I love vintage photography! One of my favorite images is me as a kid dressed up in a cowboy costume in an old west style photoshoot at Frontier City. I even had a gun!
Over the years I’ve collected vintage photos and always wondered about the people pictured. Because that look is so interesting to a lot of people I thought I’d put a few tips together to help you achieve the same look. With these vintage photo techniques you’ll get the perfect look in no time.
1) Get some vintage reference photographs
When you’re excited about an idea it’s easy to just jump into photoshop and hacking away. After a few hours, you look and realize that the beautiful creation just seems a little bit off. You don’t really know why, but you can definitely tell there’s something not right about it.
One of the best ways to avoid this is to break the habit of rushing to get started. In the words of FBI negotiator Chris Voss “We gotta slow down to speed up.”
So, do a little research, build a mood board of photos you like. It can be in photoshop, pintrest or any other tool that helps you collect examples that you can reference. Get a whole bunch from different periods in time to start with. From there you can see which style you like best and collect more from that particular era.
2) Pick a Vintage Era of photography
Do you want to go 50’s Marilyn Monroe, 1800’s Old West, turn of the century? Look through all your reference photos and find ones you gravitate toward. There’s no right or wrong answer here, just pick the style you like best or pick the style that best represents your subject.
After you’ve picked your style, really study the examples you have to find the common patterns they share. Do they have a slight tint? Are the light sources all coming from the same direction? Is the light soft or hard? Is the whole subject in focus or just parts? What’s the background like, solid? Gradient?
Make a list of all the characteristics your reference photos share and then check them off as you go. YOu’re much more likely to get the look you’re going for if you use a check sheet (at least in the beginning, after you do it a few times it’ll become second nature.)
3) Shoot Classic Photo Compositions
It may seem obvious but you can tell a lot about the era a photo was taken just by the pose. When cameras first started popping up no one smiled because no one else ever did that.
Compose your subject accordingly. If you’re going for an “American Gothic” look, right angles and more of a static composition is your friend.
If however you’re going for more of a vintage Hollywood look non-right angles would be my go to choice.
4) Use depth of field to your advantage
Depending on the era you’ve chosen depth of field may or may not be a factor. Remember, older cameras and thus older lenses weren’t precision machined. Sometimes they were down right wonky. It’s just some light being bent through glass after-all. If you’re going for a much older vintage photography look (1800’s) then having very soft edges and somewhat slightly soft focus would be the norm. If you’re going for more of a 50’s style look lens technology had significantly improved then and the lens itself was less of an issue. Here, it’s normally a stylistic choice.
5) Imperfection is a photographers friend
As mentioned earlier, depending on the time periods lens weren’t all that great. Nowadays cameras have automatic dust removal and even auto distortion correction. If these features are enabled on your camera you should add back in some imperfection in photoshop or lightroom.
6) Keep it soft
Soft images were a sign of the times. Autofocus wasn’t a thing and slightly out of focus images were very very common, so try softening the focus of your images slightly.
I don’t recommend shooting out of focus (unless you’re trying to achieve a bokeh effect or something) If it were me I’d shoot tack shape and then blur slightly in post. Easy does it though. A little goes a long way.
7) Vintage Photo Post Processing Techniques
After you’ve shot your photos you’ll have to knock back the detail of them. As a medium digital photography is amazing. However, if you just try and turn a digital photo black and white it still won’t look quite right. A key difference between digital photography and vintage photography is dynamic range.
Digital photography captures a huge dynamic range compared to film. As a result, digital photos have much more detail all the way through the darks and lights. One way to counteract this high dynamic range to achieve the vintage photo look is by making your darks darker and your lights lighter. This technique is referred to as “Crushing your darks and lights”.
The idea is you make things that are closer to black more black and things that are closer to white more white. This will give a more “blown out” look to your lights and help hide the “digital fingerprints.”
8) Vintage Clothing
A sure fire way to spot a phony vintage photo are the clothes. An easy way to get your hands on vintage clothing is old people haha. I know that sounds crazy, but old people have old things. Go ask your parents or grandparents. Almost certainly you’d never wear the clothes, but that’s not the point. The objecting is to get clothing that was appropriate for the times.
9) Vintage Props
This one is fairly easy to solve. Antique stores have tons of old things for sale. Before you say “That stuff is so expensive”, you might be surprised what you can get for very little money. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s valuable. Trust me you can pick up an armful of vintage props for very little money at the antique store.
What is vintage photography? What does vintage mean?
How do you make photos look vintage?
One of the simplest ways to make photos look vintage is to increase the contrast. This means making your dark darker and your lights lighter.
How can I make my DSLR photos look vintage?
Making DSLR photos look vintage is tricky because of the differences between digital and film photography. One way to hide the “digital fingerprints” is to compress the dynamic range. By crushing your lights and your darks you’ll hide the high dynamic range of digital photography and help your photos appear as if they were shot on film.
What is the best vintage photo app?
How do I take vintage aesthetic photos?
What filter makes pictures look old?
There are a variety of filters and presets you can use to help make your pictures look old. A few techniques are black and white or sepia.
How do I get vintage filters on my photos?
How do you make something look vintage in Lightroom?
How do you make photos look old and worn?