In the earlier post on Creating Vintage Matt Effects, we looked at setting up the basic elements to achieve the retro, matt effect. By reducing the tonal range in the shadow regions and introducing a deliberate cast we established the building blocks of our look. Now let’s look at some additional techniques for working with lighter images and highlight areas.

As you can see, the image below is much lighter and the shadow areas are minimal. That said, my approach here will be the same – reduce the blacks, introduce a cast and then look at additional adjustments that focus on the lighter regions in the image.

retro matt effect in photoshop

Firstly, I want to try using the same adjustments from the image in the previous post – I could save them as presets and then load them into the new image but there is a much quicker way of ‘bouncing’ layers between open documents.

I have the two adjustment layers I want to copy selected in the layers panel in the first document. Now go to the Panel Menu icon (or right-click over one of the selected layers) and choose ‘Duplicate Layers…’ from the menu. In the ‘Duplicate Layers’ dialogue under the ‘Destination’ section click on the ‘Document:’ drop-down. By default this is set to duplicate within the current document but you can choose to copy to any open document or create a new one on-the-fly, as you can see below.

duplicate adjustment layer in photoshop

And when we swap back to the skateboard image the adjustment layers are in place and the beginning of our retro look is taking shape. Now you can see the benefit of naming the adjustment layers as you work as it becomes easier to follow when swapping layers from one document to another.

creating a retro look in photoshop

This layer duplicating method also works with layer groups and provides a really quick way to pass content between documents. The option to create a new document on-the-fly is handy when you want to park some content and then bring it back in later on.

I want to start adding more of a cast to the lighter areas in the image using the Gradient Map technique from part 1. This time I’ll be using the ‘Overlay’ blend mode so my neutral colour (that renders transparent) will be 50% grey and I’m going to add some warmth to the highlights so I’m using orange. I don’t want the colour appearing in the shadows, as I want these to stay blue, so I’ve adjusted the mid-point in the gradient toward the highlight end.

editing a gradient in photoshop

Once the layer is in place the effect can be further refined with layer opacity – I’ve set this at 50% so it’s more subtle but this also means I have some headroom to boost the effect later if needed.

Having ‘cold’ shadows and ‘warm’ highlights is deliberate here – it’s often a signature look with this type of effect to have complementary contrast between the highlight and shadow casts in a single image.

creating cold and warm highlights in photoshop

So the image now has a more yellow cast to the highlights and midtones but the highlights themselves aren’t yet any ‘darker’. In much the same way as we’ve reduced the intensity of the shadows it’s quite common to darken the highlights as this further emulates the colour characteristics of matt paper – matt papers tend not be so intensely white.

We need to alter the white point so as to add colour to it simulating the effect on ‘non-white’ paper. Let’s add a Levels Adjustment layer, select the Blue Channel and adjust the Output Level for the whites. With less ‘Blue light’ in the white-point our image has a warmer, darker white point. As before, I’m lessening this effect with some opacity reduction to the layer.

adjusting the white point in photoshop

There’s now one final tweak I’ll add to complete the look – Hue & Saturation Adjustment Layer with a slight reduction to the Master saturation to bind the whole thing together. This is all personal taste, you can create your own recipes.

photoshop reducing saturation

Keep in mind that the order of your layers will have an effect as Adjustment Layers are cumulative. I tend to keep my Curves Adjustment that reduces blacks at the top so I know this will truncate any adjustment made below and keep the shadow areas reduced in depth.

At this point we could place all these adjustment layers into a Layer Group – this will make it easy to bounce these onto other images and/or combine with the set of adjustments we created in part 1 giving us even more variations to apply to future images. However, with a little forward planning we can take this a stage further and record these adjustments as Actions making it possible to quickly apply dozens of variations to a single image or batch process a folder full of images with any given effect.

In the final part of the series we’ll cover creating and editing Actions and Action sets, and look create master actions to trigger multiple Actions with a single click.

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