The nostalgic look of Polaroid photos remains popular to this day, but we get it if you’re not ready to dive into the real thing yet. If you simply want to experiment with the look with your digital photos for now, there are many ways to achieve it using your go-to editing software. For today, we have an in-depth tutorial showing how to do it in Photoshop by creating a preset that can be dragged and dropped like a filter over any photo.
In the tutorial below, by JT of Run N Gun, he sampled colors from an actual Polaroid print to create a palette that will serve as a basis for his digital Polaroid edits. It involves a technical process that may take you some time to learn, so feel free to bookmark this tutorial and refer back to it if you need to.
This workflow requires work in groups and layers, so your edits are separate from the original photos and you can drag them over any photo you want. There’s one group for the palette sampled from the original Polaroid, and another group for the Polaroid colors that would be applied to every photo you want to edit. Make sure your palette group is on top of your Polaroid colors group so you don’t apply the edits on top of the palette.
Use the palette as a guide for the colors you need to apply to get the Polaroid look. Create a new Hue/Adjustment layer and adjust each color value there to match the ones on your palette. It’s mostly guesswork; just get them close as best as you can. JT’s tip is to bring your palette group next to the part of your photo that corresponds to the color you’re trying to get.
Once the colors of your edits match the palette and the original Polaroid, the next step is to create a new Curves adjustment layer. Slightly lift the blacks and bring down the highlights. With these Curves adjustments, you might want to make further refinements in separate layers, as JT did. Then, create a Color Balance layer, adding some colors to the highlights, midtones, and shadows to match the Polaroid colors. Another adjustment layer you can add is a Levels layer to fine-tune the highlights and shadows to your liking.
When you’re done with all that, you can make and add your own Polaroid frame as another layer, and give it a vignette by using the Gradient tool on another layer. Adjust the opacity of your Polaroid colors group to fade the effect if necessary, and even tinker with other effects like noise and blur to make it as Polaroid-looking as you want.
Check out and subscribe to the Run N Gun YouTube channel for more photography tips and tutorials like this from JT.
Cover image from the video