How to Get Instagram Style Retro Effects for Scanned Photos

Posted by Julie Morris on Mon, Oct 10, 2011 @ 10:04 AM

Mango Drink Poolside Retro effect on scanned photosMobile apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic have revolutionized mobile phone photography, transforming the lenses built into smart phones into retro-style cameras like the Diana, Holga and Lomo. They have not only created a unique niche of retro iPhonography but these free apps have morphed into online social communities structured around image sharing. The web site Inkstagram, which acts as a web portal for Instagram, and Hipstamatic’s site provide unique web-based sharing platforms with online albums and options for print fulfillment. Although the digital effects of these apps are unique to the mobile platform, the effect can be easily duplicated with basic knowledge of filters in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.


Just follow these simple steps to create that plastic lens feel that is currently overtaking the mobile photography movement.

  1. Use the marquee crop tool to make a square 1:1 aspect ratio with your image. This mimics the actual dimensions that are standard on the apps.

  2. Go to Layers > Duplicate Layer and with this new layer selected, go to Image > Adjustment > Curves.  Here you can select each individual Red, Green and Blue color channel and choose your own direction with the manipulation of the photo. Making two deliberate selections on the tone curve and bending it into an S curve typically yields the extreme contrast and color values that feel vintage.

  3. To then enhance the faded quality of the image, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels and move the black arrow slider to the right to your own taste.

  4. You can now add the film grain so typical of the retro photo look. Select the duplicated layer in the layers palette and go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and adjust the slider, making certain that the boxes for “uniform” and “monochromatic” are selected.

  5. You can then merge all layers via Layers > Flatten Image. To add the rough film/print edge, you’ll need the film edge from an existing scan or you can download one online at sites like OnOne Software and Pshero.


If you don’t own a copy of Photoshop, an eight-dollar program called Analog for Mac can create the effect with ease on the Apple platform. For more info on vintage toy cameras and creative techniques with your scanned images, check out this round up on Smashing Magazine.

Topics: Scanned Photos, vintage photos, retro effects, Commentary, Review Notes, Scan Tips

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