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

6 Answers 6


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


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)

You can play around with the Filters in the Noise&Blur category.

First reduce your image in size to something bellow 1000 px

Image > Image Size

Then try something like :

Filters > Noise > Add Noise... , and then play around until you get the image to look a bit noisy and lower in quality.


Filter > Noise > Despekle , it makes the previous added noise to look a bit more fuzzy and blurry, simmilar to what a phone camera usually does.


Filter > Noise > Dust&Scratches, play around with it untill you get the desired result

after this you could also add some

Filters > Blur > Motion Blur... , and set the angle at something random so it looks like your example

then selct random parts on your image and try some

Filters > Blur > Lens Blur... , with this you get the effect that the camera was dirty.

Then save the whole thing in JPEG format with low quality(something like 30-50) and you get some bad looking artifacts.

These steps pretty much make an image look much more lower in quality and if you play around with them you can get what you want.

  • Try Shifting the color utilizing the curve tool in photoshop.
  • Shifting the color balance
  • Adding a photo filter color

  • Vignette or burn the edges of the photo

  • Increase the intensity of orange in the photo.

Your second example is not a bad camera, but rather bad lighting, causing the shutter speed to slow down, causing a motion blur. The focus also seems a bit off as well, or perhaps it is just a large aperture setting, which would again come down to the lighting.

It seems to me that you are not being very specific on what effect that you want. The second photo is a lighting / camera setting issue, but the camera is decent. The first and third picture are indeed bad cameras, but before I looked at the examples, I immediately thought of one of those really crappy .gif's from years back that were all over the web, like this:

enter image description here

This is an example of both a bad camera (that is blowing out all of the highlights; this was done with a second layer with 50%, linear dodge blending options -- color dodge might be more to your liking, though) and bad compression (64-color .gif.)

This could be made even more accurate with "levels" adjustments, adjusting the exposure (low-quality cameras often cannot adjust properly to lighting,) etc., but you'd really need a perfect example of what you want in order to anyone to really nail it... otherwise we can only guess.


Size it down, confirm the transformation, then size it back up.

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