The so called faded photo effect is all over blogs, Instagram profiles, and advertisement campaigns nowadays. These faded looking photos awake an old, vintagey feeling in us. The photo editing style is heavily inspired by film photography with it’s rich and beautiful tones. There’s no wonder professional photographers like Andrew T. Kearns, Dylan Furst, and even myself have adapted the faded photo effect into our personal editing styles. Oh my, I love this look so much!
How To Create A Faded Photo Effect In Adobe Lightroom
So how can you achieve a faded film effect in Lightroom? The good news is, you don’t need to purchase any special apps such as the popular VSCO filters. The other good news is, in Lightroom, the process is actually fairly easy. Plus it’s less destructive to your image files and is more easily customized to your specific preferences.
Let’s dive right into it!
Step 1: Basic Adjustments
Open any image you took in Adobe Lightroom and perform your normal adjustments in the basic panel. By that I mean, White Balance, Exposure, and Levels. Go ahead and adjust everything like you normally would when editing photos. If you need a little help with this part, I recommend checking out this article for a basic walk through of Landscape editing using Lightroom.
Now, before we start to add the faded photo effect, let’s have a look at what we want to achieve in technical terms.
Basically, the fade occurs when the dark parts of the photo are not completely black, but rather a dark grey. The same goes for the really bright parts. They clip, so to speak. This takes away from the dynamic range of the image but gives it a vintage mood. (This is a nice trade-off if you ask me!) Most analogue films are neither completely black in the darks, nor completely white in the highlight areas. It’s good to keep that in mind if you go for a look that’s inspired by analogue photography.
Here are the basic adjustments I’ve added to the sample photo we’ll be using throughout this tutorial. You can see what it looks like after I’ve made these rudimentary adjustments just above. Remember, the basic adjustment settings you use on your photo may vary drastically from what I’ve done in this section due to the fact our photos may be very different from one another. Play around with these settings until you are happy with the initial results.
So, are you ready for the fun part? Good, here we go!
Step 2: Fun With The Tone Curve
What you want to do now is simple: Clip the shadows of the photo, and maybe the highlights, too. You achieve this by editing the Tone Curve in Lightroom. If you think the Tone Curve looks just like a coordinate system that you can remember from math class, you’re right! First make sure, you are in the Channel View of the tone curve. This is the view where you can add anchor-points to your curve and drag them around with your cursor and no sliders are visible.
To get to Channel View, click the curved line in the bottom right-hand corner. See the image for reference, I’ve made a red circle around it so it’s easy to find.
Once you’ve properly entered Channel View, the sliders will have disappeared. The Tone Curve panel should look like this now:
Step 3: Adding The Faded Photo Effect
Now, click in the tone curve at the 25% crossing. You can see in the reference photo below, the 25% crossing is in the lower left-hand quadrant of the Tone Curve panel–right where the grey dot rests on the Tone Curve line. This sets an anchor point where the 25% of the x-axis and the y-axis cross. It should now look like this:
Next, click the bottom left corner of the tone curve to grab the anchor-point in that corner. Drag it around to adjust it to your liking. Again, check the reference photo below, if you need a little visual clue of what anchor point you should be moving. If you move it upwards, it will cause the faded photo effect you want to achieve.
Well done, you’re there! Easy wasn’t it? This is what our photo looks like now, after making just those simple edits to the Tone Curve…
You can see how the formerly black areas in the image are now dark grey instead of black. This is the faded photo effect we wanted to achieve! This effect can be quite heavy at first, but there are ways to control it, so no worries! The one thing I would recommend is to set a second anchor point by clicking on the 50% crossing (the center of the line) in the Tone Curve–like this:
That way, the fade gets restricted to the darker parts of the photograph, making the effect more subtle. Be careful not to get too heavy handed with the effect, you don’t want to make your photo appear completely unnatural.
Let’s look at the difference putting an anchor at the 50% crossing makes. On the left hand side, you can see the image before we placed an anchor at 50%. On the right, you’ll see how the photo looks afterwards. Drag the slider back and forth to see the entire images.
Step 4: Fine Tune Your photo (Optional)
Use the next two tips if you want to make your image extra beautiful:
- Use the Split Toning panel to add colors to your shadows and highlights. For example, a soft green in the shadows and a light yellow in the highlights can get you to an even more vintage looking photo.
- Enable a bit of grain to give your image a bit more roughness and grit.
Here’s the Split Tone and Grain adjustments I used for this particular image. Again, the setting you use may be different, but these can serve as a good starting point.
Please know, however, these are purely optional recommendations. Feel free to disregard them if they’re not your style. Of course, you should also feel free to let them inspire you into experimenting and having fun editing while discovering new things.
Lightroom is a really powerful program that let’s you explore your creativity quite freely and, thus, is perfectly suited to try new things with every edit!
The Finished Photo
We’ll use the slider again to see a side by side comparison of the photo we started with and the photo we edited using the simple steps from above. Drag the slider all the way to the right to see the before, then drag it all the way to the left to see the after.
Step 5: Create a Preset
After you made the edits, you may want to save your work as a preset. That way you can quickly apply it to other photos in your catalog! Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Check out this article to learn how it’s done! Don’t worry, it’s another quick and easy Lightroom process!
Read next: Best Photo Editing Apps
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