How to Create the Retro Photo Effect With Photoshop

Written by heather laurent
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How to Create the Retro Photo Effect With Photoshop
High-contrast, low-saturation retro images evoke feelings of sentimentality and nostalgia. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

If you are nostalgic for the predigital era of photography, you can apply a retro effect to give your digital images the worn, ageing look that typifies photos of the past. Using Photoshop, you can mimic film photography imperfections like colour washes, vignettes and blurs. Take otherwise mundane photographs and make them really stand out in your photo album with a creative vintage touch.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Import your image into Photoshop by selecting "File," "Open."

  2. 2

    Adjust the levels to increase contrast. Press "Ctrl" and "L" to open the Levels box, and slide the outer two arrows toward the middle of the histogram until you achieve your desired contrast level. You can move the black arrow, which represents darker tones of your photograph, independently of the white arrow, which represents the highlights.

  3. 3

    Alter the colour balance. Retro photographs often do not have neutral white balances. Press "Ctrl" and "B" to bring up the Color Balance box. Adjust the sliders to suit your preferences. For example, move the slider to "-15" on the Cyan/Red scale, "-15" on the Magenta/Green scale and "+20" on the Yellow/Blue scale. This adjustment gives your photograph a general red overtone.

  4. 4

    Lower the saturation of your photograph. Press "Ctrl" and "U" to open the Hue/Saturation box. Move the slider to the right to an amount of "20" to "35," depending on your preferences.

  5. 5

    Blur the areas around the edges of your photograph. Older photographs are typically soft around the edges. Select the Blur tool from the toolbar and choose a large, soft brush from the Brush palette. Choose a strength of seven to 15 per cent. Hold down the cursor and drag the tool across the parts of the image you wish to blur.

  6. 6

    Add a vignette to the outside edges of your image. Click "Filter," "Distort," "Lens Correction." Adjust the amount from between "-50" and "-100" based on your preference --- the higher the value, the darker the vignette. Select a midpoint from between "0" to "+50" based on your preference. Lower values increase the size of the vignette.

  7. 7

    Click "File," "Save" to save the adjustments to your image.

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