Once we’ve got our skin in good condition we’re ready to apply a series of adjustment layers to get the effect we’re after. Full Disclosure: It’s a bit smoother and definitely a “better” practice to apply this type of effect in the Camera RAW editor or in Lightroom or even Capture One Pro. Because I want you to be able to do this in Photoshop, I’ll stick with Photoshop’s adjustment layers. In the video I’ll talk about what I’m doing and why if you’re interested in how to adjust this effect for literally ANY photo you want to apply this effect to. The first thing to do is go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels and look at my screenshot to see the exact numbers I punched in. I was looking to fade the shadowy areas, dull the highlights, and still add some contrast to the darker areas.
Curves Adjustment Layer
Next is a Curves adjustment layer found in Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves. We’ll change the RGB curve first and then choose each of the three color channels from the drop down menu. Check out the screenshots and try to copy my settings as closely as you can.
The Gradient Map Adjustment Layer
Next we go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Map and select the gradient strip and double click either one of the bottom color stops. Then choose #4f4f4f as your darker gray and #aaaaaa as your lighter gray just as I have in the screenshot.
Soft Light Time
We’re going to set the blend mode of that gradient map layer to “Soft Light”.
How Selective Color Works
Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Selective Color and choose “Blacks” from the colors drop down menu. Settings should be: Cyan: 0, Magenta: -5, Yellow: -2, Black: -10.
Next choose “Neutrals” from the colors drop down menu. Settings should be: Cyan: -5, Magenta: -5, Yellow: -5, Black: +10.
Adjusting the Whites
Then choose “Whites” from the colors drop down menu. Settings should be: Cyan: -15, Magenta: +10, Yellow: -15, Black: 0.
Target Individual Channels via Hue/Saturation
Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation. From the Master drop down menu, choose the “Reds” channel and use these settings: Hue: +5, Saturation: -7, Lightness: +10.
The Yellows Too
Then choose the “Yellows” from the drop down menu and use these settings: Hue: 0, Saturation: -30, Lightness: +30.
The Powerful Photo Filter
Next we’re going to drop a photo filter adjustment layer onto our image to really change the color and tone. Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Photo Filter and select the color thumbnail and type in the hex code #3a683b for the exact green that I got and set the intensity to 60%. I also have “Preserve Luminosity” checked on.
Set that layer to the blend mode “Multiply” and reduce the opacity to “30%”.
Pump the Vibrance
The photo is a little devoid of color. Let’s correct that by adding a vibrance adjustment layer. Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Vibrance. Set the “Saturation” to “+20”.
Levels, Levels, Levels
The last adjustment layer we need will add a little blue and green to the photo to help balance the skin tones in the image. Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels and choose the “Green” channel from the drop down menu. We’re going to shift the midtone (gray slider in the center) to the left just a touch. The input should read “1.10” just below that slider. The image will get a fairly heavy green color cast. We’re not finished yet!
The Blue Channel
Next, choose the “Blue” channel from the drop down menu and drag the black output slider (black slider on the very left bottom) to the right until the output field reads “15”. This will help balance the colors by adding a dose of blue to the darker parts of the image.
High Pass Sharpening
Next we add some high pass sharpening by using the hidden hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E to merge all visible layers to a new layer. Then go Image>Adjustments>Desaturate and then go Filter>Other>High pass and set it to “2.0”.
Set that high pass layer to the blend mode of “Overlay”.
Then we use that hotkey to merge all visible layers to a new layer again so we can add a round of more finely tuned smart sharpening. Merge those layers and then go Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen. I’m probably over-sharpening this shot a little bit, but I kind of like it with what we’ve done. Tweak and tune your smart sharpening settings until you get something that looks good to you.
How to Add Grain
The last thing we do is add some grain! Create a new layer (Layer>New>Layer) and name it “Grain”. Go Edit>Fill and choose “50% Gray” from the contents drop down menu. Hit “OK” to commit the changes.
Add the Noise
Next go Filter>Noise and choose to add about “50%” of noise. (NOTE: This will depend on the size and depth of your image. Do what look like a reasonable amount of grain.) Also, check “Uniform” and check “Monochromatic”. Hit “OK” to add the noise to that gray layer.
Free Transform Action
Now hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to duplicate that layer and go Edit>Free Transform. We need to scale this layer up so we have some big, chunky grain on this layer and our other layer will be the more fine, perfect grain. Look to the toolbar and set the width and height both to “250%”.
Dump the Gray
Set both grain layers to the blend mode of “Soft Light”. Zoom in a bit to see all the damage we’ve done. We’re going to use the opacity sliders to back off the effect.
Go Easy on the Grain
I usually like to have the larger grain not nearly as noticeable so I’ll set that layer to 30% opacity. The fine grain I’ll set to 70%. I do want the grain to be very noticeable and very much a part of the “film” effect. TIP: Adding these grain layers at the end of retouching ANY photo can help to smooth light banding and blemishes in the skin. Pros use this trick all the time! Some grain, but not enough to be really noticeable is great for all kinds of things! Here we want noticeable grain. That’s the effect!
You can add one final “fade” effect by adding an additional selective color adjustment layer and reducing the “Black” in the “Blacks” channel a little. Boom!
I make videos about being creative with photography, design, and filmmaking. I'm a commercial photographer, a logo designer, a camera nerd, an artist, a wannabe thinker, and I like to read books. I arrived on planet earth in the year 1989.