DIY Toy camera presets for Lightroom

A street photo from Oslo, Norway, took on a completely different flavour with my new toy camera filters

Given the popularity of the Holga, Lomo, and the other toy cameras out there, I suppose it was only a question of time before some enterprising soul would release Hipstamatic, the app which lets you take cool, toy-camera like photos on your iPhone.

There’s something about that app which jars quite viciously with me, however: Unlike the ‘real’ toy cameras, this app doesn’t actually alter the iPhone camera at all. And despite getting pretty awesome results (if you like that style of photography, of course), it’s all post-processing.

That got me thinking… It has to be possible to make my own post-processing presets for Lightroom, to turn my carefully lit, exquisitely sharp and ridiculously high-resolution camera RAW images into blurry, colourful, vastly attractive garbage. So I created a couple of presets for Lightroom 3 – and I’ll walk you through the thinking behind one of them and I’ll show you how to make your own. How’s that for a double whammy of awesome?  


Toy cameras tend to get their special look by being terrible cameras. Their light meters will be off by a quarter country mile (so we need to either over- or under-expose the images for a start). They are likely to have light leaks (so we ought to add streaks to the picture), and the hip and cool crowd is fond of cross-processing the film, so we need to make a couple of changes to the way the colours are being displayed.

Exposure and sharpness

So, I’m going to start messing about with the exposure in this photo. I’m being conservative by only over-exposing it by 0.75, but you can always change this later, if a photo suits a bigger mis-exposure. Next, I’m ramping up the blacks a little bit to get a feel of a smidge of extra contrast, and I’m whacking the contrast and brightness right up. Yes, this makes your photo look wrong. And no, there’s nothing wrong with that!

Finally on this screen, the clarity goes down a lot. This adds quite an appealing blur to the image, which is typical for the kind of Polaroid effect I’m going for here.


It’s surprisingly difficult to get a realistic cross-processing look, but since I’m messing about with a polaroid-alike photo here, I’m on safer ground: adding some highlight and shadow toning gives that deliciously ‘not quite right’ polaroid look. To find the settings that work, keep experimenting – it’s not always easy to come up with the look you want.


Set the crop tool to 1:1 (that’s square), and crop your image. Then, it’s time for a spot of Vignetting – these are meant to be toy cameras after all…

Light leaks

The light leak effects are typical for toy cameras - and my little preset wouldn't be complete without 'em!

To get the proper feel of a toy camera, you’re going to have to try to add some light leaks. This is pretty easy, actually: Simply add a Graduated Filter across your image, with some interesting characteristics.

Personally, I decided to just brighten and then re-darken the image. I created one thin graduated filter with the settings shown below … And then another one just underneath it which had the opposite settings (approximately – it’s not as if toy cameras are an exact science). This creates quite a realistic bar of light leakage across your image.

Of course, light leaks are meant to be unpredictable and a bit random, but the great advantage of doing them in Lightroom is that you can take some of the guesswork out of them. Use the opportunity to move the light leaks around, and highlight the bits of the photo you would like – or hide the bits of the photo you’re not too fond of. There are no rules – make your own!

Finally, I saved all the above settings to a preset called “broken Polaroid”, and now I can go ahead and drastically reduce the quality (and improve the interestingness) of my photos!

Okay, then, let’s see some examples

A couple of guys on a motorcycle in India were a prime candidate for toy camera tasticness

This was the image I used when I first created the Lightroom preset, and I think it works quite well

A street photo from Oslo, Norway, took on a completely different flavour with my new toy camera filters