How to Create a Photo That Looks Old

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Read Time: 7 min
This post is part of a series called Photoshop Portraits.
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What You'll Be Creating

There is something charming about an old photo. It reminds us not only of a time we're not familiar with but also the creativity of early photography.

And to recreate the look of an old photo you don't have to step into an actual time machine. Instead, create the initial aging using a clever Vintage Photoshop Action before following up with some extra neat tweaks.

Learn how to create an old photo effect below. And feel free to browse GraphicRiver for more inspiration.

What You'll Need

The following resources were used to create the effect.

Visual Cues: Gathering Inspiration

There's no better way to achieve a realistic photo effect than to have a few references on hand. And you'll find an incredible abundance of inspiration by checking out Flickr's Creative Commons.

Here I've chosen these three vintage photos because they all have different qualities that I can apply to this effect:

Take a few mental notes of these references before you start meddling with the photo. The first reference, for instance, is a beautiful glamor shot. Besides the stark contrast, one of the things I notice the most is the fine grain along the edges of the model and photo.

Vintage Reference 1Vintage Reference 1Vintage Reference 1

This kind of fine texture will be a perfect addition to any vintage look. The second and third references, however, end up affecting my vision for the effect the most.

More Vintage ReferencesMore Vintage ReferencesMore Vintage References

Older photos show significant wear and tear throughout time. This can appear in the form of scratches or marks as well as any changes to the color. Sepia tone is also often present: this was a process used to tint monochromatic images for a beautiful result and to increase their durability.

So let's see if we can incorporate grain, physical artifacts, and toning into our work!

1. Install a Photoshop Action

Step 1

Before we create this effect, we must install our Photoshop action. Download the Vintage Photoshop Action from GraphicRiver to get started. Then open up Photoshop and go to Window > Actions to access the Actions panel.

Access the Actions PanelAccess the Actions PanelAccess the Actions Panel

Click on the top right icon and select Load Actions to load your new download into the panel.

Load the Vintage Photoshop ActionLoad the Vintage Photoshop ActionLoad the Vintage Photoshop Action

Step 2

Photoshop actions that create intricate effects like this one usually have a brush pack included, so make sure you load that too! Go to Window > Brush Presets, and select Replace Brushes from the drop-down options. Once your brushes have been replaced we can move onto the next steps.

Here's a look at our brushes from the Preset Manager.

Vintage Photoshop Action BrushesVintage Photoshop Action BrushesVintage Photoshop Action Brushes

2. Apply the Vintage Photoshop Action

Step 1

Applying the action to your photo is really quite simple. Just make sure a few things are in order first. Open a photo into Photoshop that is at least 1800 pixels in Width, according to this action's specific rules. Here I'll be using this Woman Stock because the composition and outfit reminds me of another time in history.

Asian Woman Stock From PixabayAsian Woman Stock From PixabayAsian Woman Stock From Pixabay
Woman Stock

Step 2

Make sure your image is set as the locked Background Layer. Then create a New Layer and use a Soft Round Brush to Fill in the areas of the photo where you would like to apply the effect. I'll concentrate on the model and flower only. This is a much safer route as it allows me to avoid any background distractions while paying homage to the vintage styles of portrait photography.

Create the Action Layer MaskCreate the Action Layer MaskCreate the Action Layer Mask

Step 3

When you're ready, select the brush layer and hit Play on the Actions panel. Give your action a few minutes to play out as it works to complete the effect as well as to build a new action group full of non-destructive adjustments. When it's finished, here is the initial result.

Initial Vintage Action ResultInitial Vintage Action ResultInitial Vintage Action Result

Not what you were expecting? That's OK! We'll fix this look in the next few steps.

3. Edit the Result of the Photoshop Action

Step 1

As you can see our image now looks a bit messy. We'll need to clean this up in order to get our desired effect. Our first priority is to eliminate the dirty grunge look. This makes our effect look more like a traditional art effect than a vintage photo.

First, Hide the Visibility of the Color Options and Edge Lines Groups. Then go to the Photo Sketch Textures Group and lower the Opacity of all three black textures to 30%, 68%, and 33% respectively.

Adjust the Black Texture OpacityAdjust the Black Texture OpacityAdjust the Black Texture Opacity

Step 2

To show more of the original photo select the Reveal Photo Layer and paint white onto the black Layer Mask with a Soft Round Brush to reveal the woman again. Focus the reveal more on her face so that we can emulate the look created by old lenses.

Reveal the Original PhotoReveal the Original PhotoReveal the Original Photo

Step 3

Now let's address the texture. The original texture is too gritty so it distracts from the fact that this is supposed to look like an old photo. To combat this (while also making it look more authentic) we'll need to blur all three Black Texture layers. So select each layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, setting the Radius to 30 pixels.

Blur the Texture Layers with Gaussian BlurBlur the Texture Layers with Gaussian BlurBlur the Texture Layers with Gaussian Blur

Step 4

If the picture looks too blurry, Unhide the Visibility of the Increase Subject Detail Layer. This makes it instantly more sharp. But now we've lost the softness we wanted to emulate and most likely created from the "vintage camera's" shallow depth of field. So paint black on the Layer Mask for the edges of the photo where you would like to achieve this subtle, blurred effect.

Blur the Edges of the PhotoBlur the Edges of the PhotoBlur the Edges of the Photo

4. Give Your Photo a More Refined Look

Step 1

Continue to experiment with each Adjustment Layer for the best results. To finalize this effect, we'll add a little more age to the photo. First go to Image > Canvas Size and add a half inch to both the Width and Height of your canvas.

Remember, old photos are real, physical objects, not like the ephemeral digital selfies of today. They've been scanned onto a hard drive so they're going to include the actual paper edges or anything they may be attached to. Set a New Layer as a Clipping Mask to the Background Color Layer. Fill it with a tan color #b49564, lower the Opacity to 20%, and set the Blend Mode to Multiply.

Add the Photo Paper EdgesAdd the Photo Paper EdgesAdd the Photo Paper Edges

Step 2

Blur some of the background textures just like we did before for the woman's face. Then select the BG_0 and CH_3 brushes from your action brush pack and use them to smooth out the texture around the edges.

Smooth Out Photo EdgesSmooth Out Photo EdgesSmooth Out Photo Edges

Use those same brushes to paint texture onto the model's face and hair. Use the Eraser Tool (E) to lift up any areas where you applied too much paint.

Paint More TexturePaint More TexturePaint More Texture
Here's a before and after look. The difference is subtle but adds a lot of character to the end result.

Step 3

Now for the scratches! Copy and Paste the scratch reference onto a New Layer. Desaturate the photo so that it's black and white and set the Layer Blend Mode to Lighten. Erase any areas you don't need or want with the Eraser Tool (E).

Add Scratches to the PhotoAdd Scratches to the PhotoAdd Scratches to the Photo

I like the idea of putting scratches across her face and body because scratches are usually pretty inconvenient. No one wants a scratch on their photo, but these are the little quirks that make your modern picture look more believably antique.

Step 4

Finish this effect with a little more contrast. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness and Contrast and set the Contrast to 25.

Brightness and Contrast Adjustment LayerBrightness and Contrast Adjustment LayerBrightness and Contrast Adjustment Layer

Check out the result below!

Final Result

The beauty of recreating these vintage photos is to pay attention to small details. Use a Vintage Photoshop Action to kick start the initial process before tweaking the details for a more authentic look.

Collect a few references to guide you along the way and study which qualities you love most. For more photo effects, check out the following tutorials below:

How to Make an Old Photo Effect Photoshop TutorialHow to Make an Old Photo Effect Photoshop TutorialHow to Make an Old Photo Effect Photoshop Tutorial

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