Retro, it’s a word we often hear when referring to something having a vintage or classic look. When I think of retro in terms of photography, I think of a 20 year period from around 1955 through 1975. I then imagine a slightly washed out looking photo with some color fading and yellowish tingeing. I also think that a lot of the look back then had to do with the type of negative color film and paper Kodak was producing at the time.
And when it comes to street photography, the images I find to be most visually impactful and artistic looking these days are ones that are either in black and white and/or they have some sort of edgy looking color grading that has been applied digitally. Maybe also some heavy shadows added in or with a bit of a grunge look. But in our present day modern world, photos shot on the streets in many parts of the world often look too ordinary to have any sort of a classical, old-world feel as many of the photographs did that were taken 40-50 years ago.
From my view though, black and white often doesn’t work so well with street photography if you have wide, busy street scenes with lots of layers of detail. In these situations, the various subjects within a photo can easily get lost in all the chaos of a scene. Thus, some color left within the photo in these situations at least helps to separate the subjects better.
So I recently took on a new post processing approach to a series of street photos that I shot in the Times Square area in New York City last year. This new vintage look I created gives them a color grade similiar to the sort of retro look I just mentioned.
I did it using a series of adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop to darken the shadows, brighten the highlights, and desaturate some of the color (but not all) from the original photos. Then I pulled out most of the green tones and pushed in some deeper blues and reds.
Below are 3 examples of some of the Times Square street photos I processed with my new style of the retro look. First you will see my original photos in color, right as they came out of the camera, then a version of the same photo simply converted to black and white, and finally my post processed and color graded version for each of the 3 photos. You may also click on any of the photos in this post to enlarge them to full size to see the detail better on your screen.
I didn’t take the typical retro approach though that many people apply by first fading the image, then reducing contrast, and then finally adding a yellowish color cast on top. Instead I added more contrast by crushing the shadows and pumping the highlights a bit, while also putting more emphasis on blue and red color tones, plus adding in a bit of sepia instead of just yellowing the images with the more commonly applied discolored look.
If you would like to apply the look I created to any of your own photos, and you are good with adding layers in Adobe Photoshop, then you can create a similar effect using a mixture of adjustment layers. First adjust the shadows and highlights in Levels, then add a Channel Mixer adjustment layer to partially desaturate your image, and finally add a Curves adjustment layer to play around with the reds, greens, and blues until you arrive at something you are satisfied with.
To make things easier though, I have also created an Action for Adobe Photoshop that will automatically apply the same exact coloring effects for you that see on these 3 photos with just a single mouse click.
For a few bucks you can download the action for Adobe Photoshop that I created here and use it with any of your own photos at any time, either now or in the future.
Again, you can download the Adobe Photoshop action here and, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below.