This Autochrome conversion tutorial aims to simulate the first practical colour photography process.
Devised by the Lumière brothers in the first few years of the twentieth century, the process brought the recording of colour images within reach of those few rich enough to afford it.
More importantly it brought a view in amazing (at the time) colour of 1900s life within reach of later generations.
An Autochrome image is instantly recognisable and it's these distinguishable features which this Adobe Photoshop tutorial aims to replicate.
There are many different paths to achieve this effect in Photoshop as well as in other software packages.
As a matter of fact, you will find a tutorial covering a method using PaintShop Pro elsewhere on this site.
This is the Photoshop version of an Autochrome conversion.
This is an Intermediate level tutorial so you will need to have some familiarity with ...
You will need
The characteristics we aim to emulate
Getting Started - choosing the right image
So why do you want the right image? What you want is an appropriate image.
Autochromes were exposed for a couple of seconds; what you don’t want is a dynamic subject obviously exposed by a high tech camera at a high speed; what you might consider is a static subject or one which just might hold still for a couple of seconds.
Portraits of Grown-ups, still life and landscapes usually figure highly in Autochromes from the days gone by. Sunlit with low contrast is what works well. Reds and blues figure significantly. High tech glass facades might not have the right genre or era but break the rules as you wish.
We spend a great deal of cash of achieving ever finer detail and quality from our digital equipment and more on software which removes noise and pixel degradation, so why introduce a soft, grainy, low contrast image with a colour cast to our repertoire?
In terms of the psychology of imaging the grain is rounded as in analogue film and not square edged as in pixels. There are ‘gaps’ in the information between the grains and our brains work harder to create the missing parts of the image. This is the Gestalt Principle of Continuity.
The image I chose for this Autochrome conversion is a warehouse in Manchester, UK, on the canal network. This would have been a very busy place at the time of Autochromes.
Mouseover the image to see the difference between the original and the converted image.
Step one – Contrast control
It’s always good practice to work on a copy of the original image layer, so duplicate the background layer.
Layer > Duplicate layer
The histogram shows that the image is not too contrasty so we may just get away with the contrast as it is. The curve sits in the middle of the graph and there are no lost pixels at either end, otherwise ...
Image > Adjustments > Brightness contrast or ...
Finer adjustments can be made using Image > Adjustments > Curves
Step two – the sharpness control
You don’t need to make the image blurry; just take the edge off the sharpness. For my approximate 4500 by 3000 pixel image, blurring of 1 to 2 pixels is enough.
Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur
Step three – the grainy effect
You’ll need to see the channels panel - Windows > Channels will expose it. This gives you access to each of the colour channels (Red/Green/Blue).
Click on the blue channel to add grain to that channel by Filter > Noise > Add Noise. For the image I selected, 50% addition to the blue channel is sufficient.
Using the channel panel click onto the Green channel and add 40% by the same process.
Using the channel panel click onto the Red channel and add 30% by the same process.
Of course you may decide to make some changes to the suggested values.
Finally click onto the RGB channel to reveal your work so far.
Step four – the colour balance control
Now we can add a slight magenta cast to the image. Not all Autochromes exhibit this. You may decide to omit this step.
Layer > New Adjustment layer > Curves and click OK when it appears.
In turn select the red, blue and green curves and ever so slightly at the centre of each curve, bend ...
Step five – the saturation adjustment
Now add a saturation adjustment using Layer > New Adjustment layer > Hue/Saturation.
Click the dialogue box OK when it appears.
Add about 30 units to the red value and slightly less to the blue
Step six – warming the image
Not all Autochromes show warming. But here’s how to achieve it.
Layer > New Fill layer > Solid Colour
Click the dialogue box OK when it appears.
Choose a warm orange/yellow.
Change the blending mode of the layer to Overlay and the opacity to about 50%.
And there you have it – an Autochrome conversion.
You can add ‘damage’ to age the image or a border – but that’s personal taste and outside the scope of this tutorial.
Here's the end result - give it a try ...
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