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How To Make Photos Look Vintage

by Catherine Ramsey (follow)
Blog (395)      Tutorials (61)     
Isn’t it funny the way things come back in fashion? The last decade in particular has seen a huge push towards giving vintage aesthetics to digital photos.


Everything from Polaroids, to cross-processing filters are back in style. It’s easy to see why; these effects are fun and give character to otherwise ordinary photos.

I’m going to show you a few easy ways that you can add a vintage flare to your pictures, using Lightroom, Photoshop and even your smartphone.

The difference between film grain and digital noise
People tend to throw around the terms ‘grainy’ and ‘noisy’ very loosely. But did you know that they are actually two different things? When we talk about grain, we’re referring to the dotty texture that appears on processed film, especially when a high ISO film is used. There is no distinct colour pattern of the grain. Noise, however, is the digital version of this, and always appears as a rainbow of colourful dots.

How to add a film grain look to your photos
Generally, we want to avoid digital noise as much as possible. Film grain on the other hand has become a popular addition to digital photos, to give them the appearance of age.
You can easily add a grain-like look using Lightroom, under the effects menu in Develop Mode (see figure 1).
Figure 1 - Lightroom's Effects menu lets you add Vignettes and Grain


Grain can also be added in Photoshop by going to:
Filters > Noise > Add Noise
It's good to make sure that the Monochromatic option is ticked, as shown in figure 2 (if this option is not selected, the texture will appear colourful, like digital noise). Adjust the sliders based on your preferences.
Figure 2 - Add Noise menu in Photoshop


Sepia tone
Sepia tone was a yellow-brown pigment that was added to black and white images, as a way of warming up the tones and acting as a type of preservation agent in the early days of film.

Adding a sepia tone to your digital photos is as easy as using Lightroom’s toned black & white presets, accessible under the Presets menu (figure 3).
Figure 3 - Lightroom B&W Presets


By default these should be named Antique, Antique Light, Creamtone and Sepia Tone. After selecting them, these presets can be adjusted to your liking.

Cross processing
Cross Processing is the method of deliberately processing film in chemicals that are intended for other types of films. Unexpected results are created by doing this, often oversaturation of colours and high contrasts.

A similar effect can be achieved in digital post production; an effect known as split toning. In Lightroom this is as simple as adjusting the sliders of the Split Toning menu (see figure 4).
Figure 4 - Lightroom Split Toning menu


This same effect can be achieved in Photoshop in a number of different ways. I personally find that the easiest method is by using the Curves adjustment and moving the histogram points of the red, green and blue channels up and down (see figure 5). This gives coloured tones to the shadows and highlights; for example, blue shadows and yellow highlights.
Figure 5 - Adjust the tone curves to apply different tones to shadows and highlights


Using Photoshop actions
It can be a slow process editing multiple photos individually when you only want to give them the same end result. Luckily, you only need to do it once, save the steps you took using Photoshop actions, then apply it to the rest of your photos.

In Photoshop, under the Actions tab, create a new action (figure 6).
Figure 6 - Create a new action


Give it a name and press Record (see figure 7).
Figure 7


From then on, everything you do to your image will be saved as a script. Press the stop button when you’re ready to stop recording. This script will then be saved under Actions. To apply it to another image, open the image in Photoshop, go to the Actions tab and press the play button. It’s as simple as that!

Phone apps and filters
With electronics being designed to be more powerful and more compact, as well as a trend to lead minimalistic lifestyles, it’s no surprise that many are ditching their bulky equipment and opting towards smartphone cameras and editors.

Leading the way is Instagram, with its many filters and editing sliders, including Brightness, Contrast and Sharpening tools. The white balance can also be changed under Warmth. Split toning can be achieved by using the Colour tool, and choosing both Shadow and Highlight tones.

Many phones also come with their own basic photo editing software, preinstalled.

See our pick of the best smartphone photography apps here.

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