Easy Ways to Create These 5 Retro Photography Styles from the Past

Here are five ways you can recreate those retro styled photos from the past using your camera, some old stuff and your favourite image editor.

Feel nostalgic about those broken, noisy, out of focus, sepia and weird photos from the past and want to recreate them today? Sorry for sounding like a critic but there really is no reason to love old photography other than the emotional value and nostalgia from that age. And for that love alone, we take the plunge into the past. Photographers have been skilled since forever and no matter the technical shortcoming, do keep in mind that composition and other aspects need to be right for the source photo for it to make a good nostalgic one.

Adorable boy on a railway station, waiting for the train

So we talk about what makes a great retro picture and what effects we can apply to make a photo look so. let’s see which effects you can expect to use while creating your perfect retro looking masterpiece. At times I will not go menu by menu but explain in general as to how you can apply the effect to save time and keep this blog from getting too big.

Things to bear in mind while choosing the base photo:

1. It has to be an otherwise good photo, not a discard, only a good base photo makes a great retro

2. Quality has to be good in order for filters to work at their best and overlays to give the accurate output

3. Lighting has to be in line with the mood, it can later be adjusted a bit though.

4. The photo has to be in sync with old styles. For example heavy hairdo of the 80’s with suitable dress for the model.

5. Also watch out for new tech items, dates, monuments and other things that can be a dead give away inside the image and make it look modern, unless intended. So take care while shooting the base photo, or pick one without these artefacts, mask them out if you have to.

6. Do remember that there are filter packs for many of these looks as well. But what's the fun there? :-)

Beautiful woman pilot: vintage photo

Here are the retro styles that can turn a new picture into an old one:

1. Vignette effect: Old photos used to develop with dark corners most of the times, you can easily create this effect in photoshop or in any image editor though the steps may vary. Open your image, select an oval shape by using the elliptical marquee tool. Feather the selection by going to select menu> Modify> Feather and use a pixel count of 90. Use larger value for higher resolution image. This should be good for HD images though. Now add an adjustment layer, go to Layers> New adjustment layer> Curves. Do this while still being in the selection. Now click that curve and drag the mid area of the curve downwards which will darken the edges. Leave it where you feel is right. You are done!

2. Scratch effects: This one adds scratches like old film or print. Open your image in Photoshop or any editor of your choice. Create a new layer, Pick a 1 to 2 pixel brush set at full hardness. Now draw some scratches in white color. Do this across the image where you loosely want the scratches to appear. Now open Filter> add Noise. Add some noise, the more the noise, more the scratches are pronounced. Now duplicate this layer. Add a motion blur filter to one of the layers with settings you prefer. Then go to each layer’s property and change the blend mode to overlay or soft light and you are done. You can adjust the layer transparency or recreate different levels of noise and scratches this way. You can also erase areas with soft brush where you want less or random clean patches.

3. Grunge look: Pick your favourite distressed grunge that you want to match with your image. Paste this grunge in a new layer above your image in Photoshop. Now resize your grunge to suit how you want to overlay above your target image. Do not worry about resolution. Now hit enter to effect this resize. Go to layer properties for the grunge texture and change blend mode to overlay. You can also try soft light. Adjust opacity or duplicate the grunge texture layer for stronger effect.

Old style movie camera with white wall, vintage photo effect

4. Film grain effect: This is just like the scratch effect. Add a new layer above your image with grey color, Fill it with noise, say 10%. Choose gaussian distribution and monochromatic option. After adding the noise, apply gaussian blur filter say with .8 pixel strength. Set the layer property blending mode too overlay. It’s done!

5. Old film effect: Add film grain to the image just as in point 4 above. Add an adjustment layer by choosing from the bottom right corner or the top Layer menu, This will be a hue/Saturation layer. Tone down the colors and set the hue to a vintage sepia color. Now add another adjustment layer of the type “exposure” this time. Adjust the contrast by lowering it to a retro level. You have your sepia looking old film effect.

Thanks for reading and do post your own secret vintage tip in comments below!

Photo credits: Daniil Peshkov, Stokkete, Tatyana Tomsickova.

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May 10, 2019


Thanks for providing the techniques to achieve the retro look on photos.

April 23, 2019


Well written article. Thanks for the artistic post-processing tips! William

April 22, 2019


I enjoyed reading your blog on this topic - it really opens up some possibilities to explore my camera settings and get creative in setting up a shot with props.

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