Photoshop tutorial: Add an authentic-looking vintage look to a photo

Photographer Graham Boyd has a great recipe for ageing digital images with realistic, so-much-better-than-Instagram-or-filters results in Photoshop.


Is there something about the main image on the right that seems, well, not quite right? 

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It does indeed feature a major temporal paradox worthy of Dr Who: despite its 1950s feel, nestling at the centre of the photo is an iPhone. It sits snugly in one of a new series of iPhone cases by accessory maker Proporta, designed in collaboration with vintage clothing brand Lalita.

The Photoshop workflow to attain that antique look was devised by Proporta product designer Graham Boyd, who also shot the photo. The steps he outlines here will allow you to use subtle effects to create an effective image, he says – and smart use of a series of techniques and layers should deliver results quickly and reliably. 

As Graham says, it adds a new dimension to digital photography.

Time to complete

20 minutes


Step 1


Open your chosen image in Photoshop. Select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels and increase the amount of black in the image by sliding the black arrow to 8. Duplicate the background layer and move the new layer to the top of the layer stack.

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Right-click on the new layer in the Layers panel and select Convert to Smart Object. This lets you easily revise or correct the effects you apply, should you need to do so.

Step 2


We need to increase the contrast and line thickness of the image, so apply a High Pass filter to the new layer (Filter > Other > High Pass). Use a radius of 14. Set the layer’s blending mode to Overlay. Patterned textures, such as the model’s jacket in this photo, will be accentuated.

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Step 3


Now we’ll decrease the contrast of the background layer. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast and use a contrast setting of -20.

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Step 4


Add a new Curves adjustment layer. Go to the Channel dropdown menu and manipulate each channel individually. For the red channel, increase the highlights and decrease the lowlights using an S-shaped curve. For the green channel: increase the highlights, keep the midtones neutral and decrease the lowlights. For the blue, decrease the highlights and increase the lowlights. You should now have a look that resembles that above.

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Step 5


Create a new layer above the Levels adjustment layer and fill it with a full-on magenta (R255, G0, B255). Change the blending mode of this layer to Screen and reduce the opacity to about 6%. This adds a little of the warmth associated with the vintage look.

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Step 6


Select the background layer and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Move the saturation slider to -20. This blanches the image subtly without reducing the warmth added in the last step.

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Step 7


Duplicate the background layer and select Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Use an Amount proportional to the size of your image to give a subtle dusting (my image is 2,408 x 3,508px, aka A4 portrait at 300dpi, so I used 8.0). Make sure Uniform is selected and Monochrome deselected.

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Step 8


With your layer-with-noise selected, select Filter > Lens Correction (or hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + R). Select the Custom tab and, in the Vignette section, reduce the amount to -100 and push the Midpoint to +35. 

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Now spend some time fine-tuning each layer to get exactly the effect you want.

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