Here you’ll learn how to use photos to create surreal montages that have that authentic washed-out vintage look. You can download and work on the photos Tim Green has used – links are given in the steps below – or you can adapt the steps to suit any set of summery photos that could evoke a bygone era.
See also: 83 Best Photoshop tutorials
If you choose your own shots, it’s not important to ensure they have a vintage appearance. In fact, it’s probably better if they don’t, as we want a consistent retro look that is best applied in Photoshop. What matters more is to ensure that the photos do not contain clothes, hairstyles, architecture or other elements that are obviously recent.
Once you have the right images, it doesn’t take long to blend them and use adjustment layers to get that old-fashioned colour cast, as Tim shows.
Time to Complete
2 - 3 hours
Adobe Photoshop CS4 or later
Create a new A4 portrait Photoshop document in RGB mode (you’ll see why this matters later). I wanted a surfer as an important element in the piece, so I placed a suitable photo (which you can download for free at
bit.ly/noJVUo) at the top.
Next, I placed a beach scene (
bit.ly/299xq1) in the centre section of the document. I then selected the Eraser tool ( E) and, using the settings shown, I created a smooth transition between the two images.
The next image I added (
bit.ly/rmHb5q) had a clearly defined foreground that I wanted to use to add perspective and depth to the piece – which meant I didn’t need to blend it in. I simply used the Lasso tool ( L) to select the pier, the person lying on it and the handrails, and pasted the selection into the bottom third of the document.
I also added a VW Camper van and the sandy beach it was parked on (
bit.ly/qC30cB). This was meant to be part of the foreground, so this time I repeated the procedure of Step 2 to blend it in and soften the edges (other than the van).
Then I changed the van layer’s blending mode to Screen – which made the contents vanish because the background layer is white by default. You can fix this by selecting the background layer and inverted the colour to black (
Cmd/Ctrl + I).
Once the composition is complete, it’s time to work on the colours. First, go to the Adjustments panel and add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer at the top of the layer stack so that it affects all the other layers. Set the Brightness to +10 and Contrast to +20. This gives us some bolder tones to work with.
Here’s the important bit for that faded vintage feel. Add a Curves adjustments layer at the top of the layer stack. Select Red from the channels drop-down menu (or hit
Alt + 3) and adjust the red curve as shown – essentially to increase the contrast in that channel.
Alt + 4 and tweak the green curve as shown, upping the contrast though not as much this time.
Alt + 5 and adjust the Blue curve as shown, reducing the contrast a little. We now have a vintage-style effect, although obviously it’s too garish as is.
To rectify this, add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer at the top of the layer stack, and check the Colorize box. Use the hue and saturation settings shown to achieve a sepia tone and change the layer’s opacity to 40%. This gives us a more muted look.
To add to the vintage feel, I scanned the back of a cloth-bound book to use as a textured overlay. If you don’t have this kind of book to hand, you can download a texture from
bit.ly/bKXsOa. Place the texture, ensuring it covers the whole canvas, then set the texture layer’s blending mode to Screen and the opacity low enough that the effect is subtle (I used 40%).
At this point I wanted to add more details, starting with another beachside crowd (
bit.ly/f1BeAI). I tried different layer blending modes to see what helped it fit best. I settled on Soft Light and moved the layer behind the pier/person to keep that edge clean.
I also added a sunset photo (
bit.ly/oSXCJ8, flipped horizontally) to give the top of the image more interest. Some blending at the bottom of the sunset image was necessary as described in Step 2. Then I set the layer’s blending mode to Overlay.
The top area was looking a bit too washed out now, especially the surfer. To strengthen the colours, I took a portion of sky from the VW Camper van image and placed it at the top, with an Overlay blending mode and with the opacity at 60%.
Next, I then added some non-photographic elements by drawing circles, taking their colour from the main image with the Eyedropper tool. I then merged all the layers containing the circles (
Cmd/Ctrl + E).
To finish, I duplicated this merged layer and experimented with its blending mode and also with layer positions, trying to find the most pleasing way to integrate the graphic elements into the final composition.
Hailing from Manchester in the UK, Tim Green is a freelance designer and illustrator, and an obsessive collector of music and ephemera. He is now based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Contact