This post was originally published in 2010
The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.

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

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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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 –

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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 ;)

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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'”.


  11. 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…

  12. 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


  13. 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

  14. 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 :))

  15. 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!

  16. Hey,

    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

  17. 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!!!

  18. このエフェクトぇしていただきありがとうございます!私は簡単な説明を探している、今私はびっくりしたのです。氏スプーナーは、あなたが、もう一度それをやった!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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

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