advanced photoshop

How to create a retro Lomo effect in Photoshop

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Tips & Tutorials, by The Advanced Photoshop Team

We show you how to turn a digital photograph into a Lomographic image using a range of essential Photoshop tools

Lomography is more than just a style; it is an entire photographic movement. Lomography refers to images produced by a dedicated Lomo camera, which produces a very distinct style.

However, part of the culture of Lomography is to take as many obscure photographs as possible, breaking all photographic rules and conventions, such as shooting angle. There are exhibitions and websites dedicated to the trend and it is only getting more popular since its initial uptake in the Eighties. The cameras used for Lomography tend to be low-fidelity and cheap, so the key is not in perfectly exposed and toned images.

If you don’t have a Lomo camera, then the actual look is pretty easy to emulate in Photoshop. Search for a start image that is unusual – maybe the angles are off, or it’s a bit blurred… imperfect is best for this effect. The key elements of a Lomographic photo are high-contrast colours and a distinct vignette, as well as a cross-processed colour tint.  Using adjustment layers and a combination of blending modes, we can easily build up this effect. We will also add lens flare and a paper texture to give it a more realistic Lomo look.

Step 1: Add a vingette

Step 1

Open up your start image and duplicate the Background layer. Lomo photography always has a dark vignette, which can be applied in one of two ways. You can either use the Lens Correction filter, or you can draw it by hand. We prefer the latter as it looks less precise, which suits the effect. Use the Lasso tool to draw a rough circle around your image with a high Feather of about 70 pixels. Inverse the selection and then use a Levels adjustment layer to darken these corners to suit.

Step 2: Curves

Step 2

Now we are going to use a Curves adjustment layers to start to achieve that lomo look. From the Curves dialog box, tweak the curve into a soft ‘S’ shape, which will help to increase the dynamic range of the image. The same exact setting won’t work for two different images, so play with the values until you are happy with the result.

Step 3: Cross process

Step 3

One of the key things about lomo photography is that it needs to look crossprocessed. This is the traditional darkroom technique of exposing one type of film in the chemicals for another. This produces a lot of different effects and colour combinations, but in lomo photography, you’re looking for enhanced cyan tones. Add a Color Balance adjustment layer to your photo.

Step 4: Tweaking the values

Step 4

Now you need to work on the values for the Shadows, Highlights and Midtones to emulate the crossprocessed look. For our image we used the following values. Midtones: Cyan/Red = -28, Magenta/Green = 24, Blue/Yellow = -23; Shadows: Cyan/Red = -56, Magenta/Green = -9, Blue/Yellow = -13; Highlights: Cyan/Red = 32, Magenta/Green = -16, Blue/Yellow = 16. Experiment with values until you are happy with the results.

Step 5: Sort the Saturation

Step 5

At the moment, the image is too oversaturated to be an authentic lomo effect. You can sort this out in a couple of ways. You could apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and lower the Saturation here. Otherwise, create a new layer filled with black. Set it to Hue to turn the image black and white. Next lower the Opacity until you are happy with the effect.

Step 6: Sun spots

Step 6

To really capture that retro look, we need to add in some sun spots or lens flare. Add another new layer filled with black to the top of the layer stack. Go to Filter>Render>Lens Flare. We have chosen a 105mm Prime Lens Type and lowered the Brightness to 83%. Position the flare in the top-left hand corner of your image.

Step 7: More flare

Step 7

Set your flare layer to Screen blending mode so that it shows through to the image. Duplicate the layer with the flare on and move it up and to the right a bit so that it sits above your first flare, adding more effect to the image. You can add as much flare as you think your image needs.

Step 8: Texture

Step 8

We are now going to add a rumpled paper texture to our image to make it look more vintage. Open your chosen image and paste it into your main photo, transforming it so that it fits over the whole photo. Set the layer’s blending mode to Multiply. We don’t really need to use the Opacity slider here, as it looks fine at 100%, but you may need to on a different image.

Step 9: Final sharpen

Step 9

Finally, we want to sharpen the whole image a touch. Create a copy-merged layer of all your layers (Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+Opt/Alt+E) at the top of your Layers stack. Go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask and set the Amount to 50 and the Radius to 28, leaving the Threshold at 0. And there you have it: a super-fast lomo effect for your photos.

Quick tip

Get inspired by traditional Lomography by visiting this great website: This site can help with coming up with subjects to consider manipulating, as well as telling you more about the movement as a whole.

  • Great tutorial for those who are new the the lomo photography world. Thanks for posting my friend!

  • Greg

    This is one of the best looking lomo effect i have been working with.