Create a Vintage Photo Effect

1/31/2013 3:23:27 PM

Elements is packed with effects, but they aren't always subtle. With some fine-tuning, though, you can really make them work!

What you need: Photoshop Elements 10 or 11 (; $99.99 full, $79.99 upgrade)

There's a lot of subtlety in recreating vintage photo effects. A simple sepia effect doesn't really do it, because your image still has that underlying ‘‘digital’' clarity and smoothness. The Old Photo effect, applied with the Smart Brush tool, is better. It adds a subtle sepia effect and adds scratches and striations for a "distressed" look. Even this isn't quite enough, though. The results are contrasty, and the toned black and white image doesn’t hint at the colors in the original.

Combining the Old Photo effect with subtle adjustments and masking can produce a much more appealing result. First, we need to ensure the key parts of our picture aren't too dark, as the Old Photo effect will make them darker still. Then we’re going to blur the background to reinforce the illusion of age. Finally, some subtle brushwork on the Old Photo effect’s layer mask will restore some subtle hints of color.

Starting Image

This shot of a vintage car just doesn't look right as a colorful digital image, so we'll try to give it the look of an old, faded photo. The Old Photo effects in Elements are a starting point, but with some subtle tweaks it’s possible to improve on them massively.

Subjects like this vintage car can look out of place in colorful digital photos

Making photos look old often requires a combination of techniques, not just one.

1.    Select the Key Area

The Old Photo effect darkens the picture and adds contrast, so some preparatory work is often necessary. The key area of interest here is the front of the car. We don’t need to be precise about the selection, so we'll use the Freehand Lasso tool, then Select > Feather the selection by 250 pixels.

1. Select the Key Area

2.    Brightening Up

The front of the car is quite dark, so a Brightness/Contrast adjustment is needed. This could be applied with an adjustment layer, but doing so would make things more complicated in the next step, so in this case it makes more sense to apply it directly to the image.

2. Brightening Up

3.    Blur the Background

Old photos often have blurry backgrounds, and once you've got your key area selected, this is easy to do. Simply invert the selection (Select > Inverse), then apply the Gaussian Blur filter. Pick a value that gives a subtle but noticeable blurring effect. With this picture, eight pixels is about right.

3. Blur the Background

4.    Smart Brush Options

Now, select the Smart Brush tool from the tools panel on the left. On the options bar you'll see a menu containing all the Smart Brush effects. Choose Photographic from the list here, then click Old Photo. Next, choose a large brush size you can use the [ and ] keys or the size slider.

5.    Paint over the Image

Normally, you’d apply Smart Brush effects to specific areas. Here, though, you should brush across the whole image to apply the effect to all of it you may have to wait a few moments for the Smart Brush to catch up. The new effect is produced on a new layer above the original one.

6.    Select the Brush Tool

This new layer also has a layer mask directly alongside. It's white, which means that the layer covers the image below, but you can paint on this mask to show areas of the original picture. First, set the Foreground color to black, then set a large, soft brush size and set the Opacity to 10 percent.

6. Select the Brush Tool

7.    Paint on the Mask

Now you can brush over areas where you want the original colors to show through. You don't have to be precise subtle blending works better than pixel-perfect selections, and it's much quicker and simpler! Just brush, and brush again, to build up color in areas you want to bring out.

Final Image

Elements' Old Photo effect isn’t very subtle, but by combining it carefully with the original image, it's possible to produce much more attractive results. You get the scratches of an old picture, and you can subtly blend in the original colors, too.

Final Image

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