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Retouching this Out of Focus Shot to Create a Black and White Vintage Look

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This shot out of camera was not a success; the lighting looked bad and it was out of focus. I decided to play around with it anyway in Adobe Photoshop because I liked the vine-like vegetation in the back. The end result with just a few adjustment was surprisingly good.

Before / After:


1- Black & white adjustment

Let’s first make our image black and white:

  • Create a Black & White adjustment layer.
  • Reduce the Greens so that the vegetation in the back becomes almost fully black. Here I set my Greens to -42.
  • I also made very slight adjustments to the other colors in the Black & White adjustment layer. A good trick is to click on the little hand icon right under the preset dropdown and then click on the picture and drag left or right to adjust the colors similar to where you clicked.

2- Overlay copy

  • Now create a Stamp Visible Layer Shift+Cmd+Option+E Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E and set its blending mode to overlay to increase the contrast or the picture dramatically.
  • I wanted even more of the effect, so I copied that Stamp Visible overlay layer Cmd+J Ctrl+J and set the copy to 40%, because it was too much to have the second copy at 100%.

3- Curves adjustment

Now we’ll focus the attention on the subject (me) using curves and a radial gradient:

  • Create a Curves adjustment layer.
  • I brought the middle of the curve line slightly downwards to reduce the overall exposure, without creating any S-Curve or anything. You could of course do the same with an Exposure adjustment layer if you prefer.
  • Now select the layer mask of the Curves layer, set your colors to the default ones D then the reverse of that X to have black as the foreground and white as the background.
  • With the Gradient Tool G set to a Radial gradient and to the black to white gradient, draw a diagonal line from the top right corner of the picture to a little bit past the center. This ensures that the reduction in exposure from the Curves adjustment affects the background only.
  • I wanted double of that darkening of the background effect, so I copied that Curves adjustment layer Cmd+J Ctrl+J and kept the copy at 100% opacity.

4- A touch of extra noise

Finally, let’s add some noise:

  • Create a new layer Shift+Cmd+N Shift+Ctrl+N and in the new layer dialog box select Overlay as the Mode and then check the Fill with Overlay neutral color.
  • Now go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.
  • In the noise dialog box, I selected an amount of 8%, a distribution of Gaussian and I checked the Monochromatic option.

5- Final note

I didn’t apply any sharpening to the image, but the noise itself helps give the image a less blurry look. On top of that, when reducing the image size to export for the web, if you select the Resample to Preserve Details (Enlargement), a bit of extra sharpening will happen. I also wanted the image to stay a tad blurry for the vintage effect.

And there you have it! A stylized vintage black and white picture in just a few minutes from a badly lit and out of focus shot.

🌄 Image info:

  • Camera: Nikon D300s
  • Focal length: 23mm
  • Shutter speed: 1/25s
  • Aperture: f/8
  • ISO: 400

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