Photoshop tutorial: Give a photo a faded 1920s feel

Create a faded photo from the 1920s in Photoshop using adjustment layers, blurs and masks. Plus learn how to style, light and capture a 1920s shoot.

The Roaring Twenties are associated with hedonism, a new freedom for women – and impeccable style.

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In this Photoshop tutorial, photographer Tigz Rice talks us through how she styled, photographed and retouched this 1920s-inspired Flapper Girl image with model Anna Swiczeniuk.

You'll learn how Tigz and Anna selected the clothing and accessories, and how Tigz created a Hollywood-style lighting setup that perfectly suited Anna's look.

From here Tigz details the correct camera settings for a soft look and then takes you through adding an authentic-feeling Black-&-White look with film grain in Photoshop.

If you already have your photo/s, you can skip straight to step 5 for this 1920s Photoshop tutorial.


First let's take a look at styling aspect of the shoot, where we spent time choosing clothing and accessories – and styling hair and makeup – to accurately represent one of the iconic looks from the era.

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Anna is wearing a sleeveless knee-length dress with no defined waist, covered in long strings of beads. Although the cape added a modern touch to the outfit, it was in keeping with the style, with appliqués and fringing.>


Anna's bob was a popular hair style in the 1920s. As for hair adornments, Anna and I opted for a feathered headband for this shot – again something that instantly says 'Roaring Twenties' to viewers of the final shot.

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We tried out a bunch of different headpieces on the day of the shoot. Here’s a quick example of another one Anna wore. If you're not sure which is the best on the day, shoot both and decide later.

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Next, let's have a look at lighting set up. Here, I’ve gone for a nod towards Paramount lighting, which was a popular choice for photography during the 'Golden Age of Hollywood' in the late 1920s and 1930s.

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Also known as Butterfly lighting, the look is known for the butterfly-shaped shadow cast below the nose, created by placing your one light source above and angled down towards your subject.

The hard contrast effect usually works best on very chiselled faces, so to flatter Anna’s natural face contouring, I chose to go slightly softer with the angle of my light source.


Once your lighting is sorted, it's time to shoot. I chose to shoot against a dark wall for that low-key look, which was again popular in early Hollywood portraiture. I’m also shooting in colour, which will allow me to fine tune my black and white levels more accurately at a later stage.

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Using a wider aperture setting (F1.2 - F2) on your camera gives a shallower depth of field, allowing you to recreate more of that softness 1920s photography is known for.

I also asked Anna to sway and twist slightly whilst shooting, bringing some movement into those long strings of beading and fringing.

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After the shoot, select your favourite image and open it in Photoshop.

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Before we start making any tonal changes to the image, go ahead clean up your image as necessary, removing any imperfections.


Once you’re happy with your image, lets go ahead and enhance some of that soft focus I mentioned earlier.

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Unlock the background layer by clicking on the lock in the Layers Panel and then right-click and choose Convert to Smart Object.


Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to around 3 pixels – just enough to soften the image without it becoming blurry. Press OK.

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Now, head back to the Layers panel. Click on the Smart Filter's Layer Mask and use a soft-edged black brush with 50% opacity to bring back detail to the area around her eyes and any other parts of the body that have the same focal depth.

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For this photo, I’ve brought back in the fringing on the headband, sections of the cape and the beading around Anna’s waist.


Let's go ahead and convert this image into monochrome.

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Click on the Black-&-White Adjustment Layer icon in the Adjustments panel to convert It to Black and White. This allows us to convert the image non-destructively, as well as still giving us access to the original colours for further manipulation later if necessary.


Click on the Curves Adjustment Layer icon in the Adjustments panel. This is where we will create the tonal effect of a faded photograph.

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First, click on the bottom left corner of the Curves line and drag both slightly inwards and upwards like this to crush the blacks.

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Click on the Curves line to add a couple more curve points as necessary. Here, I’ve included a couple of minor tweaks to increase contrast throughout the rest of the tonal range.

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Let's go back and refine the Black and White adjustment layer. Click on the Modify icon in the top left of the Properties panel. With this tool selected, I clicked on the red beading and dragged my cursor to the right to make them appear lighter.

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Remember, these changes are based on the original colours of your image, so be aware that other areas of your image may also change.


Finally, let's add some grain. To do this, you’ll first need to either flatten your image – or highlight everything in your Layers panel, right click and choose Convert To Smart Object to package everything into one Smart Layer.

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Click on the Effects tab. The amount, size and roughness of your Grain will depend completely on the size of your image.

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Once you’re happy with the results, press OK to come back into the main Photoshop window.