It’s easy to complain about ‘how things used to be’, because of course in our minds everything was better in the good ol’ days. Take the art of traditional analog photography as an example, it’s as much a wistful remembrance of how much better things were as vinyl records, writing and receiving letters and personal privacy… well, perhaps that last one is true.
But thanks to modern photo editing software, it’s possible to turn your digitally captured images into nostalgic vintage photos. Whether you want to produce something evocative of days gone by for a gift, create a special theme for your wedding photo book, or perhaps just to play a prank on your social media followers, it’s not so difficult to do…
Creating the Most Authentic Vintage Photos
If you really want to create something that looks truly realistic, then you’re going to need some professional photo editing software. These editing suites come with a whole range of tools and features that can help you alter and tweak this style to perfection.
We’re going to use Xara Photo & Graphic Designer for our example, but the rules to follow are pretty much the same regardless of your chosen image editing program – and even for online editing software, too, which we’ve detailed in more detail later in the article.
Before starting, however, consider removing any contemporary elements that might look out of place in a vintage scene – such as modern cars or people in modern clothes – for which the cloning tool is incredibly useful.
Step 1: Create the Old Paper Look
Vintage photos often struggle surviving the ages, and to mimic that look you’re going to want to apply a similar texture to your photo. Start by searching for such an image on the internet, preferably in a resolution that at least matches or is higher than your unedited photo.
Here are some search terms worth trying, but remember you can come up with your own (or mix and match any of these) to find a result you’re happy with:
- “Old photo bitmap”
- “Vintage photo texture”
- “Classic paper”
- “Damaged photo template”
Step 2: Apply Effect
After finding the perfectly ‘damaged’ texture that you want to add to your image, import it into the software on the same tab as the image you want to edit. In the case of Xara, simply copy it onto the photo, select the two images, right-click and then choose “Apply opacity mask”. This will combine the two together, blending the ruined effect onto your photo.
In other editing suites you may need to do this process manually, either by using layers to alter the opacity or a layer mask to blend the two images together.
Step 3: Add Effects
The first port of call is ‘sepia’, the insta-old filter for photo editing. Practically any editing software includes this option, so find it and apply it, being sure to choose the right ‘type’ of sepia to match your photo. In Xara, this can be found in the “Live Effect Tool”.
Alternatively you can go for a black and white effect, if you’d prefer that. It’s also worth applying a grain to the photo, and there are many options to do so. Look for options like “Add noise”, “Film grain” or “Diffuse” and play around with the effects until you find something suitable – but don’t be too heavy with this!
Step 4: Adjust Values
Your image should already look suitably old at this point, but why stop there? Adjust different factors such as brightness, contrast (especially good for bringing out those blemishes), RGB values and even the shadows/highlights of the image. This is the stage where you should perfect the look of the image.
Step 5: Apply Vignette
This final step might not seem important, but it is crucial to making the style really take shape. In Xara it’s simple, just select the “Transparency Tool” then from the left-hand dropbox select “Elliptical”. From here, drag each of the handles so the image fades slightly around the edges. The effect isn’t to have the corners completely faded, though, so don’t apply this effect too much.
Other programs may handle this process differently, typically by using layer masks. The concept is pretty much the same, however, by applying an elliptical fade onto the image.
Optional Step: Get Physical
If you intend to print the photo as part of a gift and want to really enhance the effect, consider adding the deformations by hand. Bend and twist the photo, apply a couple of small scratches with a knife or simply carry the picture around in your back pocket all day. Not only will this help the photo look old, but it will feel old too.
Creating Vintage Style Photos in Online Editing Software
If you don’t have access to professional editing software or don’t want to pay the price for something you won’t use too often, then the good news is that most online photo editing suites include the capabilities to create vintage-looking photos as well. While they might not be as convincing as doing it through professional tools, they’re still pretty effective. The steps are mostly the same, but here’s some tips to consider.
- Use a variety of effects. Most online editing software – such as Fotor – includes a plethora of filters and effects that can be applied, including vintage, black and white or retro styles. Don’t be afraid to apply more than one effect, this will ‘damage’ the image more due to the extra amount of post-production being applied. Most tools let you quickly undo, too, so experiment.
- As with the other steps above, be sure to apply a film grain or noise to the image, as well as a vignette. In fact, the latter is a little easier to achieve than doing it manually in a professional suite.
- It’s important to also edit elements like contrast, brightness and RGB levels. This will create a more authentic aging to the picture.
- Use vintage frames. This is a unique aspect to online editing software, and can be used to add some necessary degradation to the overall image.
- You won’t be able to apply an opacity layer to add in scratches and aging effects from a bitmap image, so if you really need to then print the image out, crumple it up and add scratches and then scan it in again. This process will really add some worn damage to the image.
Best Photo Editing Software of 2023