Street Photography: How to Get That Retro Faded Look


In this tutorial I am presupposing that you are using Adobe Lightroom for your street photography. But every program that allows you to mess with your curves will able to reproduce the results.

Step 1: Load Your Picture

From original...
From original… | Olivier Duong

Load your photo in Lightroom and clean it up if need be (spots, dust, etc.). This particular street photograph was taken in Miami.

Step 2: Develop

... to developed...
… to developed… | Olivier Duong

Now go ahead and develop the image the way you want it to be.

Step 3: Retro!

Here’s the secret to the retro look: turning your blacks to grey. If you think about it, as time goes on colors loose their punch. What used to be black is now gray. Here’s how to do it: locate your curves midway in the Develop module.

... it's all about curves...
… it’s all about curves… | Olivier Duong

Click that little icon in the bottom right (left image), you will see that you have a little handle in the bottom left of the tone curve.

Simply click on it and drag up.

I developed my image with the tone curve so it’s kind of complex, yours might look more like the curve on the right.

Here’s my final result:

... to final image.
… to final image. | Olivier Duong

What Just Happened?

So… what just happened there? The tone curve is a way to interact with all of the pixels with you images. On the complete left side you have your black pixels and on the complete right you have your white pixels. By dragging that tone curve up, you are saying, “Hey all black pixels, don’t be black anymore, be gray!”

As you go up, the grayer they are going to be, the more faded the look.

Why Go Retro

Colors are not innocent. You go to McDonalds, the walls are brown, red and yellow for a reason: to make you hungry (or hungrier).

I find this retro look has a certain effect to it, it conveys a sort of melancholic mood, something soft. In any case I made this tutorial because I know it will help some photographers convey their vision.


Yes, you can totally do this with color, just process the image the way you would and do the tone curve.

Yours to experiment!
Yours to experiment! | Olivier Duong

While this looks particularly good on street work, I find it works particularly well on portraits:

Toddler | Olivier Duong

Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what you like. Above all, follow your vision. Stay focused and keep on shooting.

Olivier Duong

Olivier Duong is a Haitian-French-Vietnamese documentary photographer living in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

He is senior editor-in-chief of Inspired Eye magazine and co-creator of Street Presets.

Check out his blog and feel free to follow him on Twitter and Google+.

  • Interacting with pixels….

  • Thinking of it, even when being an all-out post-processor, it still saves you time compared to developing film in the darkroom.

    More interacting with digital, that’s right.

    Gave Olivier’s curves a try?

  • 2 things Ronn:

    – You shoot film then scan it, aren’t you in fact interacting with pixels?

    – Did you get my email? Tried contacting you