Cracked Old Photo in Photoshop

Skill level

As we further progress into the Instagram era, where old, is new, many users are looking to send their pictures back in time, and give them a ‘retro’ look. Let’s take a look at how you can transform your images into ancient artwork.

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Starting off very simple, we need to convert our photo into Black and White. Because I love working non-destructively, adding a Black and White Adjustment Layer will allow you to edit the adjustment at a later point if needed.

Now that our photo is stripped of it’s color, I want to wash it out a bit. Older cameras were not able to capture the tones that today’s cameras are capable of, so we need to drop the contrast on our photo. Again, using an Adjustment Layer, Brightness and Contrast will do the trick.

However, if you’re using a fairly new version of Photoshop, simply decreasing the Contrast won’t work that well, as the adjustment has been improved in recent years. You want to make sure to activate the Legacy option, and then decrease the Contrast until you you have a nice, subtle, washed out look to your photo.

The next element we’re going to add will act as faded spots that you might see on some older photos. Start by creating a new Layer using the icon in your Layers Panel, or with your Command/Ctrl, Shift, N shortcut.

Now, with your colors set to black and white, which can be set by pressing D on your keyboard, head up to the Filter menu, Render, and then Clouds.

The clouds that you’ll be presented with most likely contain too much white, we want to remove a good portion of that.

Using your Command/Ctrl + L shortcut to access your Levels adjustment, pull the midtones slider to the right, in order to pull in additional dark tones, which will help with our blending.

Once that’s done, in your Layers Panel, change the Blend Mode of this layer to Color Dodge, and then decrease the Opacity to around 20%. This should leave you with very subtle white spots on your image.

Now we come to the cracks. Every old photo needs a few creases and cracks. While these could be created completely in Photoshop, using a texture may give you better results, so over at, I found a nice texture that contains white cracks. Making sure your cracks are white is very important, and you’ll see why in a moment.

With the texture open, drag it right on to the document that you’re working on, and move it in place. When you have it where you want it, double-click on it’s layer in your Layers Panel to bring up our Blending Options, and take a look at the Blend If section at the bottom. This will allow us to blend away the darker areas of the texture, leaving only the white cracks.

Blend If contains two bars. One for the current layer you have active, and one for the layer below it. Because we’re looking to blend out areas of our active layer, we’re only going to focus on the top bar. As we want to remove the darker tones, dragging the Shadows slider to the right will start to exclude them from our texture, but as you drag along, the result looks very harsh.

Here’s a neat tip. Holding down your Alt/Option key, you can split the slider to create a much smoother blend, which should leave you with only the cracks visible, and maybe a touch of grey, which is fine.

Once you’re happy with the blend, change the Blend Mode of the layer to Vivid Light, and then decrease the Opacity until you’re happy with the result. The cracks should be nice and subtle, nothing over dramatic.

We’re almost finished! At this point, we’re going to go back and edit our original image, first, by adding a bit of noise. With your photo selected in your Layers Panel, make sure you convert your Layer for Smart Filters under the Filter menu first. Like Adjustment Layers, this will also ensure that you can make changes later on.

Once converted, head back up to Filter, Noise, Add Noise. You want to add a nice subtle amount of noise, just enough that you can tell there’s noise. Somewhere around 10% for this photo will work well.

Now that we have a bit of noise, let’s add one more effect. Doubleclicking on your main photo, let’s add an Inner Shadow to rough up the edges.

And that will complete it! From here, you can easily make any additional tweaks if necessary. This is why I stress working with Adjustment Layers. I can easily select the Black and White adjustment, and add a tint if I wanted to. Or I can change the Blend Mode of the Adjustment Layer to Hard Light, to add a splash of color back into the photo, while still keeping it retro.