Retro Toning, VSCO Style, and Sepia Images in Photoshop

The Photo Filter adjustment is a really fun little adjustment that will allow you to create all kinds of effects, but I think it is best for creating a ton of different retro effects. We’ll create an old school lomo effect, a grainy “VSCO” style toned image, and a late 19th century style sepia image all with one single Adjustment Layer; the Photo Filter! Check this tutorial out, it’s great knowledge to have in your back pocket!

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1. Image Adjustment or Adjustment Layer?

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If you’ve followed any of my other tutorials, you know what while you can access many of the adjustments in Photoshop under Image>Adjustments, the better way to go about doing this is by using an Adjustment Layer: Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Photo Filter. Let’s talk about some of what you can do with the Photo Filter in Photoshop!

2. Using the Filter

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When the Photos Filter dialog box pops up we can choose any default filter style from the drop down menu (this is the color of the filter applied over the image,) or we can click on the thumbnail to choose our own custom color for the filter effect. The slider allows us to intensify or lessen the filter’s power and “Preserve Luminosity” allows the filter to target the hue and saturation of our image, but tends not to affect the brightness. Sometimes it’s useful to keep this checked on, but many times I like to shut it off, it all depends on how I am using the Photo Filter.

3. Quick Retro Effect Pt 1.

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If you choose one of the blue filter colors (or choose a custom blue from the thumbnail custom color picker) and crank the density up to 100% and uncheck the “Preserve Luminosity” box. We will have a very blue image.

4. Quick Retro Effect Pt 2.

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Next, we’ll go ahead and set this Adjustment Layer to the blend mode “Exclusion” and reduce the layer opacity to somewhere between 25-50% to get a really cool retro lighting effect.

5. Photo Filter + Other Blend Modes

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Click the little eyeball icon to shut that Photo Filter layer off and create a new Photo Filter adjustment and choose the “Underwater” default and check on the “Preserve Luminosity” and then go set this Adjustment Layer to the blend mode “Multiply”. Reduce the opacity until you get a totally different kind of washed out retro/film effect. Sweet! Pro Tip: Shut off preserve luminosity if you want to dump even more contrast and make this retro effect look even more faded!

6. 19th Century Sepia Effect Pt 1.

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We’re going to shut off any previous Adjustment Layers and add a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer to this image with the default black-to-white gradient which will convert our image to a black and white image.

7. 19th Century Sepia Effect Pt 2.

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Next, we’ll go ahead and add a Photo Filter layer and choose the “Warming Filter (85)” or a medium-saturated orange color from the color picker, turn the density up to at least 80% and shut off “Preserve Luminosity” and you will have that thick, low contrast, orange/brown sepia look that you’ve seen in so many old books. I also set the Photo Filter Adjustment Layer to the blend mode of Multiply. Pro Tip: Because the Photo Filter is an Adjustment Layer, you can go back and tone it down with the opacity slider as much as you like to get the perfect look.

Be sure to watch the video at the top of this article tutorial for even more detail!

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