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Follow 4 easy steps to create an authentic retro photograph

Added on Friday 17th of April 2009 12:47 am EST
Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3
Operating Systems:
Microsoft Windows, Macintosh

You probably spend an awful lot of time trying to fix and repair digital images; could there really be a time when you’ll want to make images look worn? There is if you want to recapture an authentic retro look. We’ll take you through four easy steps so you can reclaim that aged charm in your modern-day digital photos.

Sometimes adding years of wear and tear to a photo, like the one shown in Figure A, brings a special visual interest to your project. And, although it may seem like a simple process to desaturate a color image and add a yellowish cast, that approach doesn't always produce the most convincing results.


Try these steps next time you need a retro look. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article. Extract the file retro.psd, launch Photoshop, and open the file shown in the Before sample in Figure A. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.) For the purpose of this example, we’ll aim to achieve a look popular in consumer magazines in the early days of full-color photography.

Step 1: Tone down the color
Early printing technology couldn’t print the brilliant, intense colors to which we're accustomed today, so the first thing we’ll do is desaturate our image slightly.

To tone down the color:

  1. Duplicate the Background layer to preserve the original image.
  2. With the Background copy layer active, choose Image > Adjustments Hue/Saturation to display the Hue/Saturation dialog box.
  3. Enter –70 in the Saturation text box and click OK for results shown in Figure B.


Step 2: Add grain
Older photos rarely possessed the crisp resolution of their modern-day counterparts. So although you love your digital camera’s processing power, it’s time to distress the look a bit with an added film grain.

To ...