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No Need for Plug-ins; Create a Vintage Preset in Adobe Camera Raw

By Marianne Drenthe

Vintage processing seems to be the hot thing right now. Vintage washes (where the image looks like a faded print) have long been a favorite of mine. These processed images may be popular because we long for simpler times when Polaroids ruled the instant gratification world. It could also be that creating a signature vintage look that’s all your own is a quick way to customize your own work to be unique to you. Either way the trend is hot.


Yes there are tons of ways to create this look for yourself, but my preferred method is right in my workflow. There is nothing easier than having your go-to preset created in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and just click on the drop-down menu and batch several images right there, saving your precious pixels in the process.

I use ACR for so many conversions—it’s truly an integral part of my workflow, so quick and easy (as well as non-destructive). Here is my quick and easy method to create beautifully washed vintage photos via ACR.

This image is from an on-location session, and I used bounced flash to capture some storytelling images in this little girls’ room. Your settings vary depending on your lighting situation and exposure.

1. Open your image up in ACR. Tweak your exposure as you see fit, adjusting for your usual color workflow. You can tweak for contrast, I usually bump mine down a bit and bump my brightness up just a notch when creating vintage-look images.


2. Select the HSL/Grayscale tab. It is the fourth tab in your ACR menu (a zig-zag line). Here you will play with the Hue, the Saturation and the Luminance sliders as you desire. Finally open the Curves menu (second tab in ACR menu) and select the Point tab, feel free to adjust the output to your liking. See my settings in the example photo.


3.  If you want to add a bit of split toning (a lot of vintage images have several colors washed in) you can now add that in by simply adjusting the Highlights and/or Shadows in the Split Toning tab (fifth tab in the ACR menu). Adjust to your liking here. See my settings in the example photo.


4. You like your creation so much that now you want to keep the preset. Follow the ACR menu all the way to the right to the drop-down menu. Click the drop-down menu and Save Settings. You can save all your settings or select which parameters to save (e.g. only HSL adjustments, curves and split toning if you’d like). Name your setting something that’s descriptive and easy to remember.



5. Finally you can use your saved preset to apply the same settings to an image later. I chose one from this series. The great thing about ACR is that I can easily just sync several images with those settings at once if I wanted. 



If you want to download this preset that I created for this image, I am making it available for free until May 30, 2011 (password: PPMag).

Marianne Drenthe, Chicago Children’s & Family Photography,