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How to Give Your Pictures an Authentic Vintage Appearance

vintage effect in photoshop

Vintage photography

Photoshop is a powerful and extremely useful tool for designers and photographers alike. Unfortunately for many photographers, they never truly dig into the possibilities that Photoshop has to offer.

While software such as Lightroom allows you to easily adjust and tweak your pictures, Photoshop can let you create some really unique, creative effects with your photography work.

Today's lesson will show you how easy it is to give your regular pictures an authentic vintage appearance (like the image on the right), in just a few easy steps.

NOTE: if you have Photoshop Elements or any other free program like Gimp or Picasa that work with layers, you can do this too! All you need is layers and blend modes. If your program does that you're all set. Let's do this!

How to Give Your Photos a Vintage Effect in Photoshop

Step #1

Start by opening up the following picture, or preferably a picture that you have taken yourself: Route 66 Antique Car

We're going to be giving this photo an authentic vintage appearance, using some amazing freebies, and basic Photoshop techniques.

Vintage photo appearance tutorial

Step #2

Now, you need to download today's great freebie pack, containing a range of design textures. It's a large file so I've popped it up on Dropbox. Just download it (click here to download the pack), unzip it and you should see 6 files.

If you aren't familiar with textures, they're basically graphical overlays that you can use to add detail and visual intrigue to your design and photography work.

They're really easy to use (as you'll see in a moment) but can have a huge impact upon your work.

Open up your freebies pack, and find the ‘Photocopy Noise 1' texture (it just looks black but is full of little speckles), created by Simon Birky Haartman. Place it over your photo, as a new layer in Photoshop. The best way to do that is using the ‘Place' command. Go to the File menu > Place . . . that will add the photo as a new layer but as a Smart Object. Then you can resize it any time without loss of image quality.

Photoshop vintage photo tutorial

Place as new photoshop layer

It may appear oriented the wrong way. Just use Transform to rotate it 90 degrees either way. Then grab the corners and stretch it to fit your image. If it's not the same proportions that's fine – it's just a texture so if it's stretched it won't be an issue. Hit Enter to apply the rotate and size.

Rotate size layer

NOTE: you can always rotate your texture layer any time by going to Edit > Transform on the Photoshop menu and choosing one of the options to rotate 180 degrees or flip it either direction. You can do this if you want the textured bits to appear on different areas of your image.

Then, change this texture layer's blend mode from ‘normal' to ‘screen' in your layer's palette.

TOP TIP:Changing a layer's blend mode to ‘screen' means that any black data on this layer is hidden, while other lighter parts of the image show through. So in this case, the black background of the photocopy texture is hidden, but the dust and grainy details remain, giving a nice vintage overlay for your photograph.

Vintage car 2b

Now paste in the ‘Photocopy texture 4' texture, fitting it over your photo. Use the same steps as before, reference above if you need to. Place – rotate – size – apply.

Vintage car 2c

Once again, change this layer's blend mode to ‘screen', to let the underlying photo show through, but give an extra layer of grit and detail.

Vintage car 2d

Step #3

Now we're going to apply textures in some different ways. Go back to your freebies pack and download the metal dumpster textures. We'll use these to give some distressed rusty effects to this piece.

Paste in the Metal Dumpster 07 texture, positioning it over your photo using Place once again.

apply texture to the photo

Now change this layer's blend mode to ‘overlay' and reduce the layer opacity to 30%. This will make the texture much more subtle, but give a nice worn effect over your photo. Using the little Eyeball turn this layer off and on to see its effect. Adjust the opacity to your taste.

photo with texture layer

Now paste in the Metal Dumpster 24 texture, positioning it the same way as previous layers.

rusty metal texture

Change this new texture layer's blend mode to ‘overlay' and reduce its opacity to 10% (or to your own taste if you want more texture). Remember the lower the opacity, the less the effect will show through. The higher the opacity the more it will show.

Vintage car 3d

Step #4

Now, we're going to give the impression that this photo is on an aged bit of paper. Paste in the ‘Folded Paper 01' texture from your freebies pack.

Folded paper texture

Remember, changing the layer blend mode on this kind of texture to ‘screen' will hide the dark background, and let the lighter details show through. If we change this layer's blend mode to ‘screen', and reduce it's opacity to 55%, you can get this subtle folder paper effect.

vintage photography

Repeat this technique, now using ‘Folded Papers 02' texture.

Vintage car 4c

Vintage car 4d

Step #5

Now, we're going to play around with the colours and intensity of our piece. A great way to do this is to use Photoshop's adjustment layers feature. If you go to the menu > windows > adjustment layers you'll see a variety of options.

Choose the ‘hue/saturation' option, and then drop the saturation down to -100, to desaturate your image totally. You can also play with the opacity of this layer. By lowering the opacity some of the colour will show through and you'll have more of an old faded photo look, rather than totally black and white.

use the photoshop adjustment layer to reduce hue/saturation

Alternately you can use a Black and White adjustment layer. Doing so allows you more control over the grey tones in your image but pulling the sliders you can see what it does. In this image if you pull the red slider to the left it will darken the rusty bits in the image. Play with these to suit your taste and your individual image.

Black white adjustment layer

Next choose the ‘levels' adjustment layer options, and apply the settings below. This will make the shadows of your image more intense.

levels adjustment layer

Finally, apply a ‘photo filter' adjustment layer, selecting the ‘Sepia' filter option. This is a quick and easy way to give an old-time look to your photos. Be sure to increase the density of this effect to make it obvious enough.

Vintage car 5c

Once again there is an alternate option for making a sepia tone. There are many ways to do everything in Photoshop. Find the ones that you like to work with and like the results and go with them. I like to give you variations so you can try a few out yourself.

For this option you can choose to do a ‘Hue and Saturation' adjustment layer, but by ticking off the ‘colorize' box it will allow you to add a tint to your image. By moving the Hue slider you can pick any colour you like, then adjust the Saturation slide to vary its strength. You can even make a blue tone this way if you like.

Hue saturation colorize

Step #6

To finish, we're going to add a vignette effect to draw the viewer's attention towards the centre of the image.

Create a new blank layer in your layer's palette called ‘vignette' and then use your paintbrush tool (selecting a large, soft, black paintbrush) to paint around the corners and edges of your canvas like this.

TIP: paint with the brush at about 30-40% opacity and add the black gradually so it blends nicely on the edges like so and falls off slowly into the corners.

Vintage car 6a

Drop this ‘vignette' layer's opacity to 15%, to make the vignette effect much more subtle, but still visible.

Vintage car 6b

Finishing up

That's it you're done! Way to go you did it. To finish it up I recommend saving this as a layered file – either a PSD or TIF. Make sure to save the layers. That way if you ever want to come back and make any adjustments it's all still there.

Then do a “save as” and make a JPG. You might even want a couple sizes – one for printing (full size) and one for the web (make sure to shrink it down to about 1000 pixels wide, and save as a compressed JPG. Especially if you are going to email this to anyone – you do not want to stuff their inbox with a huge file. I save my files with an extension so I can see at a glance what they are such as:

  • Vintage-car-print.JPG
  • Vintage-car-email.JPG
  • Vintage car-original.PSD


Have you tried using textures or overlays before? No time like the present right? Please share your images and any questions or other suggestions you have in comments section below.

I can't wait to see what you come up with!

See all my Photoshop tutorials


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