How To Give Your Photos a Cool Retro Analog Effect

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Back in the days of analog photography imperfections were part of the job. Colour washes, light leaks, vignettes and blurs were all common problems that appeared during the processing of your film, particularly from cheap cameras such as the Holga, or simply down to human error. While these problems don’t affect digital cameras, we can recreate the cool effects in Photoshop to give our shots that cool lo-fi retro effect.

View large scale photograph

View large scale photograph


You don’t have to look far before finding quality examples of old style analog photography. Characteristics include inaccurate colour washes of warm tones, dark vignettes surrounding the shots, blurred focus and light leaks where the film has been excessively exposed.

Retro photography inspiration

Retro photography inspiration

Retro photography inspiration

Retro photography inspiration

Create your own retro analog effect

Once you have your photograph of choice, fire up Adobe Photoshop. This particular image I’ve sourced from ThinkStock.

Add a Curves adjustment layer to begin altering the tones of the image. Using an adjustment layer as opposed to the menu command gives you the ability to go back and tweak the settings, or remove them altogether.

Change the drop down menu to the Red channel and begin manipulating the curves. Tweak the line into an S shaped bend.

Move onto the Green channel, this time increase the green midtones by creating a large flowing bend in the line.

In the Blue channel, add both a slight S shaped bend and move the start and end points above and below the original curves line.

Fill a new layer with magenta, then change the blending mode to Soft Light. Reduce the opacity of the layer to around 20% to tone down the effect.

Press CMD+A to Select All, then go to Edit > Copy Merged (CMD+Shift+A). Paste this duplicate on a new layer, then add a Gaussian Blur. Add a Layer Mask to the blur layer and erase the blurring from the main subjects, leaving spots of blurring creeping in from the edges and in the background.

Dab spots of red using a large soft brush on a new layer. Change the blending mode of this layer to Linear Dodge to create a series of light leaks. Reduce the opacity to around 70%.

Select All, then right click the document and select Stroke. Add a 100px black stroke to the inside of the canvas.

Blur the stroke with maximum settings using the Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur option to form a vignette. Set this layer to Soft Light at 70%.

Dab a large spot of white in the centre of the canvas to highlight the main subjects. Change this to Soft Light at 100%.

Fill a new layer with black and add some noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise). Give the noise layer a slight Gaussian Blur to take the edge off the noise particles, then change the blending mode to Screen at 15%.

View large scale photograph

Download the source file

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  1. sam says:

    very nice… thanks.

  2. Chris says:

    I saw a tutorial similar to this a couple weeks back, i was instantly amazed at how polaroid-ey it looked, and so i was definitely a fan, infact id been searching for a way to do this for a long time, and now you provide me a quick way to do it, thanks, its working perfect.

  3. I have been looking into this for a couple of weeks and not really cracked the old style yet- thanks will have a play with this technique later- Grant

  4. Richie says:

    Is this what they call ‘Lomography’? … Great tutorial, Chris… and I love the bokeh photo.. its beautiful…

  5. Prem says:

    I was waiting for this , looks great ! … thank you for another useful tutorial

  6. Isi Agho says:

    Wow Chris amazing. :)
    This would go so perfect if used an a Polaroid.

  7. So easy and nice too!
    Thanks a lot for sharing :-)

  8. Rick Nunn says:

    Lovely effect Chris.

  9. Great tutorial, you make it look so easy, when it never actually is! Thanks Chris.

  10. I attempted to do this but got stuck on the channels part. I know it’s not meant to be particularly difficult but I’ve never actually used channels before. I’m still learning. Good tutorial though, love the monsters!

    • It’s really just trial and error moving the lines and seeing how it looks in the preview. The advantage of the adjustment layer over the basic CMD+M curves is you can go back and edit the settings afterwards.

  11. Excellent work Chris!

  12. Thanks for the ideas man. I quite like adding a layer of dust and grime on the lens .. helps sell that retro look. Here is an example.

  13. Venkatesh says:

    Am not a web designer, but when i came out reading this message i feel like returning from photoshop tutorial.. As a internet marketer i can able to know what you really telling about, but that much am not a technical person to take the exact outcome of the messages as a technical person.. Nice one Keep Swaying..

    Venkatesh –

  14. Duncan says:

    Lovely effect – reminds me of when photos were square :)

  15. I am going to have a go at this later, I really like the effect used :)

    Sweet Article as always Chris!

  16. Rick Nunn says:

    Wow it’s sad all the people who are doing “SEO” by making their “Name” things like “Web Design Chester”, “Graphic Designer” or “Corporate photographer London”. I remember when people used to be genuine… that was nice.

  17. Ubi says:

    i love it! Your tutorial is always simple and final result makes amazing!

  18. Alan says:

    Very nice work Chris, this could be saved as an action and used quickyl and easily too.

  19. Great tut Chris, good work.

  20. madi says:

    great tutorial chris ! :)

  21. oliver says:

    Very nice photo effect, thanks chris :)

    Creative Photography – People under Water –

  22. Great tut Chris! Really nice effect! :)

  23. Alyssa says:

    I love this effect! Great tutorial

  24. Lana says:

    Great tutorial! Thanks so much!

  25. Ryan says:

    This is awesome Chris. The post work on the photography really does make a difference. Extremely impressed. Cheers for sharing buddy.

  26. RedKoala says:

    Good one.
    Love the old photo effects, the difference between before and after is just stunning.

  27. Sam says:

    lovely! thanks for the tutorial

  28. Chris says:

    Thank you for this effect tut! I’ve been looking for a simple explanation and now I’m edified. Mr. Spooner, you’ve done it, again!

  29. Saw this on Dribbble, was waiting for the tutorial, great stuff!

  30. e11world says:

    Nice tutorial but I’d rather use an action to get the same or similar result. What do you think?

  31. I like this very much! Neat effect!

  32. Esteban-mtsjjb says:

    Thanks ! Thanks and….. THANKS !


  33. aiva says:

    I really like the effect used :)
    thanks for tutorial..

  34. Loige says:

    Man, You always do the best! ;)

  35. wonderful article very helpful indeed.

  36. Patrik says:

    Hi! Nice tutorial. Just wanted to add that from CS2 and forward you can make vignette in the filger menu


    But I guess you already know ;)

  37. lono says:

    love it… great effect and perfect for summer!

  38. Great tutorial, and the final effect looks great! And thanks for including the tips about stroking the entire document, and copy merged – I didn’t know those two functions existed!

  39. I was actually thinking of doing a similar tutorial just recently. You have a slightly different process but the result is about the same. Awesome tutorial and some very useful steps in there. Thanks!

  40. Matt says:

    Nice effect.. and nice looking girl too! :-)

  41. herbie says:

    how to dab a large spot of white in the center?

  42. PhotoshopBeginner says:

    Well done, Chris, well done. Though, I think the layers could’ve had a bit more comment such as “now, make a new layer and name it ‘xyz’”.


  43. Rod says:

    Funny how we didn’t necessarily like these effects when they were part of reality, but now they give us a nostalgic feel. Thanks for the great tutorial. Good stuff…

  44. Very nice tut, Chris…thinking about doing something similar with a revamp of my portfolio site…bring in some colors…nice job!

  45. Alex says:

    Nice effect. Thanks for the tutorial.

  46. I love this effect! I am relatively new to photography and I have been wanting to try something like this. This is a fantastic tutorial – Thanks!

  47. Riski says:

    ini Bagus banget…
    ada lagih gx tutorial yg lbih bagus lgih..???


  48. Wao — its a nice effect and nice tutorial too . Love this — Add more stuff like this — people will be very helpful

  49. Jamie Chow says:

    Wow!!! I recently discovered your website! Thank you do much for the AMAZING and helpful tutorials!! It has pretty much every topic I wanna learn about! Thanks a BUNCH!! :D


  50. Very nice tut, love the final vintage render.
    And thanks for the “copy-merged” tip! We learn every days.

  51. beginner says:

    How can i create an effect like on the last picture? Especially light bubbles? :) ( i dont know how to call them) Can you explain it too with an article? please i wonder how to create them too much

  52. beginner says:

    Actually all these effects are hard to do and they’re amazing .. Will you explain them too? Like last and third(with a van) pictures.. if you explain i will be very happy :))

  53. BoonieMe says:

    Just tried this – great tute!! Love the effect! Thanks!

  54. This is so cool!

    Thanks for the tutorial, I think I will make all my photos like this, and feel in 1950 :)

  55. ana says:

    nice tutorial. and very easy to follow. thanks. :)

  56. Peter29 says:

    Very different type of post.Good work Chris.

  57. Madomat says:

    Nice one, Chris. It brings me right back to the seventies – reminds me of a wall of faded photographs at my grandmother’s house. Ahh – nostalgia!

  58. Ben böyle bir film görmedim arkadaşlar süper ötesiydi.Hepinize tavsiye edeirm.

  59. Joseph says:

    This is great – really innovative

  60. Rocky says:

    Lovely Tutorial, Chris!!!

  61. Nick Jones says:


    I am a graphic designer myself and I loved the Retro Analog Effect you shared with us. Really Helpful… Great Work… Keep up !!!

    Nick Jones

  62. rick says:

    St. Augustine?!?

  63. Nice! Been wondering how to do this for a while. Here is my attempt –

  64. Thanks for this, been looking how to do this effect for ages. You can see my attempt here –

  65. ocube says:

    Always wanted to play around with with emotive colours but never found the right tutorial, tried this out in 10mins and it worked perfectly. Wish I could show you the before and after (should put it up on flickr later). Thanks man!!!

  66. GHD says:

    Great , i like this post.
    Copy it! hahaha,…

  67. Hello! I didn’t know how to give photos this kind of retro analog effect. Now i know, thanks to you. Cheers.

  68. jmj godville says:


  69. Yusuf Güney Dinle.Yusuf Güney Dinle blogumuzd bu gün Durham hakkında orjinal bilgiler vereceğim.

  70. Chuck says:

    Wow, this tutorial is so nice and easy, I’m loving it.

  71. Andy says:

    I like the effect. I’ll give this effect to my new family photos. I’m sure it will be more interesting. thx for the tutor.

  72. Priscila says:

    I miss a lot of details in the explanation

  73. Kimi says:

    search ends… veryy nice!

  74. Kure says:

    Good tutorial, i spend sometime looking for something likely…

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