Giving your pictures a toy camera makeover

In the interests of knowing how it was done and not wishing to rely on filters or presets (or on dodgy film development practices) I had a go at converting one of my self-portraits into a toy-camera looky-likey. I doubt that it's a process I'll do too often, but for the record and because I'm sure other people might be intrigued, here's how I went about it. Before you start playing with the tonal curves and adding vignettes to your photos to make them look as if they stepped out of 1976 and were bathed in the wrong chemicals, it’s useful to know what to look for in a toy camera-esque image.

  1. Exposure: the light meters in toy cameras tend to be on the inaccurate side of calibrated, leading to badly exposed images
  2. Light leaks: sealing on toy cameras is virtually non-existent, presenting you with huge streaks of light smeared across your photos
  3. Aberrations: Cheap plastic-y lenses mean distortions and vignetting
  4. Cross-processed look: processing film in the wrong chemicals will give images odd colour casts

This is my recipe for a toy-camera flavoured photo. It's fairly subtle because I'd rather not feel as if my eyes are being assaulted by a sweet shop, but you can of course ramp up the numbers to get the effect that you want. We'll start with a studio shot of me. It was part of a series I took when I was getting accustomed to wearing glasses.

1. Exposure

Go over the top with the exposure My first move is to increase the exposure, add some depth to the blacks, and then go overboard with the brightness and contrast. It'll look like a cartoon at this stage, but it's a base on which to build. My exact settings, for the record

2. Clarity

I pushed the clarity slider to -45 By nudging the clarity slider to the left it helps to recreate the soft mushiness of a cheap plastic lens.

3. Light leak

One light leak. Feel free to choose your own position. Use a pair of graduated filters to add a light leak. I placed one to the left of my ear and another right with roughly opposite settings. This produced a yellow-y smear. Settings for one graduated filter

4. Split toning

If you want, you can spend hours messing with the split toning sliders to achieve wildly varying looks that could all pass for cross-processing. It'll be a case of finding what you prefer, and placing more emphasis on the reds and purples or the greens and yellows.

My chosen split tone look

I tried this image with a yellow-y green look initially, but swapped it for a more pinky-red version. You can play around a great deal with split toning

5. Vignette

Without knocking myself over the head with a plastic picture-taking-device, I add a touch of vignette, too.

6. Grain

Finally, add a hint of grain to help recreate the film feel of a toy camera. Tah-dah!

Et voila – from studious studio self-portrait to tricksy toy camera creation.

Analogue films crash into the 21st century with the LomoKino


This has to be about as simple as film-making gets. It’s Lomography’s inspiredly-named LomoKino – a movie camera that works on 35mm film. There’s no sound, no post-production, and no special effects: just somewhere around 40 seconds of footage shot at 3-4 frames per second on a camera that uses a hand crank.

The LomoKino has a 25mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6. Focusing is between one metre and infinity normally, but at the click of a button it can do 60 centimetre close-ups.

If you’re wondering how on earth you can watch your cinematic masterpieces of baby’s first steps in over-saturated cross-processed wonder, Lomo’s already got that covered. In addition to the LomoKino, you can pick up the LomoKinoScope, which’ll let you watch your homemade movie, turned by a hand crank, too. Get them digitised and you can share them on the Lomography website, naturally.

The LomoKino takes any 35mm film, whether that’s slide, colour negative, or black and white. You just have to remember to ask the lab not to cut them when you have it developed.

Normally I look at toy cameras in despair. There’s something about paying money for nasty plastic and even nastier glass that makes me shudder. This, however, this made me smile. I’m not likely to go out and buy myself one anytime soon, but I’d be unlikely to look at someone with thinly veiled horror if it were given to me for my birthday. (But don’t, please, anyone, get any ideas.) It’s £65 (US $79) for the LomoKino by itself, or £89 (US $99) for the LomoKino and LomoKinoScope package.

You can take a closer look over on the Lomography website.