How to Create a Vintage Look using Lightroom

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How to create the vintage look in Lightroom

Before you create a vintage look using Lightroom, you have to decide what characteristics you think that look should have. It may mean different things to other people, but here’s my version. Photos with the vintage look are nostalgic, evoking the look of faded photos taken decades ago. There may be a colour cast or faded blacks, and they should look as if they may have been taken with film.

What is your definition of the vintage look? Whatever it is, once you have arrived at it, you can think about how you can achieve that look in Lightroom.

Using Lightroom Develop Presets

The easiest way to create a vintage look is to buy Develop Presets or download free ones. Don’t worry, I will explain how you can create the vintage look yourself, without buying somebody else’s presets, in the second part of this article. But I think it’s wise to acknowledge that sometimes the easiest path is to let someone else do the hard work of figuring out the mechanics, and buy into their expertise.

By the way, if you are new to presets, my article A Concise Guide to Lightroom Develop Presets will give you an introduction to the subject.

Free Vintage Develop Presets

An easy place to start is with onOne Software’s free Develop Presets for Lightroom. I recommend Nicolesy’s Matte Presets for Adobe Lightroom 5 and the onOne Signature Collection Presets (available for Lightroom 4 and 5). There are also some presets for Lightroom 2 and 3 if you are using those versions.

You can also try these free vintage presets from Presets Heaven.

This comparison shows you some of the effects you can create with these presets. Please remember that the best way to use Develop Presets is as a starting point. Once you have applied the preset you can then go to the right-hand panels and tweak the settings to get the most out of your photo (something I haven’t done with these examples as I wanted to show you how they work straight out of the box).

How to create the vintage look in Lightroom

A. Original photo B. onOne Signature Collection: Vintage – Grandma’s Lemonade preset C. Nicolesy Matte Lightroom Presets: Nicolesy Matte 2 preset D. Presets Heaven: PH Vintage IV preset

Best Paid Vintage Develop Presets

Not everybody wants to pay for Lightroom Develop Presets (my article Are Lightroom Develop Presets Worth the Money? asked that question) but there are certainly some great preset collections out there if you don’t mind doing so. I recommend (and have personally bought and used) the following:

Nicole S. Young’s Vintage Fade presets. These are the least expensive out of all these preset packs. The set includes Photoshop Actions and ACR presets as well as Lightroom Develop Presets.

Lightgram Instafade presets. These presets emulate the beauty and nostalgia of film. I like Lightgram’s presets a lot. They also have some free presets you can try out.

Really Nice Images Faded Films presets. These are the more expensive than the others, but you get nearly twice as many presets plus a toolkit to help you tweak the settings. But most importantly they are really good.

How to create the vintage look in Lightroom

A. Original photo B. Nicolesy Vintage Fade: Rainfall preset C. Lightgram Instafade: Lightgram Faded 12 preset D: Really Nice Images: Faded Films – Utah Monochrome preset

How to create the vintage look yourself

Now it’s time to take a look at a few of the techniques you can use to create the vintage look yourself in Lightroom.

1. Fade out with the Tone Curve

Go to the Tone Curve panel and raise the left side of the RGB curve upwards. Doing so removes true black from the photo, making the darkest tones lighter. How far you move it is up to you – the best way is to judge the effect by eye.

You’ll get the best results when the RGB curve starts from its linear position (a straight line from bottom-left to top-right). If you are planning to use the Tone Curve to create a matte effect, it is best to carry out tonal adjustments such as increasing contrast in the Basic panel. You may also wish to reduce Saturation or Vibrance to weaken the colours in the photo, emphasizing the vintage look created by the matte effect.

Alternatively, click on the RGB curve three times (where the lines intersect it on the grid) before lifting the left-hand corner. This gives a slightly different look. Experiment with both techniques to see which one suits your particular photo best. This is what the curves look like.

How to create the vintage look in Lightroom

A. Linear curve B. Entire curve raised. C. Left-hand side of curve raised only.

This is how those curve adjustments affect the photo.

How to create the vintage look in Lightroom

A. Linear curve B. Entire curve raised. C. Left-hand side of curve raised only.

Using the RGB Tone Curve applies a matte effect without affecting the colour. However, you can play with the colour curves as well. If you use the same technique on a colour curve, it affects the colour of the photo as well as the contrast. Here are a couple of examples.

How to create the vintage look in Lightroom

A. Blue curve raised. B. Red curve raised.

2. Split toning

Another way to add colour is with split toning. The basic concept is simple. Apply a warm colour to the highlights (such as orange, red or yellow) and a cool one to the shadows (for example blue, dark green or teal). You may be aware that warm colours appear to move towards the viewer, and cooler ones away. Split toning builds on that principle.

How to create the vintage look in Lightroom

A. Original photo. B. RGB Tone Curve raised (neutral colour). C. Split tone applied. D. The Tone Curve and Split Toning settings used for these photos.

Conclusion

Now you know how to create a vintage effect in Lightroom. If you have any other tips for creating a vintage effect, please leave them in the comments below.


Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos ebookMastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos

My new ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos takes you through ten beautiful examples of photography and shows you how I processed them step-by-step in Lightroom. It explores some of my favourite Develop Presets and plug-ins as well as the techniques I use in Lightroom itself. Click the link to learn more.

Read more from our Post Production category

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer and traveler. He's written over twenty photography ebooks and is the founder of The Creative Photographer, where you can join the community and receive complimentary copies of The Creative Image, What's New in Lightroom CC? and Use Lightroom Better!

  • This is great, I’ve also created a couple of vintage (free) Lightroom presets http://www.flixelpix.com/lightroom-presets/

  • concise, sweet

  • Keith Starkey

    Thanks much!

  • That’s a truly horrible and narrow-minded comment. Please take your negativity and nastiness elsewhere.

  • Nice, thanks for sharing.

  • sorry you had to put up with that Andrew – ‘Darnell’ is now banned on dPS.

  • ziplock9000

    Does anyone know how I can develop an old colour postcard look in Lightroom or Photoshop.

  • educationreformmovement

    Hi!

    Could you sign this petition: change.org/petitions/board-of-education-and-all-educational-facilities-and-municipalities-reform-education-so-that-it-s-fair-for-all-and-not-for-the-elite-few-or-the-dull-many-no-child-left-behind

  • Thanks, Darren. It’s appreciated.

  • One way to do it would be to find some old colour postcards online and analyse the look. What is it that appeals to you? Grain? A colour cast? The fading? Once you’ve identified the aspect you want to recreate you can use the tools described in the article to achieve it.

    Alien Skin’s Exposure 6 plug-in has presets that will come very close to what you’re after. You can download a trial here:

    http://www.alienskin.com/exposure/

  • Ian

    I am looking at buying either Really Nice Images Faded Film presets or Lightgram Instafade presets. Does anyone have any view which is best? I have tried the Lightgram free ones and am happy with the result of the tests. Are VSCO presets worth paying a premium for? I could only afford one set of theirs and 03 looks the most similar to the Faded series of the others.

  • Hi Ian,

    I have both Lightgram Instafade and Really Nice Images Faded Film presets. If I had to chose between the two I’d go for the Really Nice Images presets. You get more presets, plus a ‘toolkit’ that helps you adjust the look. They also seem a bit better thought out, and work very nicely.

    I also have the VSCO Film 5 presets and I like them a lot. I think they’re worth the money, but you have to be prepared to put in the time experimenting with them and learning to get the best from them. I chose Film 5 over the others as you get more presets in total with it. I haven’t used Film 3 so can’t comment on that one.

    Hope that helps.

  • Ian

    Hello Andrew, thank you for your reply. It does help a lot. Your article is great and there are not too many comparing all the presets so thoroughly. Thank you again and keep up your good work!

  • Daniel Hogg

    Hi Andrew

    Thanks a lot for a really useful article. I am much more confident with LR curves now.

    Also thank you for the links to great plugins. Now I am a big fan of Reallyniceimages film presets. Faded Films look and work just nice. But what i like more is that Iconic Films (http://reallyniceimages.com/index.php/iconic-films/) surprisingly reproduce real analog films I know with great precision.

    Especially pleased with Fuji Superia and Kodak Portra. I used to shoot them a lot in old days and can confirm that those filters do a very close match to the originals.

  • Natalie Smith

    This is so helpful! I find what makes a photo look ‘vintage’ is that sort of dreamy ‘haze’. How do you go about getting that look in Lightroom?
    -Natalie

  • You’re welcome. And it’s good to hear that Really Nice Images have done a good job with their presets. I haven’t used either of those films so I’m not familiar with them.

  • Hi Natalie, can you post a link to an example of what you mean?

  • Nalanti Goosen

    I usually add some noise which also gives it a older look

  • Nalanti Goosen

    I added noise to this image

  • Doug_of_Wales

    Thanks Andrew for a good review.

    Really like reallyniceimages presets.

    I have this pack http://reallyniceimages.com/index.php/all-film-the-ultimate-package/ and can definitely recommend it. Film presets are gorgeous.

  • Cristi Kerekes

    A simmilar vintage fade look can be obtained in Photoshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmFmg6rLRT0

  • This is super good! Have to say I already knew everything, but never actually explained it to myself meaning I never actually really really knew it. Does this make any sense 😀 Haha I mean there was no new tools for me, BUT putting all these pieces together did reveal me this whole new world of creating vintage photos! Can’t wait to get home to try out all this 🙂

    -Mari
    http://www.likewindsandwaves.tumblr.com

  • Laura

    Hi Andrew, thanks for sharing such a great resources, I’ve just bought the Complete Collection from http://www.lightgram.com and I’m over the mood, I really recomend it.
    Thanks

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