Tutorial, How to Get the ’80s Aesthetic, in Your Photos

Here several ways to recreate some of the iconic looks from portrait shots in the ’80s, including the beloved soap opera glow effect.

No matter what era you were born in, there are certain images and styles that have endured, and they inspire creatives to take what was once old and make it new again. One of our creative trends for 2019, called Yesterday’s Tomorrow, is packed with retrofuturistic 1980s imagery.

I’m talking bright neon and pastel colors, palm trees, light grids, and gradients. You can see a lot of similarities in this trend to popular characteristics of photography today. Whether it’s duotones or shooting on film, history has a way of repeating itself – and thank goodness it does!

One of the aspects of photography that makes it so fun is replicating your favorite styles and looks. So here we are. Let’s take a look at some of the most striking imagery from the ’80s and recreate it.

Heavenly Soap Opera Glow

Tutorial: How to Get the '80s Aesthetic in Your Photos - Heavenly Soap Opera Glow

This is my favorite look from this time period. The hair was huge, and the lighting was soft. To get the “hazy-soft” look, I stuck a gel in front of the lens. The temperature of the gel depends on the hue you want. But with the gel in front of the lens, you get a diffused look in the image. I set up two heavily diffused lights as her key and fill, then threw on a red gel and a very light blue gel. Once I brought the image into Lightroom, I used the Brush tool to increase the exposure on her face, adding some warmth that gives it a glow. Then I lowered the contrast, increasing the highlights. Once you’ve done this, you can add a dark or light vignette. (I chose to go dark for this sample image.)

Neon Backgrounds

This is peak ’80s. A bland backdrop with some cheesy pink neon lights – because nothing is cooler than lasers. It’s just a fact. So to pull this effect off, make sure you have a blank background in your photo. For this example, I lit the subject with a green gel – that way the green lasers I added later would look like they were shining on her face.

So, bring the photo into Photoshop. Click on the Pen tool, then set the mode to Shape, fill to None and stroke to White.

Tutorial: How to Get the '80s Aesthetic in Your Photos - Neon Backgrounds

Then draw whatever shapes you want in the background. Hit the Layer Style icon, and choose Outer Glow. From here, you can pick your color. This will be whichever color you want for the glow effect around the shape. You can test out the most popular colors of the year, which happen to be neon.

Once you’ve hit OK, you can play around with opacity, spread, size, etc. These determine how wide and powerful the glow is. Next, move over to Inner Glow and pick the color. Then set the Blend Mode to Multiply and hit OK.

Tutorial: How to Get the '80s Aesthetic in Your Photos - Multiply

Now right-click on the Smart Layer and hit “Convert to Smart Object.” Once you’ve done this, add a Vector Mask by clicking the small button next to “Add a Layer Style.” Then move back over to the Paint Brush, make sure your opacity is at 100% and your foreground color is black. Paint the shape, eliminating it over your subject. You should be left with your lasers in the background, perfectly fitted around the subject.

Duotone Techniques

Tutorial: How to Get the '80s Aesthetic in Your Photos - Duotone Techniques

Duotone is a very ’80s-inspired aesthetic – as long as the colors you’re using match the traditional look. (We recently put out a monster of a blog post with all the various colors and hex codes you need to find neon retro-styled colors.)

Pulling off a duotone effect starts with lighting your portrait correctly. First, light the subject with the appropriate contrasting colors, then bring the picture into Photoshop. Click “Create a new fill or adjustment layer” button down below your layers. Then select “Gradient.” From here, you can set the gradient to go in any direction; then pick your color. Repeat this step, and pick your second color. Once you’ve done this, set the blend mode for each of these layers to “Color.” In the video, I throw on an overlay, too. (If you’d like a couple free overlays for your photos, download them here.)

Practical Effects

Tutorial: How to Get the '80s Aesthetic in Your Photos - Practical Effects

One unconventional look for this ’80s-inspired shoot involves using transparent objects that bend the light in interesting ways. I simply held a clear battery package up to the lens, and this created a distorted lighting effect. You can do this with anything really. I also used a prism, a water glass, and a mirror. Just find something to bend the light and play with it to bring up insane flares and effects in camera.

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