Create a Retro Photo and Background

In this tutorial we are going to take a regular, boring photo and liven it up using with some effects to give it more of a retro feel to it. We are then going to take the photo and create a background for it to lie on.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 1

Grab the photo we are going to use, and open it up in Photoshop. Now we are going to do some quick retouching on the photo, so first we are going to straighten it the horizon line. Click and hold down the eyedropper tool in the tool bar and click on the ruler tool. Click and drag a line following the lines in the water, then go to image>rotate canvas>arbitrary. Crop out the white edges.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 2

Now do control + L to bring up the levels and adjust them to something like what I have, keeping in mind that you don’t want to lose the details in the house.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 3

We want to get our photo to have a color balance that is off, like how older photos are. So we are going to make our photo overly red. To do this we are going to go into the color balance with control + b. Change your settings to something like I have below.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 4

Now open up your hue/saturation with control + u. Change the settings like I have them.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 5

Next we are going to give a gradient to the image, this is going to give us some darker contrast and wash out the photo a little more. So create a new layer with control + shift + n. Click on your gradient tool and choose the orange to blue gradient. Click and drag the gradient from the top of the document to bottom so the orange is on the top and the blue is on the bottom. Change the blend mode to Soft Light, and the opacity to 20%.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 6

Now we are going to darken the edges. Click on the square marquee tool and change the feather to 100px. Click and drag a square across the entire image, then do control + shift + i to get the inverse. Fill the area with black. Change the blend mode to overlay.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 7

Now we are going to give this image a border. Create a new layer and select the square marquee tool again. Change the feather back down to 0px. Now click and drag a square around the entire image. Go to Edit>Stroke, and change the color to an off white and the stroke to 20px.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 8

That is our retro image, but we can take this one step further. Since this is an old photo why not make it look stained too. Download the top left image on this page and bring into our document. Rotate and re size the texture with control + t, so that it fits the entire image. Change the blend mode to linear burn.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 9

Now we want to get rid of the dark part of the texture, so we just have just the stains. Open up the curves with control + m and adjust it so there is no black, something like what I have.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 10

Lets keep going with this image and add a background. Go ahead and download this image and bring it into a new 1680×1050 document.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 11

Go into your levels, control + L and hue/saturation, control + u and change your settings to like what I have below.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 12

Go back to our photo, do control + shift + e to merge all the visible layers, then drag it into the new document and resize and angle it.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 13

Click on the gradient tool, choose the radial gradient, (with the color #F9EECC) click and drag from the top left corner towards the middle of the document. Change the blend mode to overlay. Drag the gradient below the photo layer.

Create a Retro Photo

Step 14

Now we are going to give a shadow and gradient overlay to the photo. Click on the circle with the F at the bottom of the layers palette and change the settings to something like I have.

Create a Retro Photo


There you have it, a retro looking photo, plus a whole lot more.

Create a Retro Photo

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Only comments in English will be approved!


  1. great tutorial thank you!

  2. finally found a great tutorial on this!

  3. Don John


    i dont know which paper do you use exactly.
    You wrote: top left.But i am sure its not.
    Could you write the name insted of the instruction

  4. 07/12/2009

    I went on the website that the texture came from and I couldn’t find it anywhere, the website changed a lot of stuff around.

    These two textures will give you similar results though:

  5. 22/01/2010

    !!!nice tutorial thank you! i made this love it

  6. thank you for the tutorial

  7. 26/04/2010

    Great tutorial. Thanks

  8. […] 29. Create a Retro Photo and Background […]

  9. awesome tutorial. will pass along!

  10. Ernst

    Thanks for a well-made tutorial! I followed it as close as I could, although I used GIMP. Here’s what I ended up with:

  11. 02/08/2010

    love it…thanks for sharing…

  12. 22/10/2010

    Excellent design tips and tricks.

  13. 22/10/2010

    I need a retro theme for my college project, thanks

  14. excellent tutorial. thanks!

  15. 07/02/2011

    great tutorial, great post…thanks for share this

  16. impulse

    İ did not understand the step 8. How do you bring that photo you download into the document? How do you change the blend mode ?

  17. 17/02/2011

    excellent…thanks so much

  18. Retro guy

    Sweetness! Great article.
    I’d so love to see photos shot with this one, retouched like this.

  19. 01/04/2011

    Nice tutorial !
    Your step-by-step guides’re quite easy to understand & follow.
    Eager to read other posts on your site.


  20. Charlotte

    I am stuck on step 13. When I do the gradient it comes up solid, rather than looking like light as yours does. I also don’t know what you mean by “drag the gradient below the photo layer”.

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