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Simulating, by degrees, severe time damage on photographs

Author: Troti

Tools Needed

  • Photoshop Elements 2 (other versions of photoshop will work)
  • And a scanner
  • For numeric work

Support Files


Hi, everyone ! I'm very fond of tutorials, many times they offer you ways to enhance your picture. This time, I wanted to make a digital photograph in a very bad state as if I had found it in a corner of my attic. As the artificial look given by the software often disappointed me, I tried to use a median between real damage with inks on paper and computer compositing on photographs. The goal is to give density and matter to the digital picture.


Step 1 - choose a picture


Open your background image in Photoshop. Here is a picture of my garden. Of course this will work with almost any background image you choose, if you take care to have not very dark or very bright parts in your picture (it will reveal the artificial compositing).

Step 2 - to desaturate, the common way to age a picture


Duplicate the background layer. I always do this to protect my original. Then I can experiment different things on duplicated layers.

The first easy thing to do to age a photograph is to desaturate the colours :

Enhance / Adjust color / Hue / Saturation (Ctrl+U)

Saturation : - 40, the picture approaches a black and white version.

Lightness : + 10, the colours seem to have suffered from direct sunlight.

Hue : - 20, the colour balance turns to brown, like the picture is tinted with sepia ink.


Step 3 - manual work with real ink


There's a funny pleasure to playing with dirt ! In fact, the damage on your digital photograph will look real because they started from real paper. Take some sheets of paper (the size of your scanner glass will be good). The thickness of the paper doesn't matter as long as it will withstand our actions. For this example I develop these actions in three ways :

- making dirt with dust

- scratching paper with sandpaper

- creasing and uncreasing paper

For the two first ways the secret of success is to reveal the marks of the action by one or several washes of water tinted with black ink. Let the papers dry. For the last action, the relief of the paper will be enough to play with the light of the scanner.

With time you will increase your library of numeric scans from real damage (72 dpi or 300dpi, it depends on the destination of your pictures : screen or print)



Step 4 - add the damaged layers


We're back in Photoshop ! All we have to do at this moment is to copy some of the previous scans as different layers on top of the layers of step 2.

Step 5 - adjust different versions of the dust layer


I change the dust layer blend mode to multiply, but the effect doesn't look very effective because the spots of dust lack depth. In fact, I'm looking for an another effect : dust on negative which gives white spots on the developed print. To do this, follow these steps :

Image / Adjustments /Invert (Ctrl+I)

I change the dust layer blend mode to screen


Step 6 - add the scratches layer


Nothing complicated here, I change the scratch's layer blend mode to multiply

Step 7 - adjust the creased paper layer


I change the creased paper layer blend mode to multiply, but again the effect is not effective, the lines of the creased paper layer merge with those of the scratches layer. As at step 5, try these actions :

Image / Adjustments /Invert (Ctrl+I)

I change the creased paper layer blend mode to screen.

The effect looks better as if the light reveals the different depths of the creased paper.

I change the layer opacity to 74 % to soften the effect.


Step 8 - a blurred frame to finish the picture


I add a new layer between the scratches layer and the creased paper layer. I rename it blurred white frame. I draw in it a black square with the rectangle tool, on a white background near the borders of the picture. I simplify the shape and I blur it : filter /blur/ Gaussian blur with a radius of 10 pixels.

I change the blurred white frame layer blend mode to screen.

The work is finished, time hasdone its damage. Fortunately the picture is quiet clear. As you work with different layers you can enhance or soften each kind of damage by changing the layer visibility or its degree of opacity. Have fun. Marc