Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video Analyzing the tonal characteristics of old images, part of Creating Distressed and Vintage Photo Effects with Photoshop.
- In addition to traces of the photographic and printing process, fading, surface deterioration, and other types of physical damage, there are also certain tonal and color characteristics that old photos often have. By analyzing old and vintage photos, you can identify what these qualities are, and armed with that knowledge, you'll have an easier time replicating the look in Photoshop. Understanding how the darkest shadows and the bright highlights appear in old photographs is really the best place to start. Old black-and-white photos are often faded.
Now this is not always the case, but it's not uncommon. The fading is often most noticeable by darker shadow tones that seem faded or diluted, and sometimes by bright highlights that are very washed out, and in some cases, blown out to where there's no detail at all in the brightest areas. So for instance, in this photograph here by Eadweard Muybridge, you can see that the sky is totally blown out. There's no detail there, and the highlights on the side of the lighthouse here are really totally blown out. This is pretty common to see in old photographs.
A lot of times, the overall contrast may be quite flat and dull. Skies in older photos are usually either totally white or very light gray. This is because without the addition of a red, orange, or yellow filter, the blue tones in the sky would be recorded as a very light or almost pure white tone. Depending on the photographic process used or how an image was printed, many vintage photos will also exhibit the classic warm brown color that is associated with a sepia tone.
The whites in such images may also have a slight creamy or yellowish coloring, either from the printing or toning process, or due to the natural aging of the paper. The tonal and color characteristics of a vintage image, in addition to any fading or damage that may be present, are all part of the visual fingerprint for that particular photograph. Once you can identify how the tones and colors in a vintage image appear, that is the first step to recreating the look with your own images in Photoshop.
After reviewing the kinds of things that make a photo look old—fading, chemical deterioration, physical damage, and so on—Sean shows how to re-create those effects in Photoshop. He also explores other facets of vintage photography, from lens distortion to light leaks, and shows how to simulate them. The course concludes with details on adding texture and border effects to your finished photos.
- Understanding what causes a distressed look
- Aging an image
- Creating a sepia-tone effect
- Adding blur
- Transforming light-leak effects
- Creating a faded-color effect
- Adding texture with reference images and blend modes