Pixelart Photography: Aesthetic Influences

Pixel art refers to a form of digital art where images are created and edited at the pixel level. It emerged in the 1980s with the advent of 8-bit home computers and gaming consoles that had low screen resolutions. The style is defined by the limited colors, resolution and dimensions dictated by these early systems. The lo-fi aesthetic of pixel art imagery has come to be appreciated as an artform in its own right.

Pixel art has exerted a strong influence on photography and visual media. By embracing the pixelated look, photographers are able to evoke feelings of nostalgia and create abstract representations of reality. The use of hard edges, bright colors and reduced details allows photographers to distill subjects down to their essence. Pixel art’s lo-fi style serves as an antidote to the slick high resolution imagery that pervades visual culture today.

Retro Video Game Inspiration

The pixelated graphics of old 8-bit and 16-bit video games have had a strong influence on the pixel art aesthetic in photography today. Games like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, and Tetris made creative use of chunky, low-resolution graphics due to the technological limitations of hardware at the time. This resulted in the signature blocky, mosaic-like visual style that PixelArt emulates.

Classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games are a prime source of inspiration for PixelArt photographers. The sprites, environments, and textures crafted by graphic artists had to work within a strict 256×240 pixel resolution. This forced the use of solid fields of color, strong outlines, and geometric shapes to convey forms and details. Modern PixelArt photographers try to capture a similar simplified, retro look in their photographic compositions.

The graphical style of pixel art games evokes a strong sense of nostalgia for that era of gaming history. By bringing elements of that aesthetic into photography, PixelArt also taps into those nostalgic feelings. It reminds viewers of the technology and culture of the 80s and 90s through visuals. This mix of retro videogame motifs with a modern digital artform creates the unique ascetic appeal of PixelArt photography.


Low Resolution Style

example of pixel art evoking nostalgia for retro video games

Pixel art photography emulates the low resolution displays of early computers and video game consoles. Early systems like the Atari 2600 or Nintendo Entertainment System had very limited graphical capabilities, with display resolutions as low as 160×192 pixels. Game developers worked within these technical constraints to create the boxy, blocky aesthetics emblematic of retro games.

Modern pixel art photographers intentionally create images with this distinctly low resolution style. They limit their photos to a small number of pixels, construing their images from coarse digital “blocks.” This forces the viewer to abstract the forms of the subject from sparse visual information. The impressionistic effect harkens back to the era of primitive computer graphics, evoking nostalgia for vintage games and early digital art.

Vintage Computer Graphics

The pixel art aesthetic draws heavy inspiration from the computer graphics of early home computer systems like the Commodore 64 and Apple II in the 1970s and 1980s. These early computers had very limited graphical capabilities, often displaying graphics at resolutions as low as 320×200 pixels (ref: iStock). This forced artists to work within a constrained palette of colors and blocky, low-resolution graphics.

The nostalgia for these vintage computer graphics has directly influenced the pixel art photo filter trend. Many filters specifically emulate the dithering patterns, color limitations, and bitmap textures of platforms like the Commodore 64. They allow modern high-resolution photos to take on the simplified, abstractionist aesthetic of early computer art (ref: Shutterstock). This style removes photographic detail and realism in favor of communicating forms through solid colors and defined edges.

By applying a C64 or Apple II inspired filter, photographers can evoke viewers’ nostalgia for early computer graphics. The vintage video game associations also give photos a playful, technology-inspired style. Pixel art filters allow modern photos to carry the legacy of early computer art into new media.

Retro Pop Culture Nostalgia

Pixel art evokes nostalgia for retro pop culture like old video games, toys, and other media from the 1980s and 1990s. With its low resolution, limited color palettes, and blocky aesthetic, pixel art transports viewers back to the technology and pop culture of decades past. The style especially conjures up memories of beloved 8-bit and 16-bit games on consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and early PCs. By using pixel art, photographers can create scenes that feel ripped straight from the games, shows, and toys of the era.

Viewers may feel pangs of nostalgia looking at pixel art photography of retro living rooms with wood-paneled walls and CRT televisions displaying 8-bit games [1]. Other nostalgic scenes might include pixel transforms of classic toys like LEGO, Transformers, or My Little Pony. The lo-fi digital aesthetic triggers fond memories and helps capture the technological limitations and artistic styles of the past. Photographers leverage the nostalgia factor of pixel art to transport audiences back to beloved cultural touchstones of their childhood.

[1] https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/pixel-art-crt-display/

Minimalist Aesthetic

Pixel art exemplifies a minimalist aesthetic through its purposeful simplification of imagery. By reducing photographs and scenes to basic shapes and colors, pixel art strips away superfluous details to focus on core visual elements. This reductionist approach aligns with minimalist principles of prioritizing simplicity and intentionality in design. According to photographer David García de Marina, “The minimalist aspect [of pixel art] allows the viewer to fill in the gaps with their own interpretation” (source). Pixel art removes the specific to evoke the universal, using geometric abstraction to convey messages and emotions. On Etsy, many minimalist pixel art prints feature bold fields of color and crisp outlines, epitomizing minimalism through their distilled compositions.

Abstraction from Reality

Pixel art achieves abstraction from reality through its limitations in resolution and color palette. By depicting a scene or object with a restricted number of pixels, the artist must convey the essence of the subject while removing photographic details. This forces the viewer to connect the abstract shapes and colors with an idea or meaning beyond pure representation (link).

Pixelation reduces images to basic geometric forms, colors, and textures. This abstraction focuses attention on form over detail. By removing nuances, pixel art can amplify key aspects of a subject in a way that feels nostalgic or communicates through simplicity. The style transforms the complexity of reality into a minimalist aesthetic.

Communication Through Shape and Color

Pixel art uses simple shapes and colors to convey complex ideas and emotions. By reducing an image down to basic geometric forms and a limited color palette, pixel artists are able to focus on the essence of a scene or concept. According to an article on Megavoxels, photographers can turn a complex photograph into pixel art using Photoshop by reducing the number of colors to simplify the image into basic shapes (source). This reductionist technique forces the artist to think about how to best communicate the core message or feeling with the least amount of visual information.

Squares, circles, triangles and other geometric shapes become powerful tools for expression. A few pixels can suggest a human figure, animal, object or setting. Bold colors convey mood and atmosphere. Pixel art has to efficiently use every pixel, so each visual element carries meaning and impact. This communicative capacity through simplicity and abstraction is part of what makes pixel art so appealing as an artistic medium.

New Media Art Influence

Pixel art has its place in the trajectory of new media art, which encompasses art forms that incorporate emerging technologies. As digital culture became more pervasive in the late 20th century, artists began using the aesthetics of early computer graphics to comment on this shifting landscape. Low-res pixelated imagery, once borne out of necessity, became an intentional style choice.

Some new media artists focus on glitch art and datamoshing, manipulating digital artifacts and errors as part of their aesthetic vocabulary. Similarly, pixel artists embrace the chunky, blocky look of low-resolution graphics. This lo-fi appearance intentionally subverts the constant push for photorealism and higher resolution in digital spaces. Pixel art reclaims early digital aesthetics and transforms constraints into creative choices.

Through its embrace of digital culture, pixel art represents a form of new media art. As technologies enabled higher fidelity graphics, pixel art maintained its low-res look not due to limitation, but as an intentional style. Pixelated imagery entered galleries and museums, cementing its status as an art movement. Today pixel art persists both as a nod to its origins and as a hallmark of new media art.


In summary, the key influences on pixel art photography have included retro video games, vintage computer graphics, minimalist aesthetics, and abstraction. The low-resolution pixelated style evokes nostalgia for early digital art while also feeling fresh and modern. By reducing images to basic shapes and colors, pixel art allows photographers to communicate ideas and emotions in a symbolic way. While initially a product of technological limitations, pixel art has evolved into an artistic choice that connects back to a pivotal time in the history of new media.

As photography continues to be transformed by digital technology, pixel art offers an avenue to merge traditional photography with contemporary digital art. Photographers can pay homage to the past while also experimenting with a stylized look adapted for modern aesthetics. The pixel art style has proven to be enduringly popular, and will likely continue to evolve in exciting new directions in the world of photography.