Post-Processing Tricks: Vintage Effects

How do you make your photos stand out? First, of course, you make sure to choose the right settings for your camera, to compose the frame nicely, and then you touch it up in Photoshop for brightness, exposure, colors, etc. But you could take them a step forward and give your photos some color effects that will make them stand out. For this, you’ll have to explore in some areas you rarely go: the adjustments per channel in Curves dialog, the Gradient Maps, and the Lab mode.

For exemplification purposes I’m using a photo by Miles Eliason from, which you can download for free. This is an unretouched image, so before jumping to the crazy color effects I’m slightly touching up her skin to remove the blemishes. (Please refer to these past tutorials to learn how to retouch skin: Portrait Retouching for Beginners and What Not To Do in Photoshop). I am leaving the colors untouched.

Now let’s dive into the unknown and bring out some hidden color effects:
Add a Curves adjustment layer to your image. Select the channels one by one from the drop-down,  add points to the diagonal, and create some curves like below. You can start with the Green channel.

You will need to tweak these curves for each particular image, of course. Afterwards, you can further increase the contrast using another Curves layer and working on the Master (RGB) channel as usual, or using a Brightness and Contrast adjustment layer.  Here’s my result:

Now, let’s start over and this time let’s go for some more extreme curves. Follow (approximately) the curves below. Please note that you’ll also have to adjust the RGB curve.

My result looks like this. Don’t forget, again, that different images turn out different results.

You can twist and turn the curves of the individual layers however you wish to create most different and striking results. Below there are a few more examples of how you image may look:

Now let’s try something else. Go back to the original image. Duplicate the background layer, and set the blending mode to Overlay or Soft light, depending on what looks best to you. I chose Overlay. Then, add a new Gradient Map adjustment layer. Click on the gradient to change the colors from the default black and white. Choose a fairly dark color for the left end and  a very light one for the right end. I chose #662d91 and #fff799 (purple and yellow).  Shoot for complimentary colors, they work best together. Click ok and set the adjustment layer’s blending mode to Overlay.


…and more (also experiment with lighter colors for the left end).

For a change, let’s try playing with the Curves in Lab mode. First, covert your image to Lab. (Image > Mode > Lab). Then, add a Curve adjustment layer and start manipulating the channels:

After you’re done, convert the image back to RGB.

Note: you can find on the internet a lot of Action packages that will let you apply such effect in one click. But of course, it’s good to know the principles of how this works before heading for the easy way.

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4 Responses to “Post-Processing Tricks: Vintage Effects”

  1. Rescan Says:

    Hello , ardis

    I am .Rescan of Russian Internet Forum ArtTower (
    Our resource is dedicated to computer graphics and drawing.

    We are busy with translation of lessons from foreign languages into Russian
    for our visitors, as well as write our own ones.

    I was asked by our users to make a request about possibility to make
    translation of some of your
    remarkable teaching materials which are placed at following web pages: you mind if I will place the translation of those tutorials at our Forum
    with the purpose to acquaint Russian users with your technique and methods of work?
    Certainly, we’ll give all the usual credits and links to your site.

    Also, you can be sure that we will send you the links to translations
    of the tutorials and you can use this link for your own purposes.

    We are looking forward to hearing from you.

    Yours faithfully,

  2. Tamer Says:

    Great. Thanks.

  3. Pareja Says:

    Your post Ardis Creative Web Design Blog » Blog Archive » Post-Processing Tricks: Vintage Effects was very interesting when I found it over google on Tuesday by my search for creative. I have your blog now in my bookmarks and I visit your blog again, soon. Take care.

  4. Print Reseller Says:

    Coming in the Spring of 2010, Bookmark it.

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