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Retro Is the Rage! 10 Tips for Professional Vintage Photo Editing

Retro Is the Rage! 10 Tips for Professional Vintage Photo Editing

With an ever-increasing number of remakes of movies and TV shows, not to mention the popularity of shirts featuring images and characters from our childhood, it’s clear that old is the new, well… new.

Editing software like Photoshop is even helping to extend the trend to our pictures by incorporating techniques to let you add a bit of instant age to your favorite shots and create something truly artistic and unique. Lots of people are getting in on the act, leading to a wealth of tips and tricks, both from the pros and people just like you!

Here are 10 of the most useful tips to help you retro-ize your pics and master vintage photo editing.

1. Choose pics wisely.

The act of making pictures appear “vintage” has become so widespread that oftentimes people are tempted to edit every photo they have.
There’s no reason that you can’t do this, but the best “vintage” pics tend to already incorporate an element that lends itself to making the image feel old.

For example, if your subjects are wearing clothing from an earlier generation or standing by an older car. This way, when you sit down to edit, you’ve got a focal point. If your subject is holding a Hello Kitty bag, the effect may not be quite so appropriate!

vintage photo editing

2. Add Borders.

Few things date a picture more than making it look like an old Polaroid. Photoshop can help you with this by letting you add a border around the photo. But don’t stop there – increase the “aged” feeling by putting some discoloration on the border using Bleeding Options and Inner Glow. You want it to look like there’s a bit of a brownish stain on the border from the age of the paper.

vintage photo editing

3. Experiment with color layers.

If you look at old photos, they often have a darker, more faded appearance. You can mimic this by creating individual layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow, and playing around with the percentage of each color. The idea is to place each layer onto the original photo at varying levels of opacity so that the tint will bleed through but not overwhelm the picture.

vintage photo editing

4. Make it grainy.

Older photos and videos tend to have grain in the image that dates them. You can put some of this grain into your pictures by adding monochromatic noise. Just be careful with how much you put in, because you can end up making your image look like TV snow if you go overboard.

vintage photo editing

5. Scratch it up.

Not only is your photo old, apparently you didn’t really take good care of it and it has acquired some scratches over the years. Mock this up in
Photoshop by creating a new layer, adding some noise (mainly to see what you’re doing in the next step), and then draw on a few scratches. Generally speaking, less is more. Apply the layer with your desired level of opacity and you’ll get some nice scratches and a tiny bit of grain.

Alternatively, you can seek out pre-made scratch textures and pick the one you like best.

vintage photo editing

6. Give it some texture.

Vintage photos have been out in the world. They’ve lived and been damaged from wear and tear. Put some wrinkles and creases on your
pic by balling up a paper bag, then flattening it out and scanning it in to use as a texture. You’ll want to save it as a new layer, then put it on top of the photo as an overlay. You may also want to add some noise and play with the color, but either
way you’ll have a nice well-worn photo.

7. Use sepia tones.

Sepia is, put simply, the color of old. It’s that sort of golden brown grain (as in the plant) color that you see in pretty much any really, really
old picture or film. The color balance function in Photoshop can help you get the right tone, but there are also editing packs out there with pre-adjusted settings to make it easier for you.

vintage photo editing

8. Keep it edgy.

Ragged edges on a photo create the illusion that it’s been around for a long time and barely survived. Photoshop can help you achieve this effect by using the round brush in the layer mask. Draw a jagged border and it will look like the picture has been torn and frayed around the edges.

vintage photo editing

9. Blur the sides.

You don’t want the entire picture to be out of focus, but blurring the edges a bit is a nice way to give the impression of age. You’ll want to use the Elliptical Marquee Tool to make a round selection starting from the center of the photo, then do an inverse lens blur. This will make the edges of the picture blurry, but slowly return to focus as you reach the area you selected with the Elliptical Marquee.

10. Black and white.

Possibly the most obvious way to age a picture is to remove the color, but simply doing this isn’t enough. As was mentioned above, sepia is
actually far closer to “old picture color” than black and white, but that doesn’t mean going monochromatic won’t work; it just means you need to pay attention to things like grain and blur in addition.

vintage photo editing

Really, the key to good vintage photo editing isn’t any one thing, but using a combination of techniques together to create the effect you want.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree with the points in this article? Perhaps you have your own tips for vintage photo editing. Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Ferina Santos is part of the team behind Open Colleges, Australia's provider of photography courses. A feisty nerd at heart with an obsession for media and vanity, she captures all her random musings with daily photographs in her blog, A Pink Banana.

Leave a comment


  1. Im waiting for the flip on the instragram old style photos, next trend sci fi style!


    • Tom says:

      Yeah I love that kind of style too! Retro futurism combines the best of both and has been popular for a few years now (see: James White and company).

  2. cyanotrix says:

    totally agree! thanks for the tips. they really bring the old back to life… :)

  3. Tom says:

    Great post, beautiful site with great informational content. Thanks!

  4. Fake looks fake no matter how well you do it. Either leave it alone or just go use some film for some fun. :D

  5. Jenny says:

    very cool. i have been experimenting with vintage looks for some of my photos but never thought to add textures. i shall try that.

  6. FernB says:

    Excellent article.
    Have just started working with textures which is a great way to achieve that vintage look. However, i would like to try new ways and the other alternatives given above seem great!!
    Thank you :)

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