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Uncovering Toy Cameras and Polaroid Vintage Effects (With Photoshop Tutorials)

Since its emergence, the digital photography market has gradually supplanted the traditional one. Digital compact and SLR cameras entered our lives, and some people announced the death of silver-based images. This is not all lie, and yet old-fashioned images have been particularly popular in the past few years. All we do seem to do now is try to recreate the atmosphere of those bygone times anyway. Blurry, distorted and over-saturated images are not just a fad anymore. People have became familiar with the style and even consider it a full-fledged photographic genre.

And this is where toy cameras play a role. These devices, made entirely of plastic, including often the lens itself, are not only toys. Sure, they cost next to nothing and have no controls to speak of, but this is what people like about them: they create unpredictable pictures, with equally unpredictable vintage effects. Once you understand this, the rest is a beautiful game. Take them anywhere, anytime, and photograph whatever you like.

Photo credit: Pirouetting, by helenannsia

How does this apply to modern design? Now that vintage websites are so trendy, why not look to this type of image for inspiration? You probably don’t want to go through the trouble of taking up silver-based photography because that would mean buying, developing and scanning film, maybe even making prints. That takes time and is expensive.

What you can do, though, is use the magic of Photoshop to make your ultra-sharp, high-definition images look like they were taken with one of these cameras. Below are a list of the most famous toy cameras and some tutorials that can be used to recreate their famous effects. Most of them are part of the Lomography movement, but you might also want to consider some other options in trying to recreate that authentic look. You also may be interested in our previous article “The Disturbing Beauty of Oversaturated Pictures and Lomography1.”

Famous Toy Cameras Link

Toy cameras are cheap, low quality and yet functional. As such, the deformations in the photos they produce are pronounced, and not all images are guaranteed to be perfectly exposed. Still, there are just so many of them these days that picking a few is hard. The ones presented here have paved the way for the success of the others. You may know them but not the stories behind them?

Diana Link

Let’s start where it all began. Picture yourself in Hong Kong in the early ’60s, when a factory starts producing the Diana. This inexpensive plastic-body camera was at the time usually given away as a novelty gift. Occasionally, it would be used by actual photographers who took advantage of the various effects it produced. And many effects there were. Because of the poor quality of materials used, the Diana camera was disposed to light leaks, leading to film damage, an effect typically fixed by sealing the seams with light-proof tape. Handy, huh?

But the plastic body wasn’t the most interesting part: it was the lens, also made out of plastic. Not only did it enhance the already low contrast created by the light infiltration, but it also made for odd color rendering, chromatic aberration and blurry images. As if this weren’t enough, the image circle only marginally covered the diagonal of the film frame, which is why Diana images have heaving vignetting.

Photo credit: elZekah3

As photographers started to deliberately exploit these characteristics, production grew through the ’70s and opened the way for other toy camera manufacturers.

Photo credit: chomdee1075

Lomo LC-A Link

This is where things get a bit tricky, so pay attention. It’s now the beginning of the ’90s, and for a few years the Russian factory Lomo PLC has been producing the Lomo LC-A camera, which basically has all of the characteristics of a toy camera (vignetting in particular). But production was stopped, and the camera was all but forgotten until two Austrian students found one at a flea market in 1991 and decided to exploit its marketing potential. They convinced the director of the Lomo PLC factory to relaunch production and negotiated an exclusive contract for distribution with their brand-new company: Lomography AG.

Lomo LC-A6
Photo credit: maaku7

And here begins the Lomography movement. If the term is familiar to you, you probably know at least two things about it. First, it promotes casual snapshot photography. Second, it is associated with over-saturated and high-contrast images. To confuse things, this second characteristic has nothing to do with the LC-A camera itself or with any other cameras for that matter. It is actually the result of the way the film is processed, which would usually be cross-processing. But Lomography is a movement, not a technique, and it was certainly the first to promote camera imperfections as an aesthetic. The success of the LC-A camera helped spread this aesthetic.

Holga 1208
Photo credit: citronnade9

Holga Link

With the success of this movement, Lomography AG became interested in other low-cost cameras, such as the Holga, which had been produced in China for a decade. Even though it was made by a different manufacturer, the Holga was considered the successor of the Diana. Inspired by its predecessor, the Holga was designed as an inexpensive mass-market camera. And like the Diana, it is not of the best quality and has the same flaws.

Holga 12010
Photo credit: babyabby1011

But the Holga became popular and was even exported to the West over time, mostly for photo-reporting, for which its low profile was appreciated. Its problems were no longer problems, and now it is not surprising to hear of Holga photos winning awards. Because it is entirely manual, one can create effects, such as double exposure and panoramas, by not winding the film.

Photo credit: Bill Hansen (website)13

ActionSampler, SuperSampler, Oktomat Link

These three cameras don’t have many differences. They all take multiple shots in a set period of time, thus creating micro-images that look like short animated movies. The Actionsampler and Supersampler have four lenses each, while the Oktomat has eight, fitting eight frames into the standard 35mm.

Photo credit: amylynnthompson15

To make them a bit more fun, what you see through the viewfinder is not exactly what you get.

Photo credit: golfpunkgirl11117

Lomo Fisheye 2 Link

As the name suggests, the Lomo Fisheye camera has a fish-eye lens. It was the first 35mm compact camera to offer such a wide angle (170°), and unlike the other toy cameras covered here, it gave surprisingly good results for the price. The second edition came with several enhancements, such a viewfinder that covered the same angle as the lens (it was blocked off before).

Photo credit: aapnootmies

The effect created, often seen in sport images, can serve many other purposes. But the user should be aware of two major characteristics: strong deformation and light leaks.

Photo credit: faha19

Photoshop Tutorials And Resources Link

Now, let’s put all this into practice. Even if you are familiar with these effects, have ever actually tried to replicate them? There are a lot of different effects, and you can combine them to create unique images.

Faking the Holga Camera and Fisheye Lens Link

How to Fake a Holga Photograph
This tutorial shows you how to fake Holga photographs in a few simple steps.


Another Way to Fake a Holga Photograph20
Another tutorial on faking Holga photographs.


Fish-eye effect22
This shows you how to create a fish-eye effect for a picture taken with a regular lens. This one is a video and it addresses two important points: the lens circle border is not supposed to be so sharp when taking a fish-eye photograph, and one often deals with light infiltration.


Fish-eye effect24
Another fish-eye tutorial. It doesn’t show how to distort the image, so you will have to add this step yourself, but it adds a nice final touch to the image by using a picture of the inside of a fish-eye lens.


Recreating Low-Quality Camera Flaws Link

A very simple tutorial on recreating the vignetting effect.


Soft-Focus Lens Effect28
What if you’re already happy with the contrast and color saturation of your image and just want to recreate the effect of a soft-focus camera lens or diffusion filter? In this tutorial, you’ll learn a fast and easy way to add a more traditional soft-focus lens effect to images.


Faking Barrel Distortion and Chromatic Aberrations30
Here is a nice Photoshop plug-in to fake barrel distortion and chromatic aberrations. Adding these effects to your pictures will make them look even more authentic.


Light Leaks Effect, Part 132 and Part 2
Of course, this article wouldn’t be complete without a great tutorial on light leak effects. Here is an awesome one, divided into two parts, each covering a different effect: a white-blur light and a colored bar leak.


Working on Colors and Light Exposure Link

Getting That X-Pro Lomo Look
This tutorial is fairly quick and easy. It shows you how to get that great x-pro Lomo look by tweaking color. You’ll be exploring a new method of vignetting, and you’ll be widening and blurring the image a little.


Cross-Processing Tutorial33
With so many possible permutations of film stock and processing techniques, there is no single, identifiable look to cross-processed images. The most common combination is C-41 as E-6, in which slide chemistry is used to process color negative film; and mimicking it in Photoshop is a quick job. Image contrast is usually high, with blown-out highlights, while shadows tend towards dense shades of blue. Reds tend to be magenta, lips almost purple and highlights normally have a yellow-green tinge.


Another cros-processing tutorial.


Vintage Effect37
Age your images a give them a vintage effect.


Using Textures and Double Exposure Link

Through the Viewfinder39
Did you know that Flickr has a Through the Viewfinder group? The idea is that you shoot through the viewfinder of an old camera using your modern digital or film camera and create an interesting framing effect. Here is a tutorial on how to create this effect.


Resources of Speckle Pattern41
Yes, there is also a Flickr group called “Noise and Dust Through the Viewfinder.”


Paper Texture Effect
Here is a quick and easy tutorial for those who want to learn the art of taking a photo and turning it into an old-fashioned vintage picture.


Some More Paper Texture Effect43
Another tutorial (this one a video).


Filmstrip Effect45
Download a filmstrip template and use it to create negatives of your pictures.


Double Exposure47
When you take a double-exposed photograph, the results are usually a bit unpredictable. With Photoshop you have much more control over the result.


Another Way to Create Double Exposure49
While the most common way to create a double exposure is by using a different blending mode on the top layer and adjusting its opacity, this method accurately simulates how a camera takes a double exposure.


Other Ideas Link

No tutorials are needed to create these effects. They are included here merely to give you more ideas. You’ll still need to work on your pictures to get that vintage look. Then, just put them together and enjoy.

Shoot Series Like the Oktomat and the Actionsampler51
Draw inspiration from the Oktomat and Actionsampler cameras. You’ll get either four or eight images in the same frame, each of them having been shot after an interval of only a few seconds.

Photo credit: Look!, by Moyö53

Shoot Series like the Supersampler54
The Supersampler effect is quite similar to the Actionsampler: four images in the same frame, but spaced differently. And remember that you can arrange layers both horizontally and vertically.

Photo credit: moving clocks run slow, by aleinsomniac56

Panorama 1
Panorama images don’t necessarily have to be perfectly arranged. Here is an example of what else can be done.

Photo credit: Christophe Dillinger (website)57

Panorama 258
Another inspiring panorama.

Photo credit: bruceberrien60

Panorama 361
The panorama view can be combined with a filmstrip effect. It simulates a double-exposure panorama taken on a manual camera.

Photo credit: mikrofoniusz63

Want More? Link

Polaroid Link

If cheapness is a defining characteristic of toy cameras, it surely isn’t for Polaroids. The Polaroid camera itself is not expensive, but because Fuji is now the only company that produces the film for it, getting affordable ones has become difficult. But this may change in the next few months thanks to the Impossible Project64.

Going back a bit, the world’s first commercial instant camera was the “Land” camera, unveiled in 1947. Since then, Polaroid has become synonymous with instant photography, because most of the cameras have been created by the Polaroid Corporation. Nowadays, the cameras are used by photographers mainly to preview their work before actually shooting. But as toy cameras, they are fun to play with and can make for nice effects.

Photo credit: paine66666

Polaroid and Transfer Effect Link

Retro Polaroid Coloring on Your Photos67
This is a simple tutorial on how to get that retro Polaroid coloring in your photos.


Polaroid Transfer Effect69
This Photoshop tutorial shows you how to create a cool old photo transfer edge effect using a piece of stock photography, an alpha channel and the burn and dodge tools.


Showcase of Beautiful Pictures Link

Considering that Flickr has a group for almost every subject, it is no surprise that there is one for toy cameras71. Here is a showcase of the most beautiful images from it.

Photo credit: have I told you lately, by cHr1st1an S72

Photo credit: ubu8473

Photo credit: 000038, by qwj75

Photo credit: 54330027, by etara77

Photo credit: Ipanema Beach – Brazil, by marcelo_maia79

Photo credit: Hélicoïdal, by Cathy Lehnebach81

Photo credit: Purgatoire, by stiveune83

Photo credit: untitled, by Greg Zauswoz85

Photo credit: untitled, by bradbrochill87

Photo credit: .., by cjlomo89

Photo credit: spree1, by hellomelly91

Photo credit: Love me two times, by laszlo_ototh

Photo credit: exit, by renaishashin93

Photo credit: untitled, by Sergio Conde Sánchez

Photo credit: Akhirnya buat lomba juga -__-, by febryanyovi95

Photo credit: Cosy Clausterphobia, by miss_michelle97

Photo credit: svema_test1, by ashtonleee99

Photo credit: untitled, by poppart101

Photo credit: lomographicsocietyinternational103

Photo credit: La Bòfia – Redscale, by fgali1964105

Photo credit: chomdee1075

Photo credit: offcenter109

Photo credit: Holga Tennis, by Nick Whitmoyer

Photo credit: golfpunkgirl11117

Photo credit: eyetwist113

Further Resources Link

Old Toy Camera – Photoshop action114
This Photoshop action makes images look as though they are aged prints, shot on a toy or antique camera. Also included are two actions that create borders similar to those seen on photos from many antique and toy cameras.

Toy Camera Contest
FILE presents here a selection of images submitted for its Toy Camera Contest. This collection gives an idea of the challenge facing the judges to find three winners. The range and quality of the submitted images are impressive.

This project is home to photos taken with toy cameras. Most are plastic: Holga, Diana, Dorie, Debonair, Lubitel, Banner, Snappy and Yunon. Distortion, blur and imperfection are some of the characteristics that endear these cameras to enthusiasts.

Abduzeedo: 60 Interesting Lomo Fisheye Shots115
Gathered here are a few Lomography fish-eye shots. Some were taken with Lomography cameras such as the Diana and the LC-A+ with a fish-eye lens adapter attached.

Lomographic Society International Website.


Footnotes Link

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Jessica Bordeau is a soon-graduated student whose primary interests are Photography and Media.

  1. 1

    cool… :) i have to learn those techniques… :)

    • 2

      haha, i dont need to learn them anymore, i can look ’em up here ;)

      great article, thx

      so glad i got me a 1000$ camera so i can make cheap looking pictures again :P

  2. 3

    Niall Cusack

    March 10, 2010 6:45 am

    Great article. Nice to see a different kind of subject matter being looked at and still making it relevant to web dev/design.

  3. 4

    There’s also a nice Toy Camera app (mac & win) for those who don’t have photoshop:

    • 5

      Jessica Bordeau

      March 10, 2010 7:51 am

      Thanks for sharing the link Anon. My idea was to find a tutorial for each of the effects so they can be understood and used separately, but this application can be useful as well :)

  4. 6

    Perfect article.

    Was thinking about finding some tutorials about creating vintage photographies with photoshop and looks like this is the perfect place to store them :D

    Although I think that digital camera can’t achieve the same as valid analogue camera but still – very, very interesting :)

    • 7

      Jessica Bordeau

      March 10, 2010 7:32 am

      I agree with you, the rendition is never quite exactly the same with Photoshop, no matter what. But as you said, still… :)

  5. 8

    Nice round-up of tutorials. It’s still hard to beat actually going out and shooting with some of these cameras.(especially the Holga) But then again budget/time wise these help a lot, processing the film is pricey.

    • 9

      Jessica Bordeau

      March 10, 2010 7:32 am

      Yeah, shooting with an analogue camera is a process and state of mind that has its own charm. As you said though, time and budget are often restraining. Hope you’ll enjoy these tutorials, anyway :)

  6. 10

    Awesome! just what i’ve been looking for :)

  7. 11

    John Stirzaker

    March 10, 2010 7:26 am

    best post i’ve read on here in ages.

  8. 13

    Photoshop will never produce the exact feel of the photograph, nothing replaces dreamy film! you can see some of my holga/diana/fisheye photos here :

  9. 14

    I thought that this was a such a good read. If I could change anything I actually would have not put in the tutorials. That might sound a bit stupid showing what can be done without showing how it can be done.

    SM get more articles like this on because it’s ace….I also loved the manifesto article.

    ps check out my ‘old school’ images of Sweden –

  10. 15

    evertt de sousa

    March 10, 2010 9:53 am

    very nice !

  11. 16

    Kudos on a great post. Some of the PS techniques I already knew – some I’ll be playing with and maybe adding to my collection. However, the history you provided here is truly outstanding! Well done & thank you.

  12. 17

    It’s a great article
    I have discovered Lomography this summer and I have buy a Fisheye 2 and a Color flash.
    It’s very fun to play around with those.
    With a friend of mine we set up a web site in order to share our lomography picts:
    and i build a beta version of a web site i call “the super sampler effect” wich allow you to build a fake supersampler pict from several true shots. the result is pretty great! :)
    thanks again for your good article.

  13. 18

    I’m just working on a webdesign for a Japanese company that offers this kind of cameras, they sent me a bunch of beautiful pictures. Even now I recognized from all their products a tiny camera that I’ve got from 15 years ago, I still remember me taking my first amateur shots of the “titikaka lake” here in Bolivia with it… oh memories

  14. 19

    Fantastic article! Very inspiring. I particularly liked the diaporama shoots.
    Keep up the good work Smashing Magazine!

  15. 20

    For more inspiring photography using a wide range of both digital and analog cameras, TTW and more check out YoungDoo’s awesome Flickr page:

  16. 21

    Granted, digital is convenient and film is expensive, particularly medium format which you use in Dianas and Holgas, but if you want a photo to look like it was shot with a lo-fi camera, then shoot it on a lo-fi camera. No Photoshop tutorials can fake the complete unpredictable randomness you get with a Holga…

  17. 22

    Wonderful photos! Thanks for including one of mine in the showcase.

  18. 23

    I love these cameras ever since. Great Article. I have a collection of them including the old Vivitars! It is also plastic and is really cool…

    View my collection of toy cameras here…


  19. 24

    Very cool article ! Beautiful work here.

    If you own an iPhone, you can acheive some of these effects using the lo-mob camera app.
    It’s here

  20. 25

    People who like this post may also like Poladroid


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