1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation

How to Age a Photo in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Digital photos are amazing technology. They are superior to working with old film in a number of very real ways. But for all their digital perfection, they often lack the character of old film. Film, being a physical medium, was susceptible to the ravages of time and would show signs of wear, tear and deterioration. This often produced a very attractive effect that we just don't get with our digital photos.

But we could... with a little help from Photoshop and some great textures. In this quick tutorial we will use some textures and some filter know-how to produce a convincing aged film photo effect.

1. Digital Resources

The key to a convincing aged effect is using high-quality textures. There are several texture packs available on Envato Market. For this tutorial we are using Old Film Cuttings - Scratches & Dust Textures Vol2.

Old film scratches and dust texture pack vol2
Old Film Cuttings - Scratches & Dust Textures Vol2

For the base image, just about any photo will work, but the effect is more convincing if the subject of the photo is also old enough to have an antique photo taken of it. For example, this photo of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge image from pixabay

2. Simple Effects

Step 1

Begin by opening the bridge photo in Photoshop. Then use the Crop Tool (C) to crop the image down to isolate the bridge. The intent here is to remove the modern-looking vehicles from the shot.

Crop the bridge photo down

Step 2

Unzip the film texture package and open the two files, Pack_2_Film_07.jpg and Pack_2_Film_10.jpg, in Photoshop.

Scratched Film texture 1
Scratched Film texture 2

Step 3

On the Pack_2_Film_07.jpg file, go to Select > All (Control-A) and then Edit > Copy (Control-V). Switch over to the bridge photo and go to Edit > Paste (Control-V) to deposit the texture as a new layer over the photo. 

Change the blending mode to Multiply and use Edit > Free Transform (Control-T) to scale the texture down to fit over the photo. Use the Enter key to apply the transformation.

Place the first texture over the photo

Step 4

Use the same technique to bring in the second texture layer. When transforming the new texture layer, try to align the film holes as best you can. If the combined effect is too strong, reduce the layer's Opacity.

Add the second texture

Step 5

The scratches of the second texture seem to be too distracting around the center of the image. Add a layer mask with Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All. Then use the Brush Tool (B) with the Soft Round Brush tip and black paint on the mask to hide the scratches in the center of the frame.

Use a layer mask to control the scratched appearance

Step 6

The original photo appears way too sharp to be on such an old piece of film. Go to the background bridge photo layer and go to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object. Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and use a Radius of 2.

Step 7

Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a roughly rectangular outline around the background photo. Then use the Add Layer Mask button at the base of the Layers panel to use the selection as a layer mask.

Add a mask to the background image

Step 8

Use the Brush Tool (B) again with the Soft Round Brush to soften the edges of the mask and gently paint out a few areas of the sky so the photo appears to be fading.

Soften the mask edges and portions of the photo

At this point the image is looking sufficiently aged, all through the use of some nice textures.

How the image looks now

3. Going Further

The image looks sufficiently aged at this point, and it would be fine to stop right here. But truly aged photographs usually feature some discoloration and even some light leaks as a byproduct of the technology at that time. If you want to push this effect even further, carry on with these steps to add these effects.

Step 1

Add a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer just over the background photo layer. Set the filter to Sepia and the Density to 54%. This will give the photo an antique tint.

Add a Photo Filter for a sepia tone

Step 2

As photos fade, they tend to get lighter. To simulate that effect, add a Curves Adjustment Layer and move the left curve point up about half a grid space. Then add a center point to the curve and move it upwards slightly.

use Curves to lighten the photo

Step 3

Now let's create a grain effect. Add a new layer with Layer > New > Layer (Shift-Control-N) and name the layer Grain. Set the foreground color to black and the background color to a pale yellow (#ece88c), and then go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

Add black and yellow clouds

Step 4

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and use an amount of 50%. Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 6.4. Finish the grain effect by setting the layer's blending mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 60%.

Finish the grain effect with noise blur and blending mode

Step 5

Light leaks were prominent flaws in old film exposures and can be easily simulated with a color gradient. Create a new layer for the Light Leak with Layer > New > Layer (Shift-Control-N). Grab the Gradient Tool (G) and open the Gradient Editor. Then set the gradient colors as seen here.

Set up a custom gradient

Use the Linear gradient to draw out a gradient starting at the top left and ending at the right, and just slightly down.

Add the Linear Gradient

Then finish the effect by setting the blending mode to Soft Light.

set the blending mode to Soft Light

Step 6

Add a layer mask to the Light Leak layer and use the Gradient Tool (G) with the Black to White preset. Keep the gradient on Linear and start from the bottom of the frame and pull it about half way up. This will fade the light leak effect out at the bottom of the image.

Fade the effect from the bottom of the image

Step 7

To keep the photo effects contained to just the photo area (and not the film frame), clip them all to the photo layer. Shift-click all the layers from the Photo Filter adjustment layer to the Light Leak layer to select them all. Then go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask (Alt-Control-G) to clip them all to the photo layer.

Clip the effects layers to the photo

Awesome Work!

Congratulations! See how easy it is to age a digital photo using some high-quality textures and a few filter tricks? I'd love to see your results in the comments below.

Awesome Work
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