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Creating a Soft Vintage Photo Effect in Adobe Lightroom 3

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In this tutorial I’m taking a break from my usual Photoshop Elements techniques and instead, switching to Lightroom 3; where I’ll be demonstrating how to convert a modern colour image into a low-quality vintage photo.

We’ll be using a variety of features found in the Develop module to desaturate and soften the image, add grain and a rounded border, and finally create a preset enabling us to apply the effect on different images with the click of a mouse.


We’ll begin by selecting our image from the Library. The effect will work on any image, of course, but will look far more convincing if there are no modern objects in the shot; this stable yard makes a perfect subject. Click the thumbnail to select the photo. Now choose Develop from the module list in the top-right corner, or press D on the keyboard.


We’re going to cheat a little here and start off with one of Lightroom’s built-in presets – there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel, after all! These are found on the left side of the screen. If you can’t see them to begin with, the list may still be in its collapsed state; click the arrow to the left of the heading to open up the panel. At the top we have the black and white creative presets: I’ve chosen Antique Light, which gives us a nice warm split-tone.


The effect is ok as it stands but it’s still really sharp; we want the effect to be of an older, lesser-quality camera. For this we’re going to use the Graduated Filter. This is located in the row of icons just beneath the histogram in the right-hand panel; the vertical rectangle with three horizontal lines. Click to select it, or press the M key on the keyboard. The tool’s panel has two modes, simple and advanced; we need the latter so click the disclosure arrow on the right to display the additional options.


Position the cursor at the top of the image. Click and hold the mouse, now drag straight down the image. If the guide starts to skew, press and hold the Shift key to force it to constrain to the vertical. Drag the guide all the way down to the bottom of the image and release the mouse. You won’t see any difference yet as we haven’t changed the settings of the filter.


Go to the Graduated Filter panel. Click on the sharpness slider and start to drag it to the left. You’ll see the top of the image begins to become fuzzy. We’ve taken the Sharpness all the way to -100 here; you may need to vary this depending on the original image size and quality. We’ve also increased the Clarity, up to 90 here; this gives a subtle tonal boost, bringing out the shadows and highlights slightly. We can see the effect starting to take shape but it’s only affecting half the image.


Click the New button in the top-right of the panel. This allows us to create another gradient adjustment on the image. We’ll repeat the previous step, this time dragging up from the bottom of the image to the top. It’s a good idea to begin with the cursor positioned slightly off-centre, as it this will make it easier to discern between the two at a later time, should they need editing. Make the same adjustments as before. Tip: If you want to see a before and after, you can use the switch in the bottom-left corner to toggle the filter on and off.


Now we have our softened image we’ll add some graininess. Scroll the right panel down until you reach the Effects; you’ll find the Post-Crop Vignetting and Grain in this section. Click on the amount slider under Grain and drag it up to around 50. This will enable the two sliders beneath. Increase the size to around 80 and the roughness to around 60. Again, this will vary from image to image.


The last part of the effect itself is to make the edges of the picture rounded. We’ll use the Post-Crop Vignette for this. Start by making sure the Style is set to Highlight Priority. Drag the amount slider all the way across to the left. Follow this by dragging the midpoint down to 0, the roundness to -100. Leave a slight amount of feather, around 20, to keep the edge a little fuzzy. The highlights can remain at 0. If you prefer a white backing, simply drag the amount to +100 instead.


Click Done at the bottom of the main image window to set the changes. That’s our effect completed. We can now set it up as a preset. Click the Plus icon to the right of the Presets panel heading. A dialog will appear. First of all we need to give the preset a name: we’ll call it Soft Vintage. We’ll keep the location as User Presets. Leave the Auto Settings unchecked. We do need to keep most of the other settings so click Check All. Now uncheck Lens Corrections, Clarity and Sharpening, and finally Process Version and Lens Calibration, as these may not be required on different images. Finally, click Create; the preset will appear in the User Preset section.


Return to the Library module by choosing it from the list or by pressing G on the keyboard. Select another image by clicking its thumbnail. Go to the Quick Develop panel on the right. Select the new preset from the bottom of the Saved Preset menu. We have applied the effect instantly without having to go back to the Develop module and this will work on multiple images as well as individual ones.


Remember that everything you do in Lightroom is non-destructive and reversible; you can always go back to the Develop module and alter the individual settings. If you find you prefer the changes, you can right-click on the preset name and choose Update with current settings.

Try it with your own images and have fun!

About David Asch (32 Articles)
David Asch is an accomplished author, artist and designer based in Brighton, UK. To date he has written two books on Adobe Photoshop Elements for Focal Press: Focus on Photoshop Elements and How to Cheat in Photoshop Elements, now in its 7th edition. He also co-wrote Digital Photo Doctor for Ilex Press and have had work featured in many UK magazines. As well as books on digital imaging, he is also the author of Creative Web Design with Adobe Muse, again for Focal Press. David also designs websites and the occasional logo. When he's not doing this, he likes to roam with a camera, capturing the sights. Some of these are posted to his photography gallery, others may make a guest appearance in his photomontage gallery.

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