Go on, indie kid, you know you want to.


frame1.jpgSo, you’re a fan of independent cinema, are you? How do you feel about turning your photos into what could have been still frames from an indie movie?

I found a tutorial that does just that over on Art World, but to be honest, I thought it wasn’t well enough thought through, and in addition, I immediately spotted a couple of possibilities for improvement… So here’s my take on the same subject! 


indie-2.jpgFirst of all, find a photo. Most photos will do, but it helps if it has some sort of photographic impact to begin with. Step 1 is to crop the photo down to a 4:3 ratio (the same as your television). You can either dig out a calculator, or just use the marquee tool, then select constrain proportions, and type in 4 for width and 3 for height (shown to the right).

Crop and resize your image as needed:


grain.jpgNow that we have a starting point, the first thing we need to do is to add a bit of film grain, for that authentic movie feel. To do that, use noise -> add noise. I quite like the feel of monochromatic gaussian noice, and in this picture I went for about 10%. It’s very easy to over-do it, so try to avoid that…


bars.jpgNow, we’ve got a noisy, grainy, filmy type look, but it still doesn’t look like much of a film frame. Truth be told, film is mostly shot in 16:9, also known as wide-screen. So using the same instructions as before, I’m selecting the centre of the image with 16:9 ratio, then inverting the selection (select -> invert, or apple+shift+i on a mac, or ctrl+shift+i on a PC), filling the top and bottom bars with solid black, to emulate the letterbox format we’ve grown to get used to. It’s a good idea to add the bars to a separate layer, so you can continue fiddling about with the image itself without disturbing the bars.


vignetting.jpgNow, finally, I’m going to add a bit of vignetting to the frame itself. Choose the circular selection tool, and from the middle of the image, make an oval selection that goes over the edges of the black bars. On a mac, you can select-from-centre by using the alt key while you select, I believe it is the same on PCs. Now, feather your selection (select – feather) by a good amount. For this image, I chose 40 px feather.

Now, right-click on your image and select ‘layer via copy’. This copies your fuzzy-edged selection to a new layer. I would also recommend you copy the background layer twice and then trash it. This allows you to have a working copy and a backup copy that can be moved freely around, in case you make a mistake.

Now, select the layer with the circular image, and brighten it a little bit. I decided to use the levels tool (image -> adjustments -> levels), and slide the middle slider to the left, but you can use hue/saturation, curves, variations, or any of a dozen different ways to brighten an image. Brightening the foreground will bring out the grain further, and is the first step towards creating the vignetting effect

Select the layer underneath, and darken that one slightly. This will complete the vignetting effect.

You should now have something looking roughly like this:


Quite a change so far, but I’m not yet quite happy. I’m a massive fan of film noir, so by using the channel mixer, I turned the image into a moody black and white. First, combine the two vignetting layers to one, and then change the colour to black and white. Without going into much detail on how (I’ve done a separate article on using the channel mixer to turn photos into artistic black and whites with full control of colour balances etc), I used about 50/50 blue channel (to keep the detail from the deep blue sky) and red (to keep the definition in the pillars). Green contains most of the grain, so if you want a lot of film grain, add a bit of green, too.


Of course, you might want something in between, for a slightly more dreamy feel. Use the hue/saturation sliders (image -> adjustments -> hue/saturation) to reduce the saturation by about half, to make the still frame look as if it has been coloured in retrospectively:


Finally, if you want, you could go for a more subtle attack, and actually adding the images inside a film frame. I haven’t seen any proper 35mm film in ages, so I’ve got no idea how accurate this is, but I borrowed a film frame from Google Images, and replaced it with three instances of my photo, darkening the top and bottom one by about 50%, to bring the middle one out more:


As with everything else in Photoshop, there are probably ten thousand ways of doing it, and I’m far from convinced that my way is the best way. But who knows, perhaps this inspires you to do something new to your photos?

Finally, the obligatory before-and-after shot, for easy comparison:



Have you done any cool photos using this method? Tell me about it in the comments, below!

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