Achieving a Vintage Look Through Color Tones in Photoshop CS

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.

 

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Lizzie Bee - September 30, 2011 - 8:38 am

I can’t wait to try this. Thank you you soooo much Anna and RTS!!

Zena - October 2, 2011 - 4:52 am

Great Tutorial Anna, very helpful – thank you so much!

Natasha - October 5, 2011 - 9:22 am

Dude Anna is da bomb <3 Love her style. Thanks for sharing!

johnny - October 5, 2011 - 12:13 pm

Great idea for a post.Thank you!

BBakeca Roma - October 5, 2011 - 4:34 pm

Thanks for sharing, I’ll try this on my picture! Can’t wait!

Animal - October 5, 2011 - 5:50 pm

very interesting i will give it a try and experiment.

metalpig - October 11, 2011 - 1:59 am

amazing vintage-look tutorial.. thanks! :P

Jessica Holbrook - October 11, 2011 - 2:52 pm

Very cool! Always love finding new ways to play with my photos to get different effects. Thanks for this.

Beth - October 18, 2011 - 8:48 pm

Thank you so much for this. I’ve been looking for a tutorial like this everywhere!

MabZziCLe - October 20, 2011 - 1:19 am

wow,,,nice tips. :) thanks.. Do you have an action script to this vintage?

katiya - November 1, 2011 - 8:38 pm

I am absolutely enamored by the top banner of your website! I’ve been staring at it for about an hour just mesmerized. I have a soft-spot for typography and you combined the beauty of typography with photography! I just had to “stop by” to let you know that you’ve left a striking impression upon me with your graphic. Well done!

Carla Brown - November 2, 2011 - 12:23 am

thank you so much i had so much fun trying your method now I want to to do it to all my pictures..lol

Alyssa H. - November 4, 2011 - 12:55 pm

What if we have the newer version of Photoshop!? Just wondering because it is different when I tried to add the gradient.. So I wasn’t sure what to do.. Thanks!

ClrExp - January 16, 2012 - 4:28 am

Vintage Look Through Color Tones in Photoshop CS ! amazing work! waiting for next update :)

Infinitycp - January 27, 2012 - 6:34 am

Clipping path is very simple method to remove background any images to use website,
catalog and news paper. Infinity Clipping Path provide clipping path, Clipping Mask,
logo design very reasonable prices.

Roxanne Richardson - February 14, 2012 - 8:32 am

Thank you for sharing this article. I am loving the results in my images!

Molly Jones - February 17, 2012 - 6:18 pm

That’s cool, I’ve only played around with photoshop, but it looks like you have it down to a science. I don’t think I’d have time to learn outside of my Pueblo Personal Injury Lawyers job.

glorycreation - March 13, 2012 - 10:18 am

nice tutorial

DaltonRebelProud - April 21, 2012 - 4:22 am

seriously? this looks like a girl wearing a route 66 jacket from k-mart and shitty jeans that haven’t ever seen a day of true wear in their lifetime. Oh and the modern graffiti really characterizes the aged look you’re striving for. Hipstergram does all this shit. Learn to actually take photos you fucking clown.

Sarah Crespo - May 9, 2012 - 2:11 pm

Thanks for sharing! I’m going to have to play around with this :)

Melly Strawberry - July 31, 2012 - 4:49 pm

This was an amaaaazing tutorial! Thanks soo much! Thanks to you I learned how to make your own filters in such a short amount of time!! <3 xx

Sharon Lewis - August 15, 2012 - 3:06 am

I love this vintage effect, could totally use it on some of my photos. Thank your for the nice tutorial!

Rachael - August 30, 2012 - 1:17 pm

I love this site. This tutorial by Rock the Shot has helped me out tremendously. I’ve been trying to learn layers on PS Elements and didn’t even know where to start. Thanks!

Majid - September 7, 2012 - 10:27 am

Nice tutorial. i had some issues in trying to apply vintage but wasnt getting satisfactory results plus got a few good tips from the tutorial :)

psupi - September 15, 2012 - 8:11 pm

very interesting site :) I’m thrilled and look quite inspiring, I am intrigued by your suggestions coming.

Fer - September 26, 2012 - 12:28 pm

Una mejor y rápida alternativa de conseguir un efecto vintage. Genial. Gracias.

Sarah Jackson - September 28, 2012 - 2:44 pm

Photoshop totally changed the world :)

George Dike - March 29, 2013 - 11:46 am

by far the best tutorial on the vintage effect i’ve seen. Thank you so much! The only thing i did different was to interchange the suggested s-curve on the red and green channels, and my photo couldn’t have turned out better!

Magento configurable product - May 13, 2013 - 10:37 pm

Thanks for your tutorial. That’so amazing!

Ashraf - June 20, 2013 - 11:02 am

Awesome tutorial…. It’s really so helpful post. Thanks

IndoPhotoshop - March 18, 2014 - 11:57 am

so beautifull, i like every tutorial about toning photos using photoshop

thx bud

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