How-To Geek

Quick and Dirty Vintage Photo Effect in Photoshop


Looking for a quick way to transform your photos into handsome, convincing vintage art? Lots of programs offer vintage photograph filters, but these are often rough, and give unexciting, unconvincing results. With a few moments in practically any version of Photoshop, you can make realistic-looking vintage photos from nearly any picture you might have on your hard drive. Here’s how to do it.


I came across this pic of the King of Bhutan and thought it had some nice possibilities. You will, of course, be using whatever photo you want. I recommend one with high resolution, and good contrast between lights and darks. You can, of course, use any photo, but some will give you stronger results that others.


Press ctrl shift U to do a quick desaturate and turn the image to grayscale.


Then, press ctrl U to bring up the Hue/Saturation palette and set it to “Colorize” with these Hue/Saturation/Lightness values.


Go to FIlters > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the “Radius” to 1.0, or more if you want.


Our image is looking nicely sepia toned already, with softened edges from the Gaussian blur.


Press ctrl shift N to create a new layer.


Fill your new layer with black by going to Edit > Fill and tell the Fill window to “Use” Black. From there, you’ll want to open Filters > Render > Clouds to fill that layer with the texture below.


The layer of clouds should look about like this. If you used Filters > Render > Difference Clouds, it won’t look very different.


Set your Layer Effect to “Screen” in your Layers Palette. And bump the “Opacity” down to 50%.


Make of copy of the layer by right clicking and pressing “Duplicate.”


While on your new duplicated layer, Go to Filters > Noise > Add Noise and use settings similar to this. It’s important to use the “Monochromatic” setting.


This layer of noise will add a reticulation effect to your photo. It’s a little harsh, so let’s look into softening it.


Use Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur again. The same settings as last time will be fine.


At this point, you should have a pretty good look going on in your image. I decide I want some harsher values, so I want to play with my levels a bit.


Click the adjustment layer at the bottom of your layers palette to bring up “Adjustment Layers.” Choose “Levels.”


Set your levels as shown. The black arrow moves to the right, making your darks darker. Your white arrow moves left, increasing the whites in your image. You can also just copy my values if you don’t want to play with the tool (those values are 31, 1.00, 239).


Press ctrl shift alt E to make a complete copy of your image and put it on top of all your layers.


On this new layer, go to Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and use values similar to these. This will harshen a lot of your darks and lights even further.


Set this layer effect to “Darken.” From there, adjust your “Opacity” to 25%. This will add some harsh, dark values to your image.


Duplicate your layer by right clicking and picking duplicate.


Set this duplicated layer’s effect to “Lighten” with the same opacity.


Our image looks pretty good, but the color is off when you compare it to a real vintage photograph.


Go to your Layers Palette and press the adjustment layer to bring up your adjustment layers again. Create a “Hue/Saturation” layer effect on top. Use values similar to these.


You may need to change around some of the values in the filters to suit your own photo. But the basic steps can remain the same and will give you a similar look.

Image of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck by Royal Family of Bhutan via Wikipedia. My derivative image free under CC license.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.

  • Published 09/28/10

Comments (14)

  1. Hatryst

    Finally, Photoshop tutorials have made their way to HTG ;)
    Keep it up !

  2. odeho19

    That all looks good, but my question would be, why PAY for Photoshop, when you can get all of the same capabilities for free from Paint.NET? And they have Tutorials on their site for MUCH more than most people will ever need. You can start with their download here:

  3. Hatryst

    Pay once, and enjoy :)

  4. Harry

    Who in there right mind would even pay for a program in the first place. This does look cool though. :P

  5. Eric Z Goodnight

    @odeho19: Photoshop is a THE tool of graphics industry and the de facto standard image editor. Paint.NET is great from all I hear and I do love freeware. It won’t be long before I’m doing Paint.NET tutorials on HTG. I have every intention of doing How-To articles on freeware and cheaper pay software like Photoshop Elements. These Photoshop articles are basically my “foot in the door,” so to speak.

  6. Robert

    I like this tutorial – it gives me something mess with my friends’ heads a bit ;o)

    As for – it’s nice, ESPECIALLY as far as freeware goes. However, I still find it limited. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to Photoshop, and how to do things quickly in there. I can say the same thing about GIMP – great free app…but feels crippled to me because I can’t do the same things in there that I can in Photoshop. I acknowledge, that it’s just a matter of getting used to how things are done. I would love a [free] alternate to the $600 application; but said application I can do things in 5min or so, that take about 10-20min in the other applications (mostly having to do with layer manipulation).

  7. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Robert: I agree completely.

  8. Garth

    I spent almost an hour on mine following your steps and it didn’t turned out like yours did. I’m very disappointed. I really wanted it to look vintage so I could change up my Facebook profile picture.

  9. Eric Z Goodnight

    I’m sorry that’s the case, Garth. Why don’t you start a thread about it in the forum and notify me and I’ll see if I can help you talk through where you get off track?

  10. mary

    Thanks for the Photoshop stuff!

  11. odeho19

    @ Eric Z & Robert too, I believe. Paint.NET is just a matter of learning the application, AND downloading and installing the needed plug-ins. I haven’t seen any missing steps that couldn’t be re-created in Paint.NET, that was posted in this article, as I’ve done the same thing to pics myself.

    But this is a great way for people to realize, which ever application they use, that they don’t just have to look at a photo, and be stuck with it. There are 100’s of ways to manipulate those tiny little dots that make up what our eyes blur together, and somehow reverse in our little heads, in to pretty little pictures.

  12. Eric Z Goodnight

    Nice comment, odeho19. I’m itching to dig into Paint.NET some more and work with some of those plugins.

  13. Demon Lord

    That’s really nice article and fairly easy to understand. I wish if you can write some How-Tos about Ulead Cool 3D.

    Thanks alot.

  14. shankar

    Thanks a lot for the tutorials Eric… Loved this 8 part series a lot. I am a beginner in photoshop and have learnt the basics and picked a few tricks here and there. Keep the good work coming.. Thanks a ton!

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