How can I use Photoshop to imitate a photo taken with a low-quality camera?


How can I create an image in Photoshop that imitates a photo taken with a low-quality phone camera? Examples of qualities I want to simulate:

  • blurring in some areas caused by a dirty lens
  • low quality exposure handling in the darkroom
  • noise

Some examples:
Low Quality Example 1
Low Quality Example 2 Low Quality Example 3

2/7/2012 6:36:00 PM

Accepted Answer

Cell phones have tiny lenses, tiny image sensors, which add noise, lose detail and have indifferent contrast. High-frequency data (hair, fur, grass) is the first and most obvious victim, so that should also be your first target for the simulation.

The best place to start, since you have Photoshop, is in Adobe Camera Raw. Open the jpeg into ACR from Bridge (right click and choose "Open in Camera Raw").

  1. Set the Clarity slider to -100. You can also reduce the Contrast slider, if necessary.
  2. Increase Recovery AND Fill Light to reduce contrast.
  3. Adjust Tint, Temperature and Exposure until sufficiently yucky.
  4. Somewhat counter-intuitive: go to the Sharpen module and over-sharpen the image, highest radius and maybe 70% sharpen. All noise reduction sliders to 0.
  5. In Split Toning, add blue to the shadows and yellow to the highlights (or vice versa, just so they're different).

Here's an image before:

Before Camera Raw

And after:

After mutilation in Camera Raw

Note that this is quite different from the effect you'd get using any of the Blur filters in Photoshop, but is a good match for the loss of detail in a typical camera phone.

Now open the image in Photoshop.

  1. To get some noise into the image, Alt/Option Click the New Layer icon and set the new layer to Overlay mode. Select "Uniform" for the Check the "Fill with 50% gray" box and UNcheck "Monochromatic" (you want color noise). Play with the settings until you have something close to the effect you want (it will be too sharp-looking, but we'll fix that in the next step):

Add Noise dialog

  1. To get the blotchy look of small-sensor color noise, finesse the noise layer with the Shape Blur filter. You can experiment with different settings. On my test image, 10 pixels worked well using the starburst shape:

Using Shape Blur to finesse the noise layer

This technique makes very realistic sensor noise in the darker and bluer areas of the image, which is where they are normally most noticeable in the "real thing."

Blue mid-range and shadow noise

Here's the full final image:

enter image description here

5/27/2011 6:49:00 PM

Here are some that you can check out, but there are other ways to do the same things, so explore away. Have some fun with your filters and adjustments! :)

Color (first sample image)

  • ImageAdjustmentsExposure (raise the exposure and lower the offset)
  • ImageAdjustmentsPhoto Filter (make the image warmer or cooler)
  • ImageAdjustmentsHue/Saturation (blow out the saturation and see how it looks)

Blurring (second sample image)

  • FilterBlurLens Blur
  • FilterBlurBox Blur
  • FilterBlurMotion Blur (easy way to mimic the camera getting bumped)

General Poor Quality or Artifacts (third sample)

  • FilterPixelizeMosaic (easiest way to reduce resolution)
  • ImageImage Size (make it smaller then larger)
  • Save as JPEG format with low quality, like 30-50 (introduces JPEG compression artifacts)