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Get the wet plate look in Affinity Photo using image layers and textures

Affinity Photo wet plate look
(Image credit: James Paterson)

Watch video: give images a retro look

Adding vintage effects to digital photos is hugely popular at the moment. But if you want to take things beyond generic, one-click Instagram treatments, then you need the right tools for the job. Affinity Photo offers an array of powerful image blending features that allow us to add a custom-made border, then apply textures and toning effects to finish things off. In this tutorial we’ll explain how it’s done and we’ll create a vintage wet plate effect using a combination of pictures.

Key to this technique is the ability that Affinity Photo gives us to combine images and effects on different layers. We can begin by dropping in a messy vintage border and then adding a couple of different textures. We’ll blend these with our portrait using layer blending modes, which allows us to combine pixels in a variety of ways.

We can also make use of another powerful non-destructive layer feature – adjustment layers. These work by affecting all the layers below, which means we can edit them, change the opacity or experiment with blending modes. It’s features like this that give us control over the effect and allow us to fine-tune things so that the different tonal settings and blended elements work together with our chosen portrait. 

Read more:

• Affinity Photo 1.8 review (opens in new tab)

Step 1: Copy in the portrait

You can click on the gadget in the top right corner of these screenshots to zoom in on a larger version. (Image credit: James Paterson)
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We've opened two images into Affinity Photo. The first is our portrait image and we hit Cmd/Ctrl+C to copy, then go to the frame image and hit Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste. Next, we go to the Layers panel and rename the layers as ‘face’ and ‘frame’ just for easier identification later on, then drag the ‘face’ layer to the bottom.

Step 2: Convert to mono

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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Now we highlight the bottom layer then click the circular Create Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Black and White. We click ‘Picker’ in the settings then drag left or right over parts of the image to control the luminosity, dragging left over the skin to darken the reds.

Step 3: Add a wet texture

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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Now we copy and paste a 'texture' image as another layer, then go to the Layers panel, click the blending mode drop-down menu at the top and choose Overlay. The effect is quite strong, so we lower the layer opacity to 60%. You can click the tick to toggle the layer off and on to assess the correct opacity for your image.

Step 4: Blur the portrait

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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To create a vintage-looking edge blur effect, we highlight the bottom layer then go to Layer > New Live Filter Layer > Depth of Field Filter. In the settings we choose Elliptical Blur then increase the Radius to about 25px. We can move the center point over the face and adjust the size of the circles to blur the edges of the portrait.

Step 5: Add vintage toning

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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For our toning effect we add a Gradient Map adjustment layer, then click on the points to add colors, and double-click the line to add more points. You can drag these left or right to change the tonal range. We used four points as shown (1:H0S0L6 ,2:H34S8 L29, 3: H34 S12 L55 , 4: H0 S0 L100).

Step 6: Make it grainy

(Image credit: James Paterson)
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To create the grain effect, we copied and pasted in a fourth 'grain' image, then went to the blending mode drop-down again and chose Multiply – then lowered the layer opacity to about 65%.Finally, we highlighted the bottom layer then used Layer > New Live Filter Layer > Add Noise, increasing the noise to about 25%.

Gradient Map adjustments

The Gradient Map adjustment layer is one of Affinity Photo’s most useful toning tools. It lets us choose colours for different points on the gradient (there are three to begin with but you can double-click to add more), these are then ‘mapped’ on to the tonal range of the image. This means we can give shots a vintage look, like sepia, selenium or cyanotype, and choose exactly which shades of colour to use for the shadows, midtones and highlights. After adding colour points we can drag them left or right to change the balance of colours, which is useful for fine-tuning the effect.

Quick tip

If your image lacks punch try adding a Curves adjustment layer and plot an S-shaped curve line to boost contrast.

About N-Photo magazine

This tutorial originally appeared in N-Photo, the monthly newsstand magazine for Nikon photographers. Why not subscribe (opens in new tab) to a print edition, and have the magazine delivered direct to your door every month?

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The lead technique writer on Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab) and N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine (opens in new tab), James is a fantastic general practice photographer with an enviable array of skills across every genre of photography. 


Whether it's flash photography techniques like stroboscopic portraits, astrophotography projects like photographing the Northern Lights, or turning sound into art by making paint dance on a set of speakers, James' tutorials and projects are as creative as they are enjoyable. 


As the editor of Practical Photoshop magazine, he's also a wizard at the dark arts of Photoshop, Lightroom and Affinity, and is capable of some genuine black magic in the digital darkroom, making him one of the leading authorities on photo editing software and techniques.