by Guest Contributor Anna Gay
Photographers are often striving for a “vintage” look in their photos, and even though there are endless ways of achieving a vintage look, there are a couple of characteristics to keep in mind. First of all, the color tones in a vintage photo often lean towards either a blue or a red hue, or a cross-processed look. Vintage photos also have an element of noise or grain that can be achieved through textures, and also a certain amount of vignetting around the edges of the photo. In this tutorial, we will look at adjusting color tones and adding vignettes.
This photo is the result of adjusting the color curves, adding two vignettes, and a color fill, which we will walk through step-by-step.
First, open your photo in Photoshop and make sure your foreground color is set to white in your side tool bar. Then, select Layers, New Fill Layer, Gradient.
You will see the above dialogue box. First, we are going to add a white gradient to brighten the center of the photo. Set your gradient style to radial, and the scale to 150% so it will cover the majority of the photo, except the outer edges. Press OK. On your Layers Palette (right of screen), set the blending mode to overlay, and reduce the opacity. The opacity needed will vary from photo to photo, but for this example, I set it to 45%
Now, switch your foreground color to black, and repeat the same steps as above by creating a new fill layer, but this time, check the box that says Reverse, and leave the Scale at 100 and adjust the Angle to 150 degrees. This will darken the outer edges of the photo to create a vignette. Press OK. In the Layers Palette, set the blending mode to Overlay, and reduce the opacity to the desired effect. You want to strive for a noticeable darkening on the edges of the photo, but you also do not want to create a “Tunnel” look.
As you can see here, there should be three layers – your Background image, then your two gradient layers.
Now, let’s adjust the color curves. You can easily do this by selecting Layer, New Adjustment Layer, Curves.
Use the drop down menu to adjust each color channel. You will want to use a slight S-curve on the Red and Green channels, while leaving the blue channel on a diagonal, but pulling down and up on the outer edges (see figures below).
The above image is the histogram of all three color channels. Play around with various Output/Input ratios to find the curves that fit your taste.
You can also add a Fill Layer of a solid color in order to give an over-all color tint to the photo. Blue and red are always popular for vintage photos, so let’s use blue.
Select Layer, New Fill Layer, Solid Color.
Select a dark blue color, then press OK.
In your Layers Palette, set the blending mode to Exclusion, and reduce the opacity until the tint is more subtle. For this shot, I reduced it to 20%, but sometimes you can go as low as 5% and still achieved the desired effect.
One final step that we will discuss is a Gradient Map. Gradient Maps will slightly mute the tones of your photo, and will also add more contrast, which are both elements that are characteristic of a vintage photo.
Select Layer, New Adjustment Layer, Gradient Map. The above box will appear, and select the Black to White gradient, then press OK.
For this photo, the blending mode of the gradient is set to Soft Light, but Overlay can also work well, as it adds a bit more contrast.
These are four simple steps that will help you achieve a vintage look, but be sure to play around with different color fills, blending modes and opacities, because they will vary from photo to photo, and depending on the look you have in mind.
Anna Gay is a portrait photographer based in Athens, GA and the author of the dPS ebook The Art of Self-Portraiture. She also designs actions and textures for Photoshop. When she is not shooting or writing, she enjoys spending time with her fiancee, and their two cats, Elphie and Fat Cat.