Circa 1890s, In Photoshop

Heavy handed? Yes. Vintage photograph from way back when? No. I shot this photo yesterday, using a Digital SLR (Nikon D90 with 50mm 1.8 prime lens), a self-timer and late afternoon light softly diffused through linen curtains.

My original intention was to shoot some head-shots for work purposes while I had the apartment to myself. I am absolutely hopeless in front of the lens, further affirming my need to be behind the lens. It was an awkward 15 minute session, ushering my cat out of his beloved chair, racing against the light, focusing without a placeholder, and staring at a blinking timer light, grimacing as the shutter ‘clicked.’ After some desperate and disappointing shots, I decided to just- bah- do whatever and ended up with a shot that felt strangely ‘old.’ To see the photo fully realized, I decided to apply a heavy editing hand. I’m not a huge fan of over stylized looks, it seems like a betrayal to the original photograph, but, c’est la vie.  As long as each lie has a purpose, it can add up to a truth of sorts.

To achieve the photo above, I processed it in both Lightroom and Photoshop, but Lightroom wasn’t necessary, just easier for some things. Basically, I desaturated the photo, lightened the edges, evened out the shadows in the face, applied a weak yellow toned photo filter, and added another photo (layer) of a lace detail. For the ‘lace’ layer, I pulled the opacity down to 17 or so and erased certain areas using a weak brush. None of this is particularly difficult or masterful- I probably utilized .01% of photoshop to achieve this, so don’t let it sound intimidating.  If you want this look on the go, I’m sure there are Lightroom presets and Photoshop actions that achieve the same end.

Some other Photoshop ‘go to’s’ I like to use for portraits: Using a curves layer to ‘paint with light; using the clone stamp with a large brush and opacity around 12% to even and soften skin; and using ‘levels’ to enhance the dark tones.

“Photo credits”: Max Studio Black dress from TJMaxx ($15), Rosette headband from H&M ($4), and Clip earrings courtesy of my wonderful older sister.

Ah, That’s How They Do It

I’ve long admired those artsy photogs who manage to capture the beautiful nuances of film through color tones and light quality. Do they simply shoot film? No. Fancy camera? No. Hours of post processing? No. Photoshop action or Lightroom preset? YES.


Photoshop actions are simply put, a series of edits compressed into a single button. Instead of clicking through a billion steps to get a certain effect, people create and share free actions that you can download. You can read a more articulate explanation here. You can also download some of your own actions here, although be warned, I have yet to try this site.

Above are a mix of old and new photos I felt would benefit from the retro action I downloaded- the effect is not for every photo, that’s for sure. Shout out to Alexa, the beautiful bride and my cat Lilly, for giving me that seductive stink eye. I have a feeling this film, retro look is a temporary phase for me, but I think I’ll milk it in the meantime. Also, I prefer my vintage look to be a little more whitewashed and not so severe in tone, so maybe I’ll create my own action… once I figure out how.