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Create A Blown Out Retro Photo Look in Adobe Photoshop

In this quick tip I’m going to show you how to get a retro blown out photo look that is popular with many phone photo apps. We’ll do some color correction and add some light leaks. Let’s go!

Step 1 - Photo Filter

Get an image, any image will do. What I’ll say before we start is every image will require different settings but the technique will be roughly the same. So here’s my image of a desert road. 

desert road

The first thing I’ll do is warm this up a bit by creating a Photo Filter adjustment layer above my image. I’ve set this to a sandy color with a Density of 57% and unchecked Preserve Luminosity.

photo filter adjustment layer

Step 2 - Levels

Now create a Levels adjustment layer below the Photo Filter layer. I’m going to manipulate each color channel (RGB) separately with the levels control. First up I select the Red channel and move the Gamma up to 0.86. This will calm some Red from the mid tones.

Red channel

I’ll now go to the green channel and move the Gamma to 0.75 and limit the output of the greens to 22 in the shadows using the Output Levels.

Green channel

Now for the blue channel. Gamma to 1.20 and the output of the shadows to 45. You can see we are getting a much more washed out look to our image. 

Blue channel

Step 3 - Texture

So now we’re going to add some grunge! I found some excellent textures from Shadow House Creations which is a great texture site.


I’m going with this one!


I’m going to put this at the top of the stack and set the blend mode to Overlay.


I’m now going to create a Hue Saturation adjustment layer above my texture and clip it to the texture by hovering my mouse between the layers and Option (Alt PC) - Clicking so the adjustment layer only effects the texture.

Hue saturation adjustment layer

This allows me to desaturate the texture if I want or even boost the saturation for an even warmer look as the texture contains those yellowy, green tones.

Step 4 - Burn it!

So now I’ll create some light leaks. In a new document with a black background I’ll paint some white blobs with a soft large brush on a new layer. Make sure this document is a bit bigger than your image.

Light leaks

I’ll then stretch it vertically with the Free Transform command (Command-T) to make it longer.

Vertically stretched

I’ll then press Command-A to Select All and use a Gaussian Blur of about 60px to soften it up. The Select All stops the edges from blurring.

Gaussian blur

Now above my blob layer I’ll create a Gradient Map adjustment layer with a fire like gradient going to black. Now I get this.

Gradient Map adjustment layer

I’ll give my blob layer a final stretch with Free transform and move it to a suitable position.

Stretch to fit

Now I just Merge (Command-E) all the elements together.

Merge all elements

I now drag this layer into my other document below the texture layer and set the blend mode to screen. Done!!


Step 5 - Finish Up

Feel free to add a border effect with a new layer at the top of the stack. Set the Fill Opacity to 0% and add your effects.

Border effect

Here’s the final image.

Final retro image

A nice retro style in a couple of minutes!!

Toby Pitman

Toby Pitman | Articles by this author

For the past 20 years Toby has worked as a professional guitarist, programmer and producer. Clients include Sir Paul McCartney, George Michael, Shirley Bassey, Yusuf Islam, Giles Martin as well as the London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies. He has also worked extensively in TV, Advertising and Film. As well as composing himself he has also worked alongside many composers like David Arnold, Clint Mansell and Simon Franglen on many major film releases. An expert in synthesis and sound design Toby has also lectured for Apple on their Logic Pro music software which he has used since its days on the Atari. He has also worked as an educator for the International Guitar Foundation and the Brighton Institute of Modern Music teaching guitar. In his spare time (of which there is very little) he moonlights as a motion graphics artist specialising in Cinema 4D and After Effects.


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