I'm a big fan of vintage looks and this year I hope to get some projects underway to really explore 70's fashion, colour treatments and effects in Photoshop. In this post I'll show you how to create a vintage looking photo from the 1970s using nothing more than a simple gradient map, some curve adjustments, Gaussian blur and a border.
So what are gradient maps?
If you've ever used Photoshop before you will no doubt have come across the gradient tool. The one where you can drag across an image and it makes one end darker and the other lighter. At some point in time you might have just used this to add some colour to a shape or to darken a portion of a photo. Well the gradient map tool is similar, but so much better!
When you apply a gradient map to an image it will use the background and foreground colours you have chosen and apply a series of shades to the corresponding dark and light areas of your image. To show the gradient map in action I've used a photo of one of my dogs Paco. I've applied a gradient map using pure black as my foreground colour and pure white as my background colour. I've masked out one side so the gradient map only shows on the left side.
You might think that all this has done is convert a colour image to a basic black and white image. Well in this example you would be right. The tool has mapped out all the different shades from black through white and applied them to the corresponding areas of lightness and darkness in the image. Unlike the traditional gradient tool which only goes in one direction, the gradient map tool is 'mapping' out tonal ranges of the image, regardless of direction, and applying my colour palette.
So you can create some pretty intense or subtle effects! Instead of black and white we could go for something like in my next example. In the Graident editor the darkest part of an image is represented by the colour chip to the very left, the lightest to the far right. In this example I've used a dark navy blue for my blacks, a purple for the whites and a light blue for brighter mid-tones. Hopefully this example shoes better how the gradient map is effecting the tonal ranges of the image. The brightest part of the image is the sky between the trees, and it's only these brighter areas that pickup the pink. The blacks are now navy and the mid-tones go from navy up to the light blue. You can add as many different colour chips to the gradient editor and create a complex range of colours if you wanted!
So when you think of a gradient map, just remember that it will allow you to apply/control the colouring of an image based on the darkness and lightness of an image.
Creating that 70s vintage look...
Lets crack on a create our vintage image. I'll be using my sweet and fluffy model Paco once again! It's straight out of camera and was taken from a recent holiday in France.
With your image open apply a gradient map (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map). Typically it will apply the black and white colour palette so your image will become black and white. If it looks odd, inverted for example check the order of your colour palette, this tends to happen if your darks are being set to white, and whites to black. Now make sure you have the gradient adjustment layer selected (not the masking layer) so that the properties window shows the gradient map.
In the properties pane showing the gradient map, click on the gradient bar to open up the gradient editor. Then set the colour chip on the far left (blacks) to a red colour (#ff0000) and the colour chip to the far right (whites) to an off white/yellow tint (#fffbcf). Click OK to close the gradient editor. You'll notice at this point you'll have a rather garish looking image, retro but garish none the less.
With the gradient map selected, change the blending mode from 'Normal' to 'Hard Light'. At this point the image should start to look like it's heading for that typical redness old photos get from that period. However it will be far to strong an effect, so reduce the opacity to something that is to your taste. For this image I set the opacity to 60%.
Now that the red is in place we need to crush the blacks and add in a bit of contrast. Add a curves adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves). Place it so that the curves adjustment layer is directly above the image. In your curves layer pull the handle on the bottom left (blacks) vertically about 1/3 of the way up. Then make an 'S curve' in the mid-tones to add in some contrast, again do this to your own taste.
Add a new gradient map and make sure it sits at the top of the layer stack. Set the far left colour chip (blacks) to a purple colour (#7403a8) and leave the colour chip on the far right as white. Then click OK to close the gradient map. Change the blending mode for this layer to 'Soft Light' and mask out most of the middle leaving only some edges to act as bleed areas. If you want this effect to have a stronger presence set the blending mode to 'Hard Light' and use the opacity to control the strength.
Ok we're nearly there! The next few steps I use to treat images is to my own personal taste, but you don't have to apply them. Cameras in the 70's wouldn't necessarily produce images that are anywhere near as sharp, clear or grain free as today's digital cameras. So to reinforce that feeling of age I'm going to apply a slight blur to take away some of the sharpness. Select the image layer and apply a Gaussian blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and set the radius to about 4. You can go lower or higher depending on the look you're after.
I like to add a border to my images, you can skip this step if it's not something you're after. Create a new layer (Layer > New Layer) and using the rectangular marquee tool draw from within the image a border roughly to the size you like. Then inverse the selection (Select > Inverse). Now set your foreground colour to an off white (#fffcd4) and hit the Alt + backspace to apply the colour to the selection (make sure your feathering is set to 0). You should end up with a yellow border that runs around the edge of the image. Deselect your selection (Cmd + D on the mac) then with your border layer selected apply another Gaussian blur using a radius of about 1.3. This will take away that really sharp edge from the border and make it blend better with the underline image.
We need to dull down our lovely new border, it looks to far too clean looking. An old vintage photo tends to have brown staining on the edges. With your border layer selected duplicate the layer (Layer > Duplicate Layer). Double click the layers thumbnail to open the 'Layer Style' dialog box. Enable the 'Color Overlay' option and come up with a brown colour (#cd843c).
Apply a layer mask and mask out most of the brown border with large semi hard brush. You an also increase/decrease the brush opacity and brush size so you don't end up removing all the brown. I found that moving along the edges on the inside with a hardness of about 50 to 70 percent works well. I also added back in brown with a soft brush from the outside of the image. You'll probably spend a bit of time on this one to get the staining and brown spots/edges that you like. If you have any old photos around with similar edging that we are trying to create, that will be a great reference to keep to hand. Once you've got the brown masked to how you want it, you can use the layer opacity to decrease the strength of the staining. The blending mode could also be changed from 'Normal' to 'Soft light', sometimes that can make it blend better. I also added a slight Gaussian blur (not too strong) and went over the entire border with a very soft brush (0%) and a low opacity of about 7% to blend the border a little further.
We now need to add some noise back in to the image. Old film would traditionally have a grain in them, so we'll add that to ours to complete the overall effect. Add a new layer (Layer > New Layer) then fill it with 50% grey (Edit > Fill > Change contents drop down menu to '50% grey'). Your image will disappear and you'll be left with a grey fill, don't worry this is how we want it! Set the blend mode for this layer to soft light. Now add the noise filter (Filter > Noise > Add Noise). Set the amount to about 3 percent and enable the 'Monochromatic' checkbox. You'll have to zoom in but you should notice a subtle bit of grain/noise added back in to the image.
The last step! To give your image that finished vintage look we need to add a texture. I found a texture that was perfect for this example from one of the phlearn.com fashion tutorials. You can of course use any texture of your choice, even create your own! With your texture dropped in, set the blending mode to screen. The texture I'm using has a bit of colour to it, so I turned it black and white using a black and white adjustment layer which is clipped to my texture (you'll find the clipping option at the bottom of the adjustment layer properties). This prevents the entire image from being converted to black and white. With the texture selected I then pulled up the levels (Cmd + L on mac) and pushed the levels around to make the whites more prominent. What we end up with is a very scuffed looking surface. Now you can tweak all the layers to fine tune the look you're after. I actually added a Hue/Saturation layer and took the overall saturation down by about 16 points, and also reduced the red gradient map opacity slightly.
In this example I've gone for quite a red tone, but you could go more extreme, or perhaps add in more yellows and purples. I hope you found this tutorial useful and gained something from it. How do you use gradient maps in your workflow? Let me know in the comments below.