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Techniques to Add Vintage Styles to Your Photography


Learn how to create vintage-style photos using techniques like film grain, film templates, and post-production methods. Jazz it up!

There’s a certain feeling that vintage photos evoke—a sense of nostalgia and romanticism that transports a viewer back in time, adding charm to an image. In stock photography marketplaces like Shutterstock, customers search for vintage-inspired stock photos for a variety of reasons. They could be trying to tell an old story, or evoke that same feeling of nostalgia you get from watching your favorite old movies.

The juxtaposition of a modern photo with a vintage edit can be breathtaking. You can create a vintage work of art out of an ordinary image with a bit of careful and deliberate editing. With the use of a few tips and tricks, photographers can transform any digital image into an analog-inspired image that rivals your grandpa’s 35mm camera. 

Portrait of a Renaissance Girl
Photographers today are the next Renaissance portraiture masters. Image by Alexander Sviridov.

In today’s article, we’re sharing some tips on how photographers can quickly and easily implement vintage elements and effects into their imagery to create that nostalgic, romantic atmosphere in their images. 


What Defines the Vintage Look in Photography?

A vintage effect in a visual image transforms an image from looking like a modern, digital image to an older analog image. Characteristics of vintage styles in photography include some of the following elements:

Desaturation

Because color photography didn’t exist prior to the 50s, often vintage imagery will feature lower or no saturation. Depending on the date range you’re aiming for, you might eliminate colors completely and, instead, focus on black and white imagery. 

Desaturation
Desaturation doesn’t necessarily mean making the image black and white. Image by ArtemH.

Film Grain

Most vintage-style photographs will also include film grain to add noise to an image. Older cameras contained a lot of noise in the images they produced, and film grain is a more refined element of that noise. You can add film grain and noise in post-production to add texture to your image. 

Film Grain
Carefully added film grain can make a photo appear vintage. Image by Clock is Ticking.

Vignetting

Vignetting is what happens when a lens fails to capture all the details of an image, and the edges of the photograph become underexposed and dark. This is sometimes an intentional style, often seen in editorial imagery, because it enhances the subject of the photograph. This also often occurs in older lenses, hence the appearance of vignetting in most vintage images. You can create a vignette by darkening the edges of an image while keeping the rest of the frame properly exposed. 

Vignetting
Darkening the corners of your image can help it appear vintage. Image by Alexander Sviridov.

Yellow, Blue, or Green Tints

Old things deteriorate, and that includes photographs and chemicals. Often, this change in chemical properties of images results in the photos having a tint that didn’t exist in the original image when it was first created. Adjusting the colors of your images to tune your image to a certain era is a great way to achieve a vintage look. 

Tints and Chemicals
Certain color tints can help a photo appear more vintage. Image by Dhimas Satriaa.

5 Ways to Make Photos Look Vintage

1. Gather Vintage Props, Wardrobes, and Accessories

Before you’ve even started to edit, you have to think about how you’re creating a vintage image before your shoot. Vintage props, wardrobe, and makeup is the first step to achieving a vintage element. Images on Shutterstock that feature models tend to sell better, so create images that feature models in a variety of vintage-inspired outfits and scenarios. For simple props, think rotary phones, vintage cameras, and old cookware or bakeware. Research the era you want to capture, and start to scour vintage and thrift stores to create a go-to prop kit for future shoots. 

Vintage Props
Create vintage-inspired still life images using old tools. Image by Kittisak Srithorn.

2. Add (Good) Film Grain to Your Image

In post-production, you can add film grain to your image to make it appear more vintage. Using Lightroom, the process is easy. Simply select “Grain” and adjust the sliders depending on how much grain you want. You can adjust both the size of the grain and the roughness of the grain to enhance your image further.

However, if you plan on adding an image with grain to stock, keep in mind that images with noise can be rejected. Therefore, it’s best to add minimal grain that truly denotes the image as being 35mm-inspired, but not an unnecessary amount of noise caused by incorrect camera settings (ie: having your ISO too high and causing distortion in your image). 

Image with Grain
Image with grain.
Added Grain
Image with added grain.

3. Purchase (or Create) Vintage Film Presets

Giving your photographs a retro feel doesn’t need to be difficult—sometimes all you need is a good preset. Whether you want to create your own off a style you love or apply a preset you’ve purchased, presets are a perfect way to easily add a vintage element to your image. A preset pack that I own and love is the VSCO Film presets, which are unfortunately now discontinued. Some of the other presets still available include Mastin Labs, Looks Like Film, and Forrest Mankins FM Vintage Lightroom Preset.

Creating a Vintage Film Preset
Finding or creating a cool vintage preset can help make the editing process faster. Image by Volodymyr TVERDOKHLIB.

4. Adjust Your Setting in Post-Production

There are certain things you can do using post-production techniques to make your photographs appear more vintage. If you can’t find a filter you like that suits your photography, try using these steps to make your images look more vintage. Adjust each one according to your unique visual style and the era you’re trying to capture in your edit.

  • Saturation: Decreasing the saturation can help add a vintage element to your image, even if you don’t want to go full black and white. 
  • Contrast: The lo-fi look (gives an impression of a lower/old quality) can be achieved by reducing the contrast on your image. 
  • Tones: Photos that are vintage will often have a warmer aesthetic to them. They may have tones of green and yellow that are more prevalent than cooler tones. Yellowing happens in any aging process, and adjusting the warmth may help emulate that look. 
  • Vignette: Darkening the corners of your image to create a vignette is a characteristic of vintage-style images.
  • Grain: Adding some film grain to your image instantly gives it a vintage feel. 

Once you have all of these settings finalized to something you love, save them as your own preset. This allows you to use them on any image you want to look vintage going forward.

For a full tutorial on turning a photo into a vintage-style image using Photoshop, check out this article

Adjust Post-Production Settings
Commit to the process when creating vintage imagery, you won’t be disappointed. Image by Everett Collection.

5. Consider Purchasing Vintage Cameras or Lenses

If you really want to create vintage-style images as your focus as a photographer, you may want to consider investing in equipment to support that goal. Vintage-style lenses and manual focus lenses that you find in thrift stores may end up giving you the perfect vignette you’re looking for in your image.

If you’re shopping new instead, Lomography has some excellent vintage-style lenses, such as the Petzval Art lens. This lens is a reinvention of the 1840 Petzval Lens, that focuses on creating almost swirly bokeh images with the sharpness primarily at the center—a characteristic of vintage-style images. 

Purchasing Vintage-Style Cameras or Lenses
Certain lenses and camera equipment can help create vintage-style imagery. Image by APChanel.

4 Quick Tips on Creating Vintage-Inspired Photographs

  1. Research the vintage era: Research what type of vintage image you want to create. An image from the 1900s is going to look very different compared to a vintage image from the 1960s. Take note of the colors that are created, the props, wardrobe, and makeup featured in the overall photograph. 
  2. Gather inspiration: Have a few references on hand for the images you want to create. This will help guide you when you’re editing your final image.
  3. Rule of thirds composition: Rather than trying dramatic angles, vintage-style images often had their images centered and were a more straightforward way of capturing an image. Refresh your knowledge on the rule of thirds and apply it to the images you’re composing. For tips on the rule of thirds, check out this article
  4. Select vintage backdrops: If you’re shooting using any sort of background, make sure the background could be vintage. Look for material such as brick, nature, or stone versus any kind of modern architecture. Other good backgrounds to consider include old buildings, cafes, or hidden alleyways
  5. Add instant camera frames: Generic instant camera frames can be added to make a photo appear as if it was captured with an old camera.
Create Vintage-Inspired Photos
Get inspired to create some beautiful vintage imagery, like this candid camera snap. Image by cate_89.

For more inspiration on creating vintage images, check out these articles:

Cover image by APChanel.



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