Gimp Tips - Old Photo

This technique will make a photo look like it was taken during the World War II era or in the fifties. It's important to note that for this to really be effective the subject matter of the photo must also look like it is from that period. If there is anything in the picture, even something small, that distinctly looks like it is from 2004 (or 1984 for that matter) people will see it and know when the picture was taken, regardless of what you do to the image.

  1. Picture of my dog Casey sitting in our yard This is Casey. He's a good subject for this, because the picture consists only of him, some grass, and a chain link fence, all of which were commonplace back in the fifties, so nothing looks out of place. I'm going to make this look like a picture of my grandfather's dog, not mine.
  2. Same picture cropped down to 320 by 240 Older pictures generally have more square proportions than today's snapshots. So the first thing to do is crop this down from it's 3:2 proportions (4" by 6") to something like 4:3 (320 by 240).
  3. Casey in grayscale Take the color out of the picture by doing Image|Mode|Grayscale and then switch it back to Image|Mode|RGB. We want it back in RGB because we will be shifting the color on it a bit later.
  4. Brightness-Contrast dialog with contrast set to 40 To make pictures look old a lot of people will add graininess. Looking at old photographs I've found that most of them are not at all grainy. Even back in the forties most film was pretty sharp. I have noticed, though, that old pictures tend to have a lot of contrast. The white areas are really white and the dark areas are really dark. So ramp up the contrast (Colors|Brightness-Contrast). The amount will vary from picture to picture, depending on how contrasty it is to begin with. In this case I added 20.
  5. Casey after turning up the contrast Here is the result after adjusting the contrast.
  6. Black image with a selected area inset by 20 pixels Old cameras with cheap lenses tended to not distribute light out on the edges of the picture well. Good cameras didn't have this problem, but I'm going to darken the edges just to add a bid more oldness to the look. Begin by adding a new layer and filling it with black. Add a white layer mask (Full Opacity). With the layer mask selected do Select|All and then Select|Shrink by about 20 pixels (depending on the size of your image).
  7. Black frame around the edge with Casey showing through in the middle Fill the selection with black.
  8. Casey picture with a dark blurry border around the edge Select|None (Ctrl-Shift-A) and then blur the layer mask with Filters|Blur|Gaussian Blur. Use a value about three times the amount you shrank the selection by. In my case that's 60.
  9. Casey with the edges now just slightly darkened Soften the effect by reducing the opacity of that layer to about 33%. If you want to include this effect but don't want to make it look like the camera was just awful, you can shrink by a smaller number so the black encroaches on less of the picture or reduce the opacity of the layer even further to make it more faint. When you have it where you want it, flatten the image.
  10. Red curve tool with the curve bend just slightly down in the middle No photograph is perfectly gray, so we'll shift the color just a bit to make it look more realistic. Open the curves tool (Colors|Curves). Switch to the curve for red and bend it down just a bit by adding a point at (138,122).
  11. Blue curve tool with the curve pulled down on the right Switch to the blue curve. Bend it by adding points at (115,90) and (235,205) and sliding the upper end down to (255,238).
  12. Final old style image of my dog Casey This is the result. Without a true grayscale to compare it to nobody would guess it had been colored. You're done, and wasn't it easy? I found that the hardest part was getting my dog to stay still enough to take his picture.
  13. Casey from the 1860s If you want to go for more of a Civil War era picture then you have to color it significantly with more of a sepia tone. I do this by adding a point at (120,140) on the red curve and points at (130,90) and (255,220) on the blue curve. You may also want to bring out the edge darkening a little more, too.