Digital cameras are becoming ever more powerful, with clever algorithms making it easy to take great-looking photos. Megapixel counts are well into double figures, even on budget models. So the rise in popularity of analogue photography is interesting. Aficionados of such ‘lo-fi’ photography use basic pinhole cameras, but also seek out cheap single-body models such as the Diana, Holga, Lubitel and Lomo.
Lo-fi photography masterclass
The original versions of some of these cameras were very poorly manufactured, and prone to a whole host of problems. Poor focus, misaligned or double-exposed film and aberrations caused by cheap lens materials were common, as was light leakage when the camera casing offered inadequate protection to the light-sensitive film within. These faults are now used creatively by lo-fi artists.
Another attribute associated with this style of photography is vignetting. This darkening along the edges of an image is caused by an incorrect or misaligned lens, but it’s become a much prized look. Lo-fi enthusiasts also use cross-processing to achieve a distinctive look with saturated colours. Probably discovered via an interesting mistake, cross-processing is where colour slide film is developed using a 35mm colour film process.
While it isn’t strictly lo-fi, another look that’s becoming increasingly popular is that of giving life-sized objects in pictures the appearance of brightly painted miniatures. This can be a side effect of the tilt-shift or perspective control lenses, often used to avoid the convergence of parallel lines, such as when photographing a tall building.
We don’t need expensive tilt-shift lenses or poorly constructed cameras to achieve lo-fi effects, however. For replication in the digital realm, we have two choices: using dedicated one-shot filters in image-editing software, or building up the effect manually, which allows for greater control.
Create lomographic photographs
Step 1. Photoshop Elements 9.0 and later includes a Guided Effect dedicated to achieving a lomo look. We’ve loaded an image from Windows 7’s Sample Pictures folder. Choose the Edit panel and select the Guided tab. Scroll down to find Photography Effects, then select ‘Lomo Camera Effect’.
Step 2. Click the ‘Cross Process Image’ button and Elements will ramp up the saturation. Choose Apply Vignette to darken the edges of the image, replicating the aberration caused by the lomo lens. Each time you click these buttons, Elements intensifies the last applied effect. Clicking Reset will remove all the applied effects.
Step 3. We can adjust the lomo effect by switching to the Full tab in the Edit panel. This gives access to the Layers panel, where there are two layers marked Lomo Effect. Click on the top layer and adjust the opacity slider. Try sliding it from around 50 to 70 percent and see how the strength of the effect varies.
Step 4. To manually apply a vignette, we’ll apply the ‘Correct Camera Distortion’ filter. In this case we’ll use the filter in reverse. Select the Preview box, drag the Vignette Amount slider to the left and use the Vignette Midpoint slider to reposition the effect. Return to the image, right-click the layer and choose Duplicate.
Step 5. In the Layers panel, add an oversaturated effect by switching the Blending mode to Overlay. We can replicate this manually by adjusting Curves. Switch the duplicate layer to Normal and choose Enhance, Adjust Color, ‘Adjust Color Curves’. Click the Increase Contrast option, then adjust the Midtone Contrast slider.
Step 6. We’re now going to manipulate the Curves settings using the plug-in from easy.Filter. We’ve returned to our vignetted penguin image and duplicated the layer. Click Filters, easy.Filter, Smart Curves. Click on the curve to add anchor points – we’ve created a slanted S shape to increase the contrast.
Step 7. To add a darker hue, set the foreground colour to black and select Layer, Add Fill Layer, Solid Color. The blending mode in the Layers panel is changed to Hue and the opacity adjusted to give the image a dark cast, but the saturation remains intact. Change the hue by double-clicking the Solid Color icon and selecting a new colour.
Step 8. Select all the layers, then right-click and choose Merge Layers. The final step is to sharpen the image, by selecting the Unsharp Mask command in the Enhance menu. We set the amount of sharpening to 50 percent and the radius of the effect to 10, while leaving the threshold at 0.
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