Photoshop Tutorial: The Lomo Effect

There comes a time in every photographer’s life when all the so-called “rules” and technical nitty-gritty start to wear you down. It’s only so enjoyable to prepare, compose, shoot, and fine-tune a traditional image. So, with our next set of Photoshop tutorials, we’re going to step outside the box a bit and have a little fun. We’ll be exploring several creative editing techniques to give your photos some personality and mastering these trendy edits will lend some flair to your repertoire!

We’ll start this set off with one of the more dramatic alternative photo processes, the Lomo (short for lomography) effect. This is the style of a particular set of vintage Russian cameras that were popular in the 1990s. Some tell-tale characteristics of Lomo include: heavy vignette, high color saturation, and centralized sharpness. Needless to say, the Lomo process created very unique images and imitating it has become quite popular as of late. I’ll show you a simple technique to bring this distinctive look to your photos!

I chose this sample image of a puppy (she was rescued through local group, ColoRADogs) because it was relatively minimalist, just a dog and some grass, which will make it easier to see our edits. Opening up our base image in Photoshop (I used Elements 12; no big fancy software needed here!), the first thing we will do is create our vignette:

1. Create a new layer (Command + Shift + N) and select your blending mode as Hard Light and check the box asking if you’d like to Fill with Hard-Light-neutral color (50% gray).

2. With your new layer selected, go to Filter > Correct Camera Distortion. This will bring up a new window (and don’t freak out if you cannot see your image yet!) and set your Amount to -50 and your Midpoint to +30. Keep in mind this is just a starting point – feel free to play around with the numbers to make your vignette more or less intense.

You can adjust the vignette further by re-selecting a blending mode. For example, changing my mode from Hard Light to Vivid Light deepened the vignette shadowing and I preferred it this way. Thus, I ended up choosing Vivid Light as my blending mode:

3. Now we need to adjust the levels – remember that Lomo photos have high contrast and high saturation! Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. You’ll have to play around with the sliders to find just the right balance of light and dark on your image, but, for this example, I moved my sliders to 9, 1.10, and 217 respectively:

4. Next up, we’ll need to recreate a “cross-processed” look. This results in a color shift in your image, typically towards the blue spectrum. For this, you’ll need to create a new layer: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation.

Select the Colorize box, and move your Hue to 207 and your Saturation to 25. Feel free to play around with the Lightness slider as well, if you feel that your image has become too dark. I ended up lightening mine by +10 for the final image.

5. Now we need to bump up the Saturation in order to best mimic the Lomo’s characteristic bright colors. Create another new Hue/Saturation layer like you just did, except leave the Colorize box unchecked. Then move your Saturation slider to the right anywhere between +20 and +40, depending on your image (I went with +30). Remember you want the colors to pop, but not make your eyes bleed!

6. This last step is optional, but will add just a touch more realism to your pseudo-Lomo image. Typically, Lomo images only have a small area of focus, with everything else being slightly blurred. Now, my example image was shot with a very shallow depth of field so this next effect may not be very noticeable, but we’ll include it here for you!

  1. You need to create a central spot of focus, so use your Elliptical Marquee to select a rough circle/oval in the center (ish) of your image.
  2. Then create a new layer from that selection: Command + J.
  3. Next, remove color from your selection: Command + Shift + U.
  4. Apply a High Pass filter: Filter > Other >High Pass. Move the slider until you see just a faint outline of your original image:
  5. Lastly, change your blending mode to Overlay and you’re done! You can see the spot of sharp focus at the center of your selection.
  6. Finish up by making any fine-tuned adjustments you’d like, flatten your image and save your work!

Only seven easy steps transformed your bland photo into something unique and eye-catching! Now go out and have some fun with your editing and don’t forget to check back here for the next creative photo process tutorial!