How to give a retro-look to your photos

How to give a retro-look to your photos

In this tutorial we will use Photoshop to give a retro look style to our photos in 7 easy steps. The tutorial will help Photoshop beginners to understand better how to manage colors using Photoshop adjustment layers and filters. Take a look!

Before and after:


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Step 1

Open the mill photo in Photoshop. We are going to apply a series of adjustments. When you have to modify a photo, I suggest you to follow one of these 2 ways:

  1. Duplicate the image, then hide the original layer and work with the copy. In this way you can apply the adjustments directly on the image and if you won’t be satisfied with the result you can always delete everything and restart with the duplicated image.
  2. Apply adjustments into new layers. In this way our source image won’t be modified.

In this tutorial we will follow the second way. So go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Color balance and set color levels to -15, +2 and -48. Now go to layer>New Adjustment Layer>Brightness/Contrast and set brightness to +20 and contrast to +26.

tip: at the bottom of the layer’s window there’s an apposite button to quicker create a new adjustment layer.

Step 2

We want to increase color contrasts. So press shift+alt+ctrl+E to merge all the layers into a new layer and set this layer to overlay with opacity 50%.

Step 3

I think our result still needs more contrast. So apply a curve adjustment layer and create an “S” with the curve as shown in the screenshot below:

Step 4

Choose a bokeh texture with a black background and paste it into the canvas. Why with a black background? Because once inserted into the work, you simply have to set the layer to screen and black will disappear.

Step 5

Once again merge all layers into a new layer (shift+alt+ctrl+E) and this time lets apply the sharpen filter (Filter>Sharpen>Sharpen). If you zoom on the image you can notice that the sharpen filter enhances image details.

Step 6

At this point we want to create a noise effect which is a characteristic of old photos. So create a new layer and fill it with black. Make sure to have black as foreground color and white as background.  Now go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. Set the amount to 40% and choose a uniform distribution. Now switch the layer blending mode to screen and reduce the opacity to around 60%.

Step 7

Create a new layer and fill it with black. Now select the erase tool and with a large soft brush (hardness 0%) gentle erase the center of the image until you obtain nice black edges. Finished!

tip: you can fill a layer with the foreground color by clicking alt+delete. With the background color by clicking ctrl+delete (cmd+delete for mac users)


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(+add yours)
  1. Francesca

    Wow! thank u for this tut! Surely I’ll try it! ;)

  2. Cheers sebastian nice simple tut

  3. the fake bokeh was to much, the rest is somewhat believable

  4. This is a great tutorial with very thorough detail, and a fine ending product. Thanks for sharing.

  5. i like it i will try it later

  6. this is GREAT!! Want to see ur other tuts :)

  7. Carmela Anzelmo

    Simply and great tutorial =)

  8. Spade

    Wow that was a great tutorial, the end result always looks awesome but personally I don’t see the point of the brokeh images nevertheless a great tutorial :)

  9. Very cool effect. It’s fun to see this effect being done, and how much the effect differs from one person to another.

    I posted a tutorial on giving a retro look as well, and mine came out with a completely different set of colors. Check it out and let me know what you think of it sometime.

  10. Thanks so much! It’s clear, simple and easy to follow! Simply what i need.

  11. Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful article.
    Thank you for providing this information.

  12. Alysha

    I LOVE IT. Your tut is my favorite. It gives a reaaaaly reaaaly cool effect. Thanks a lot sebastian!

  13. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site
    before but after reading through some of the post I realized
    it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely glad I found
    it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back often!

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  16. hayfaa

    I love it. Thank you for this wonderful tuto.

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