I have seen a LOT of digital images processed to make them look old, i.e. faded polaroid, sun damaged, multiple exposure, light leakage etc etc...

I am really starting to struggle to understand why this is still popular, initially (several years ago) I thought to myself "yes, that's cool, takes me back"

But now I'm just bored of the effect.

why do people insist on reproducing the shortcomings of film photography and print?

  • yes I know this is subjective!!
  • 2
    Photo shop, stonewashed Jeans, Photoshop, modern youth, photoshop, Gen X, photoshop, mumble grumble, what's the world coming to, Photoshop! ... || :-) - I aim to take photos that are OK out of camera with core processing chanages (colour balance, contrast, sharpen & friends), Crop. Maybe rotate a little. Each to their own but retro degraded seems to be somewhat missing the point. Unless, perhaps, you were there ;-). I almost was. Jun 14, 2012 at 18:41
  • Could you link to an example?
    – Stainsor
    Jun 14, 2012 at 20:02
  • 1
    You said it youself: "Yes, that's cool, takes me back". As long as there are enough dweebs out there with that attitude, or are perceived to be out there, someone will think this is a cutsey way of getting more attention. Think about those annoying commercials shot with deliberately wobbled hand held cameras. That irritated me right from the beginning, but I think it was the "in" thing to do to make your commercial seem hommade or something, which is a real laugh when a multi-billion dollar company does it. Jun 15, 2012 at 0:00

5 Answers 5


Part of the reason you're seeing so many pictures processed to look old is the wider availability of tools that let the average person achieve that effect. Prior to Instagram, Hipstamatic and a slew of others, it took more work than the average person was willing to expend on it. Now it's a one-button operation or a default setting.

Retro seems to be "in" with some parts of the twenty-something set, who will have seen "analog" photos among their parents' things that have the look they're trying to emulate. What will be instructive is seeing whether or not the children of the first generation that grew up in the digital era reach for fuzzy, low-resolution digital effects that make their pictures look like they came out of a Kodak DC20 or skip back two generations and go for the analog look.

One thing I find interesting about those photos is the cognitive dissonance that comes from an image that looks like it was taken in 1974 but contains things that could not possibly have existed then. I'm old enough to have seen that year in the flesh and still have prints of pictures I took back then, and I frequently find myself critiquing artificially-retro images on whether or not they contain "modern" elements.

  • DC20!!! No no. Kill it !!!!!!!! (I still have one). Agh !!!!! Jun 14, 2012 at 18:38
  • yes that does make me wonder if the "really early crap phone camera" look will ever be "in" Jun 15, 2012 at 7:05
  • The answer is "yeah, probably," because someone will find it arty. If you think about it, we still revere black and white almost two centuries after the first photographs, and the only reason that ever happened was technology's inability to reproduce color. I have no doubt Louis Daguerre would have been delighted if he could have produced color photos right off the bat.
    – Blrfl
    Jun 15, 2012 at 14:22

Any excessive use of a technique dulls its effect. We cannot do anything about it. If the effect is pleasing, it will be overused, it will bore people, it will be abandoned. Then, after a while, it will be forgotten and the process can be repeated.


As with anything artistic, generally the goal is to provoke some mood, thought or other reaction in the beholder. In most cases this is likely your: "Yes, that's cool, takes me back".

The proliferation of such photographs and thus your boredom can't really be helped, various styles come and go throughout different circles. I personally can't say I've seen that many photographs styled to look like old ones, except perhaps the black-and-white effect commonly employed in street photography (though this can be for reasons other than just mimicking old photos).


I personally think this happen because these effects, as other mention, are easier than ever to produce, but they also detract attention from common technical characteristics (or even deficiencies, or failures) that makes the average photograph not-so-pleasant.

To some extent, this affects also the average viewer's ability to judge a photograph, including the more artistic aspects of it, thus rendering attractive an otherwise dull picture. I.E. the center of attention becomes the effect (the container) rather than the concept (the content), like the awful candy that comes in cheap, bright colored toys.

This obviously is not always the case, but indeed it may detract from correctly appreciating a very good photograph, a brilliant composition can be "hidden" behind an overcooked effect.


As other said, it adds some sort of artistic feeling, and it's very easy to do, so it's become popular to the mass, because you can transform a somehow boring picture in something fancier.

But IMO there is another big point about it: smartphones take pictures with lots of megapixels, but with scarce quality. So it's almost obvious the choice to mask the technical defects of the picture (noise, poor color depth, eventual blur) with other, more romantic defects, that seem more intentional, so are more easily forgiven.

Without considering the increasing amount of hipsters and teenagers with access to technology.

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