Antique Film Effects with The GIMP

Try these effects to give your photos a classic and timeless appearance.
Sepia Toning

Now that we have an artistic-looking black-and-white photo, let's sepia-tone it to add a more timeless and classic look. In the Layers dialog, make sure the Film Grain layer is selected, and click on the duplicate layer button at the bottom of the dialog; the entire layer is duplicated, including the layer mask. Double-click on the name Film Grain copy and change it to Sepia Tone. Change the blend mode of the new layer to Color; this applies the hue and saturation of the Sepia Tone layer with the value (luminance) of the composite layers below. Finally, click on the layer thumbnail icon in the Sepia Tone layer to select it, as opposed to its layer mask.

Click on the foreground color swatch in the main GIMP toolbox to bring up the Color Selection dialog, as you did before. Dial in the color (red = 162, green = 138 and blue = 101) and click OK. You should see the color swatch change to a hue of brown. Once you have this technique down, you can experiment with different tinting colors, but this is a good starting point.

Select the Fill tool (paint bucket) in The GIMP toolbox window and move your mouse focus to the image window. Do a select all (Ctrl-A), and click once in the window to fill it with the new color. Your Layers dialog should look something like Figure 10, and the image should take on an overall sepia tint, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 10. The Layers Dialog after Adding a Sepia Tone Layer

Figure 11. Grainy Photo after Sepia Toning

The use of the same layer mask in the Sepia Tone layer as the Film Grain layer is deliberate. In the traditional wet-darkroom process, the sepia toning occurs most in the mid-tones, and the lighter and darker areas appear to be less brown. You can use the same Ctrl-click trick on the layer mask to see its effect on the sepia toning. If you prefer the stronger sepia cast that you achieve without the layer mask, simply right-click on the layer and select Delete Layer Mask.


Time to add our final effect to make this image really stand out. We'll add a vignette, a sort of spotlight effect that draws the viewer's eye to the subject of the photograph by creating a gradual darkening moving radially away from the main subject. If a vignette is done subtly and properly, the viewer is not consciously aware of the manipulation. It is a technique particularly well suited to portraits.

In the Layers dialog, make sure that the Background layer is selected and click on the duplicate layer button at the bottom of the dialog. Double-click on the name Background copy and change it to Vignette. Right-click on the Vignette layer and add a layer mask with White (Full Opacity).

In The GIMP toolbox, click on the tiny versions of the black and white color swatches to restore the default foreground to black. Now double-click the Blend (Gradient) tool to select it and open the Tool Options dialog. In the dialog, select Radial as the Gradient type. Go back to the image window and click down in the center of the area where you want the center of the vignette spotlight to be, then drag outward toward a corner and release. In this example, I clicked in the baby's chin and dragged nearly to the upper-right corner. The only change you should notice is a radial gradient that appears in the layer mask icon, as shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12. The Layers Dialog after Adding the Vignette Layer

Figure 13. Adjusting Levels to Finish the Vignette Effect

Go back to the Vignette layer in the Layers dialog and click on the layer icon to select it instead of the layer mask. Now, go to the image window and bring up the Levels dialog (RC→Image→Colors→Levels). Move the middle (gray) slider to the right a bit and release it, as shown in Figure 13. Check the effect in the image window and readjust the slider until you are satisfied with the effect, then click OK. You can see my final result in Figure 14; the vignette draws the eye to the baby's face and adds a pleasing shadowy contrast overall.

Figure 14. The Finished Image with All Effects Applied

If you need to redraw your gradient to try a different spotlight effect, simply select the Vignette layer mask icon, click the Blend tool and try again in the image window; the new gradient replaces the old.

Time to sit back and have some fun evaluating your handiwork. Try clicking the eye next to the various layers in the layers dialog to toggle their visibility on and off—an easy way to preview the different effects we have discussed. If you like the image better without one of the effects, delete that layer by selecting it and clicking the trash can icon.

If you want to do further image editing on the photo, it might be a good idea to save your work under a new name at this point or duplicate the image (Ctrl-D) and flatten it (RC→Layers→Flatten Image).

It's a good idea to give yourself a check-pointed result that you can start over with if further edits go awry. You can experiment with changing the hue and saturation, punch up the contrast with levels and curves or do any other desired edits at this point on the flattened version.

I hope I've given you a sense of the power of image layers in this article. Although a layered approach to image editing requires more memory resources, it pays off in great flexibility. So, slap some extra memory in your Linux box and build yourself a layered antique masterpiece.

Eric Jeschke ( holds a PhD in Computer Science from Indiana University and has worked as a software engineer, university professor and freelance consultant. He lives in Hawaii with his wife, kids and an overweight cat. Eric enjoys his family, outdoor adventures, taking photographs and running Linux.



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


lzkim's picture

Nice tutorials... I try that one before and it look's awesome...