In this age of flawless digital photography, there’s something irresistible about the retro photography and analogue Photoshop effects that hark back to the days when imperfection was all part of the charm.
This idea has caught on. The recent $1billion acquisition of Instagram by Facebook being just one indication of the popularity of the old-school look. It seems that everybody wants their images to look like they were taken with an old Polaroid then left in a shoebox for 30 years!
These Photoshop effects can be created quite easily, but, of course, this begs the question: why bother when you can get a free app that does all the work for you? Well, besides the fact that Photoshop is far more powerful, it also offers almost limitless variety and control over the end product that can’t be matched by a simple smartphone app.
In this Photoshop tutorial we’ll dissect and analyse the different effects that make up this popular retro photography look. We’ve divided these into seven categories. For each, you’ll find advice on how to apply various settings and filters to create a stylish array of retro effects.
1. Creative colour
The chemicals used to create colour prints are sensitive to light, moisture and temperature changes. After time, this inevitably leads to colour shifts and fading. We can recreate these colour shifts by using Curves Adjustment Layers. A drag up on the curve line will lighten the image or chosen channel at a specific point in the tonal range (represented by the X axis). Add more points along the line to tweak individual tonal ranges such as the shadows (to the left of the line) or the highlights (to the right). Target different colour channels by choosing them from the RGB drop-down menu.
Red Channel: Drag curve line up to add red, down to add cyan.
Green Channel: Drag curve line up to add green, down to add magenta.
Blue Channel: Drag curve line up to add blue, down to add yellow
Here, we’ve dragged down on the red and blue channels to introduce cyan and yellow into our image. You can experiment with all manner of different combinations to get a huge variety of results.
2. Light leaks
Light leaks occurred in traditional film photography when a gap in the body of a camera unintentionally let light reach the film. As the film was rolled up, leaks typically affected the edges of the frame at the top and bottom.
We can replicate the light leak look with a Curves Adjustment Layer. Click the Create Adjustment Layer icon and choose Curves, then select the Red channel and drag a point on the curve right up.
Next, go to the Blue channel and drag a point right down. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+I to invert the mask on the Curves layer and hide the effect, then grab the Brush tool and paint with white to reveal the orange light leak effect around the edges.
Experiment with different rough-looking brushes and lower the tool’s Opacity to make your brush strokes less uniform.