9 retro-style Photoshop plug-ins impart a vintage film look to your photos

Do you remember shooting with film? Most people who handled a camera before around 1998 will recall having to choose from a huge variety of black & white or color films.

Back then, you had to have a fairly discerning vision about your final pictures because films and slides had distinctive characteristic effects, such as Kodak’s Kodachrome’s vivid colors or TRI-X’s moody, grainy monochrome.

Today’s digital cameras offer color palettes, rarely giving a recognizable look or personality. The key differentiator now is software. Installed apps on the desktop, plug-ins to host applications and mobile apps, essentially take the place of film stocks. That should make choosing a film style easier, right? No way.

That’s because when you bought film at the drugstore or your local camera shop, there was plenty of variety, but not an unlimited supply. With digital film apps, there literally is an infinite number of film effects you can apply. And it can set your head to spinning.

We look at some of the top-notch plug-ins for Mac and PC, some of which also have companion mobile apps, to steer you in the direction of making your images look like you shot them the old-fashioned way.

Alien Skin Exposure

Alien Skin Exposure is a plug-in for Photoshop on both Mac and Windows, as well as a standalone app.

Now in its seventh version, Exposure is derived from the look of historical films that hark back to a recognizable past. Alien Skin says it applies scientific analysis to discontinued color and black & white films and darkroom techniques. It even analyzes film grain under a microscope to get the proper characteristic look.

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With over 470 presets that emulate everything from creative focus effects to the warm look and feel of film, Exposure features classic favorites like Kodachrome, TRI-X, Polaroid, Portra and Neopan, plus obscure selections like Panatomic-X and GAF 500. You can use the app’s presets or create your own unique looks.

Tool Tips give you massive amounts of information about each of your choices — sometimes to the point of distraction — but it’s all good. Exposure has always been one of my favorites, and though I tend to use filters sparingly, this is one I always come back to.

Use with: Standalone, Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom