Behind the Filters: Toy Camera

A loud crank causes chairs to swivel at the other end of the office. Most people have gone years if not decades since they last heard the winding of film in a toy camera. "Could you maybe do that outside?"

No. It's winter in New York and I'm about to spend some time with these relics in the bitter cold. Relics may actually be a bit of a stretch. While the original Holga 120N was created in Hong Kong in the 80's, the plastic box in front of me was built far more recently. These cameras were acquired to aid Aviary in the creation of the toy camera effects pack.

Light leaks, double exposures, vignettes, and blurs, all things to be avoided in photography, are embraced and loved in the world of lomography. The inconsistencies of toy cameras are what make it so popular. Inside that little plastic package is a controlled chaos, a visual euphoria, an honest, unique, imperfect memory unadulterated by photoshop and it's adjustments.

And I achieved none of it.


Photos by Andrew Rudmann | Instagram

Well that's not entirely true. Absent are the dramatic glows of red and orange light leaks, in their place; vignettes, tilt-shifts, and natural imperfections. How could this have happened? I read the manual, I wound the film, I wore my tightest jeans and grew a mustache but all I wound up with were some decent photos and a flat tire on my fixie.

"Frankly, your cameras are probably too new. Beat the s*** out of them. Take them to the bar and get 'em drunk," says Katie Warren, New York Times featured photographer and founder of the critically acclaimed style photography blog Warren shoots with a modified Holga, placing duct tape along the sides and bottom of her camera to minimize leaks. The insides have been gutted, altered from their factory standards in an effort to promote the creation of yet to be discovered ideas. The results are astounding.


Photos by Katie Warren | Instagram

This was it. These were the ideas and visuals that we wanted to capture in our effects pack.

"I really like that lack of control. You can't predict what will happen which is the opposite of my client based work. There's a hyperbolic sense of color and the story telling in that medium is more intimate," says Warren. But how do you capture those ideas in one touch photo effects?

We wanted to create something a little more unique than our previous effects. This pack had to have some punch and energy that your typical vintage styles lack. We also couldn't complicate the effects process by creating a double exposure with the importing of other photos. What we could do was create unique light leaks and glares in a plethora of colors and couple them with heavy vignettes.

And so we did.


Combining layers of gaussian flares, blurs, and shapes we built six fantastic toy camera styled effects. They each exhibit different ideas that we encountered in our research and exploration.

The pack as a whole was designed to conquer any scenario you could find yourself in. The range of effects is vast, with different colors presenting and exaggerating themselves in each filter. 'Valley' calls upon the cooler days of the year by pushing the envelope of blues in the photo. There's a subtle overlay vignette that wraps your subject and rather than darkening the borders with pure black, darkens the colors of your photo. By doing it this way were able to effectively make dynamic effects, altering the colors of your photo in different directions, exaggerating them, rather than muddying them up with forced colors.

'Caroline' finds itself at the subtler end of the toy camera spectrum. It calls upon a large orange light leak from the top left corner to convey the ideas of a hot summer day. You can almost hear the sounds of the ocean when this warm glaze washes over your photo accentuating the heat. Around the edges are two layered vignettes, a forced black vignette and an overlay vignette which I discussed earlier. The two combine to create a dramatic darkening around the border of the photo, greatly bringing out the subject matter in the center.

The last important concept to touch on with these toy camera filters are the use of shapes or as we call them, gaussian flares. They're essentially shapes drawn by mathematical equations. We can manipulate ellipses, lines, stars, any oblong shapes you can imagine, and most relevant to toy cameras, diamonds. In the 'Scope' effect you can see long light lines and hazy diamonds at the top left of the image. These are layered shapes that combine to form light leaks in the form of points coming off the edge of the photo and moving towards the center. We're left with something mesmerizing. 'Scope' shows how the subtle use of these concepts can build ideas up into a fully fledged effect.

The toy camera experiment was a lesson in humility. As my conversation with Warren progressed it was obvious how much more there is to learn and explore in the world of lomography. We can apply effects to our photos, stylize them to our hearts content but it takes true talent and knowledge to handle cameras. But that won't stop us from trying to emulate the beauty of analog photography with our phones. Weather it be the gorgeous warm gradients dipping into the top of 'Amber' or the lime glow spreading gently from the corner of 'Juice' there's something for everyone with these toy camera effects.

You can get the Aviary Toy Camera pack on iOS and Android now.