I want to make some custom greeting cards and my preferred style is inspired by old-fashioned 1800’s imagery and appearance. I have a few good typefaces that work, but how can I take modern photos and make them look old and antique to match?
A quick glance at old photographs hanging on a wall and it’s quickly obvious that photos lose their color over time. More than that, however, if they’re exposed to sunlight they’ll also gradually change their colors too, tending towards browns. So that bright blue sky might be a light sepia 75 years later. Photos that are protected from sunlight – like in a scrapbook – might fare a bit better against the ravages of time, but a lot of it is related to chemical processes so even those great old pics found in the bottom of a drawer or a dusty box in the attic are still going to be less bright and crisp than the day they were printed.
There are various ways to try and bring back or restore the original colors – or even improve them from the original images – but this also means you can basically reverse the idea and take a bright, cheery, modern photo and “antique” it to make it look old. At its simplest, this can be done by desaturating it, but there’s more you can do too, as I’ll show.
For this demo, I’m going to utilize the great MacOS shareware program GraphicConverter, though you can do this with just about any program on a Mac, PC, even a Chromebook.
FINDING A GREAT IMAGE WITH GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH
The first step is to find an image that will lend itself to an antiquing process. I use Google Image Search and my general approach to searching is always to use a lot of words and synonyms and let Google figure it out. For an Easter basket, for example, I won’t search for “easter basket”, but “diy easter basket ideas”:
This first batch of images are pretty awful, but scrolling down reveals some really good image options. Find one you like and a single click tells you more about it and offers a larger preview:
I will note that since images can be copyright protected, make sure that you’re doing this for a personal hobby project, not to create an image you’re going to sell. There are some creator protections for variations on an image, but generally, if you’re about to use the image as an element of your book cover design, an email asking permission from the image owner might be entirely appropriate.
Click through to see the image on its Web page, then a right-click offers up the chance to save a copy locally:
Once you’ve saved the image, time to have a quick preview. Does it really look good? Are you really going to be able to antique it to make it work for your project? Here’s this image:Looks good, has a simple and traditional vibe and it’s obviously way too colorful for an 1800’s style composition, so let’s see what we can do to fix that…
QUICK AND EASY ANTIQUE FILTER FOR PHOTOGRAPHS
As I said earlier, the fastest and easiest way to make a photo look older is to remove color. The technical term for this is ‘desaturation’, and in GraphicConvert that’s easily adjusted:
Let’s zoom in on the Simple Brightness/Contrast window, because with its preview window, you can easily see how lowering the saturation affects the overall image:
In the preview you can see that the bright pastels are now more muted colors, simply by lowering the saturation. It’s easy to experiment, so dropping the saturation to -100 not only removes all color from the image, but also offers up a really interesting black & white variation of the photo. More importantly, moving it up just a little bit from that point offers a great effect where there’s just a “hint” of colors.
Next step is to adjust the overall color balance to make things more sepia. This is a bit more tricky but I find that if I go to Color Balance setting and make things a bit less cyan and magenta – especially in the midtones – it has a good effect:
Ensure that you’ve checked “Show Preview” and you’ll see a live change as you experiment with these changes. Some programs, including GraphicConverter, also have a “sepia” filter which basically desaturates the image completely, then shifts the black to be a dark brown. It can be quite effective, but I really like the hint of color suggesting that it’s a faded color photo, not a black and white photo that has faded over time.
After a bit more fiddling with desaturation, here’s my final image:
Definitely gives the photo a very different personality, doesn’t it? You could further desaturate it if you wanted, or use an erase brush to remove the strong lines from the background wood plank edges so that the image would fit into a larger composition, or you could just use it as is. Hope that helps and have fun!
Image Credit: Lauren Johnson of DIYprojects.com
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about the Mac since the early days, and have an extensive Mac help area here on the site. I invite you to check it out while you’re visiting! Thanks.