Life in Lo-fi

Sometimes called Classic or Lomo, maybe even toy camera images, Lo-fi photography has always been a photography sub genre. Not underground but a plaything which was brought out from time to time. I remember my first Holga and its images being something I never expected.

For those who do not have a Lo-Fi camera; Social media and Photoshop can make make and replicate the aesthetics of Lo-Fi Images. I will look at both Camera Raw conversions and Photoshop with Cross Processing and Lomo toning.

If you want to jump straight there click here

Why Lo-Fi when you can have Hi-Fi?

Film photography has an unexpected part to it. You take your pictures in the magic box and you had to wait to see if your ideas or vision worked. The opposite is digital photography when you can instantly see if you have images correctly exposed and sharp, as well as being able to check the composition. We are less likely to except an out of focused, under/overexposed image with bad composition when it comes to digital photography. Especially when the image can be corrected on the spot or later in post-production.

Jack in Lo-fi, taken in Cornwall England the image has two areas where the film has not wound through correctly with some strange light leaks at the top and bottom.

Film Lo-fi images are typically made with Russian or Chinese cameras, from when the production of them was not as good as the American and Japanese counterparts. The cameras were sometimes plastic with defects in the lens. Due to the shoddy design they would leak light or not forward the film perfectly. With fixed apertures or very hard to gauge apertures and shutter speeds the camera made it hard to control the exposure. Plastic or very defected lenses would create focal problems and with no through the lens view finder it became instinct to know if something was in focus.

All of these different attributes created a perfect storm inside the camera taking the magic box analogy to a new level. Images would have strange colour cast or areas with light spots while the whole image is over or under exposed. Images from these cameras were typically over looked for their lack of composition lack of clarity due to dust, scratches and grain. Double exposures were common either being purposely done or happy accidents.

Hi-Fi in Lo-Fi

The motogrpahy trend of recent years has brought forward a boost in the aesthetic of Lo-fi images while at the same time being extremely Hi-fi. Motography applications allow you to quickly snap a picture and apply the filter best for it without the magic box effect of not knowing how the image will turn out. With the example of Hipstagram which allows you to choose the type of camera and  film stock to replicate the tones and colour of the supposed effect if it had been photographed in real life.

I would not go as far and say that Lo-Fi is no longer a photographers play things any more but the surprise and mystique of such images has gone away.

Why don’t you just shoot film?

Some people may shout; “Why not just shoot film with a Holga or a Diana?”

I would answer for the casual photographer there is no instant sharing  with social media and secondly the cost of shooting Lo-Fi in comparison is more than just a click of your smart phone.

I though like to take my Lo-Fi cameras out for fun more than anything and also if my Holga is stolen I have only lost a film and a Holga is quite cheap to replace unlike my compact digital. Also it is a talking point.

Film Lo-Fi image.

It is not surprising that Lo-fi has become popular, in music Lo-fi has been the sound scape of indie music scene. The white stripes were big advocates of lo-fi music in the analogue studios. And also as long as I can remember the faux Lo-fi images could be made easily with Photoshop.

In the beginning there was Photoshop (or other graphic manipulation software)

Before motography, Instagram  and the others there was Photoshop, with the curve adjustments or filter plugins replicating film stock. With the advent of camera raw came presets designed to mimic Lo-fi toning.

Faux Lo-Fi in the digital world

There is nothing wrong with toning you image with Lo-Fi aesthetics as long as it does justice to the image.

For all of the following workflows I have used a simple stock image of a sunflower that could easily be a subject for a  Motography image.

With my Lo-Fi conversions I am going to look at Lomo and Cross processing as well as a simple ageing trick.

Lomo is short for Lomography, this is a genre of photography where people shoot film in old or defected cameras like a Holga.

Cross processing is a technique where you process film in a method for a different film type. There are two types of film; Negative and colour reversal. Negative film used a process called C41 and colour reversal used E6. To cross process a film you would develop a negative film using the E6 process.

Camera Raw

With a Raw image you only have to make a few adjustments.


First adjust the saturation and clarity

Secondly over sharpen the image

Thirdly Split toning the image

Fourthly add a vignette

I then cropped the image to a square format to replicate a 6×6 image.

Cross processing C41-E6

Split toning

As with the other Raw image i cropped it to a 6×6 format.

Cross processing E6-C41

Split Toning

Cropped to 6×6 format and added a vignette.

The raw format also you to play with an image multiple times adding and then later taking away or making an adjustment more subtle. The only draw back is you cannot mix and match too much due to the lack of layering.


In Photoshop there is a plethora of different ways to adjust you image. Normally I use a plug in called Alien Skin Exposure there is also a good plugin called 55mm though I forget who publishes it as well as many others

Lo-fi conversion via Alien Skin Exposure

If you are not looking to purchase a plugin and just want some simple steps, it can be easy but experimentation is the key. When I work in Photoshop for the most I try to work non-destructively on an image to try and protect my original copy. Non-destructive editing also means you are to come back later and tweak the image if I have to.

Simple Lomo

A simple four step process from hi-fi to lo-fi

First add contrast +20

Second add saturation +20

Thirdly I add a vignette.There are two ways to add a vignette.

One is to go to Filter-Lens correction and modify the settings to your taste.

The second way and the one I mostly use is to first create a new layer and select all (ctrl + A) and then Selection-Modify-Border and set the value. I normally work around 200px but it depends on your image.

I then feather the selection. Selection – Modify – Feather

Once the selection is complete I click on the paint bucket and fill the selection with black. I name the layer Vignette and then duplicate it and set the blending mode to multiply

The last step is to add an area of over exposure or brightness to the image. I do this by creating a new layer over the bottom layer which is my image. There I fill the layer with white by using the paint bucket. I then set the blending to overlay and adjust the opacity to about 46 but you can do this to taste.

Next I select a layer mask hide all by going Layer-Layer mask –hide all. Selecting a large brush and with white still set to foreground I paint the area I want to be bright. This painting I usually just have the brush large enough to cover the area and click once maybe twice but I am not precise as a true Lo-Fi image wouldn’t be.

I then may sharpen, add some noise to the image and save.

More Lomo using channels

In this version I cannot have a smart object. To adjust the image using channels the layer needs to be a plain layer.

First you need to create a vignette the same as in the previous conversion.

For the next part we care going to use the channels in the channels palette if you are not sure about channels read this post that I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

In the channels palette select the red channel and then go Image – Adjustment- brightness and contrast and raise the contrast to around +50 and then repeat the process with the green channel. Once complete click on the RGB channel layer and see the change in contrast.

Then sharpen maybe add some noise and save.

Cross processing

To tone a image like it had been cross processed you need to open your image and then open a curves adjustment layer. In the adjustment layer you will need to add points to the curve as follows;



Vintage fog

With all these techniques sometimes you may want an old feel to the image without it being black and white or sepia.

This is another technique where you cannot use a smart object unfortunately.

Open the image and duplicate the layer and change the blending to overlay.

Next Filter you must apply a lens blur to the duplicated layer

Using the settings

Radius: 33

Blade Curve: 59

Rotation: 97

Brightness: 0

Threshold: 255

Noise: 0

Next add a hue and saturation adjustment layer

Hue: -10

Saturation: -50

Lightness: 0

Colourize: unchecked

Finally I sharpen the bottom layer

Options, options every where

The great thing with these conversions is that you can easily make them into actions or presets. By having them set as actions or presets brings a bit of excitement to your image because the control is taken away from you directly and you only see the result. Very similar to the way it would be in the traditional Lo-Fi camera.

There is a good set of actions that can be found here. The actions mimic the instagram filters pretty well.

Of course you could just buy a Lo-Fi camera and shoot off a roll of film.

For me I like to mix and match and see where it gets me. The sun flower picture I did play with a bit taking all those conversions and seeing where I would get to.

Experimentation in Lo-Fi

With this picture I used the Lomo conversion using channels added a vintage fog and a vignette using layers and added a film boarder. I also over sharpened the flower and masked it in . Overall a nice effect and the image benefits from it too.

This image i processed Lomo using the adjustment layer method and also added a cross processing curve E-C41 and added a vignette. I sharpened the image and it really does pop.

Finally i wanted to make an image with the overlapping of a second image as if the film and not wound on correctly.

For this i loaded both images into layers and first created a double exposure lining up the images as they are. You can see how to make a double exposed image here.

Once double exposed I used the adjustment layers to tone the image with a Lomo style then added a curve adjustment to simulate a C41-E6 cross processing. I created a highlighted area over the flowers and then  using the Lens Blur filter i created a vignette and then added my Kodak film boarder.

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