Retro-style photo processing
Learn some top tricks for editing with Smart Layers, Curves and the Brush tool to create vibrant, Instagram-inspired photo effects
Retro photo effects have grown tremendously popular with help from smartphone technology and apps such as Instagram. Many compact cameras will actually come equipped with a range of retro and vintage filters, but will process a very generic, one-off effect. So that’s why we look towards the versatile nature of Photoshop, to develop a more hand-made, custom retro vibe. What’s more, if smartphone photography isn’t your preferred method of capturing images, then stick to using your compact camera or DSLR to work with images of quality and high resolution for best results.
This tutorial looks at some key ingredients for mixing up colour and adapting light. Starting with Photoshop’s advanced Curves adjustment, it’s very easy to take control over the red, green and blue colour channels to create unusual blends. Working with Smart Filters and the Lens Correction filter will help us finish off our retro effect using either a white or black vignette; the choice is yours.
What’s important when working with high-resolution photos, it that the results are entirely re-editable. Throughout this tutorial we’ll be showing you how you can work non-destructively with your layers. That’s the beauty of Photoshop; that you can create absolutely any kind of effect – be it retro or otherwise – and return back to it at any point, if you wish to.
Follow this tutorial on how to utilise Photoshop’s adjustments, blend mode and filters, to create your very own retro effect.
Step 1: Curves
For this effect, start off by adding the Curves adjustment as a new layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves). The Curves adjustment will give us complete control over the retro effect and to style the image with RGB variations.
Step 2: Blend adjustment
Before making any changes to the colours, set the blend mode of the Curves adjustment layer from Normal to Color from within the Layers palette. This will help to protect the image’s exposure as the retro effect starts to build up.
Step 3: Red hues
Inside the Curves adjustment menu, change its colour mode from RGB to Red. This adjustment now displays a single red line. Lift the red line upwards slightly in the upper half of the adjustment, so that it’s just above the grey diagonal line underneath.
Step 4: Green shift
Change the adjustment from Red to Green (press Opt/Alt+4). Drop the bottom half of the line downwards and lift the upper half to create an ‘S’ shaped curve. Your image should take on a yellowy-red tinge.
Step 5: Mood for blues
Set the Curves adjustment to show Blue (press Opt/Alt+5). Pull up the bottom half of the straight line until you see a blue tint occur over your image. Move the upper half of the curve downwards to add yellow to the highlights.
Step 6: Extra light
When you’re happy with the colours of your effect, add a new, empty layer (Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+J) between the Background and Curve adjustment layer. Set your Foreground colour swatch to white (press D followed by X), then select the Brush tool (B).
Step 7: Diffuse glow
In the Options bar, reduce the Opacity value of the brush down to 20%. Keep its Mode set as Normal, and set its Size to around 1000px and Hardness to 0%. With this soft brush set up, paint over the highlights and light sources to add intensity and further distort colour.
Step 8: Smart Filters
To add a Smart Layer, duplicate the Background layer (select it in the Layers palette, then press Cmd/Ctrl+J). Go to Filter>Convert for Smart Filters and the layer will now become a Smart one, making it re-editable at any point.
Step 9: Vignette to finish
Go back to the Filter menu and choose Lens Correction (Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+R). Find the Vignette slider in the Custom section, and decrease Amount to -100. Alter the Midpoint to around +20 and hit OK. You can edit the vignette by double-clicking on the Lens Correction option in the Layers palette: +100 will give a white vignette.