Vintage Photography: What You Need to Know to Perfect This Style


Vintage photography is timeless. There is something incredibly mysterious, classic, and utterly beautiful about a bygone era. This is why photographers seem to never tire of trying to recapture it over and over again.

vintage photography

The problem, however, is that far too many photographers aren’t aware of what vintage really means. To make matters worse, they aren’t quite sure of how to capture the images in such a style either.

If you want to recreate vintage photographs and make it look as authentic as possible, you are in luck. Below, you will find all the tips and tricks you need to know to get the right result each time.

vintage photography

Understand the Different Vintage Photography Styles

Most people – even photographers – have a tendency to imagine that vintage means just one particular style: old. Well, believe it or not, there is actually quite a bit of variation in old photographs. Depending on the technology used and the trends of the time, images could come out looking very different.

This is why the first step is to get a better understanding of what these earlier pictures looked like. They are separated by their time period:

  • Daguerreotype (1839 – 1860)

  • Ambrotype (1854 – 1865)

  • Tintype (1856 – 1878)

  • Carte de Visite (1859-1889)

  • Cabinet Card (1866-1903)

Want an up-close-and-personal look at these images? Then head to your local museum, where there should be at least a few on display. If you aren’t looking for such intimate details, then the internet will do just fine. You should always have a good idea of the exact style that you wish to recreate before getting started.

find vintage subject

Find or Stage a Vintage Subject

Do you wish to reconstruct a wholly original vintage image? Then, you will require a perfectly refashioned vintage subject. Otherwise, no matter how much you edit the photo, there will still be something ‘off’ about it.

The easiest subject for this type of photography is often historical monuments. After all, they haven’t changed since much they were first erected. Therefore, with the right framing and some editing, your picture will look perfectly authentic.

Photographing people in such a style can be especially tricky. This is why it is always best to start with a neutral background. Or, opt for a natural one like a garden or a beach. Then, it is about making sure that you have the right fashion, hairstyles, makeup, and more. Once again, historical photographs can be rather useful in getting these details correct.

In some cases, you may want to blend the old and the new. If you are planning on doing this deliberately, then there is no harm in allowing more modern elements to slip in. Of course, it will be up to you to determine how each element will be balanced out.

vintage photograph

Avoid Overly Posed Looks

Take another look at some vintage photographs. You will notice that unless they were taken at a studio, all the poses are quite natural. In fact, it can often seem like the subjects when in mid-sentence or movement when the picture was snapped.

Now, this is a technique that you should also try to adopt when taking a vintage photograph. Rather than having your subjects look stiffly at the camera, allow them to move about more naturally. If there are multiple people in the shot, have them interact with one another.

Then, when you are satisfied that they look sufficiently organic, you can take the picture. Understand, this may take a while to master, especially if you are only used to taking still shots. Therefore, you can expect the first few photographs to be rather blurry until you get the hang of it.

faded colors

Edit for Faded Colors

Another feature that is apparent with older photographs is the faded look. Once, perhaps these colors may have been bright. However, with time, they become more and more washed out. This is why all vintage photographs are associated with such an effect.

Well, you don’t need time on your side because you have something better: editing software. If you are using Lightroom, here are some changes that you should make to the hues:

Step 1: In Tone Curve, enter the Channel View by clicking on the bottom hand corner, on the curved line. This will help to clip the shadows and the highlights of the photo.

Step 2: Click on the 25 percent crossing. This is in the lower left-hand side of the Tone Curve Panel.

Step 3: Grab the anchor-point by clicking on the bottom left corner of the tone curve. You can then move it around until you get your desired effect.

Another popular option is to simply reduce the saturation of the picture. Then, add some contrast to get a more realistic effect. If you don’t want to adjust the contrast, you can add just a hint of red tint instead.

black and white vintage

Go Monochromatic

Black and white photographs are one of the easiest to pass off as vintage. After all, what seems more antique than a picture that lacks color? In fact, this trend is so popular that most editing software comes equipped with a feature to turn any image into black and white with just a click of a button.

While this may get you results in just a few seconds, it isn’t going to look very authentic. This is because monochromatic pictures are more complex than that. Thus, turning a photo into greyscale or monochrome is just the first step.

Once you have done this, play around with the underlying greens, blues, and reds of the image. By making alterations to these shades, you will be able to create more depth and authenticity to your images.

The simplest way to get this effect just right is to keep a black and white photograph close by as you work. This will give you a better idea of just what the photograph is meant to look like.

hazy screen

Add a Hazy Screen

With most typical modern photographs, you may want to avoid haze at all costs. However, back when photography was in its infancy, this slightly blurred effect was part and parcel of the produced images. So, for a truly vintage look, you should try to get such an effect into your pictures.

Interestingly enough, this is actually a lot simpler to achieve. In fact, a plastic baggie is enough to do this. Roughly cut up the baggie and paste it around your camera lens. Make sure some of the jagged edges are interfering with the lens.

Then, snap away in bright sunlight and watch as a slight yet gorgeous haze is created. There are a few other tricks that you can try such as sheer fabric or even bounce cards. Either way, there is virtually no hassle in getting this particular impact.

apply texture

Apply Textures to the Image

More often than not, people send their old images into services like to get blemishes and imperfections removed. However, when you are trying to recreate a vintage style in your photography, you will need to do the opposite. In short, you have to learn how to introduce dust and scratch marks in.

The whole purpose of this is to add texture to the image. In the end, how do you know that a picture is truly old? It isn’t just the style and the lack of color, it is also the result of years of damage being done to such photographs. This can be achieved with the help of the texture layers features on your editing software.

use tripod

Use a Tripod

This can seem like an odd piece of advice but it is a good one nonetheless. As you are well aware, all the older photographs were taken on tripods. This is one of the reasons they look the way that they do, particularly when it comes to focus, positioning, and angles.

Now, when the camera is in your hands, you have a lot more room to move around and to photograph your subject as you please. However, when you do this, you do lose a sense of authenticity. So, either find yourself a tripod or prop your camera up on something for the best effect.

multiple photos

Take Multiple Pictures

As a photographer, you are already used to taking multiple photographs of the same setup. This, though, becomes more important when capturing photographs with a vintage element. Understand, when you are just starting out, it can be difficult to figure out the perfect vintage shot while you are capturing images.

It is only once you go through them that it will become clear which shots are truly vintage, and which ones aren’t. By taking a number of pictures, especially in the early stages, you will put yourself in a better position to get this just right.

Getting the vintage look just right for your photographs will undoubtedly take research, time, patience, and effort. In the end, though, once you have managed to master the process, it will be well worth your hard work. So, make sure that you keep at it.