Wednesday, April 11, 2012

7 Tips for Holga Cameras + Where to Get 120 Film Developed

7 Tips for Holga Cameras
The day that I bought my little Holga camera is just one of those days that you remember perfectly, for no particular reason. I was living in New York at the time, working as an intern for CBS Sunday Morning. It was a Sunday, and it was the (only) day that I actually went to the taping of Sunday Morning on a Sunday morning-- normally I just worked Tuesday-Saturday. I remember walking out of CBS into the city after the taping finished feeling rather on top of the world-- in part because I was actually awake before the sun came up that morning (huzzah to my college self) and in part because the city just felt so dead. It was a little drizzly and everyone was inside their homes-- I had the city to myself. So, I decided to go buy my Holga camera from the B&H camera superstore 20 streets south of CBS.

I'd been thinking about buying the camera for a while, during my time in New York I really gravitated towards photography and film photography as a creative medium because I seriously could not find the craft stores in New York. I actually ordered $2 bottles of paint online. :) I've always been the type of person who makes things as a way to make myself happy... And two years ago, photography was my thing. My self-improvement project. ;) I bought books, I read online tutorials, I practiced with my little D40, and I glued my eyes to analogue photography websites for hours.

So that Sunday when I decided to visit B&H, after hours of research and longing, I just walked in and bought my $20 little plastic camera. And can I just say, if you're a gadget dork and you're ever in NYC and you are around Penn Station, just walk to B&H. I have never been in a store like it, it is bustling ALL THE TIME and you walk up to a person, place your order, and then a robot/conveyer belt thing brings your order to the front of the store. No joke. You can't actually touch your $20 Holga camera until you have already paid. It's crazy. And an experience. :)

So now, two years later, I've finally developed my precious little plastic camera's film-- and I am still in love with the thing. And I've got a few tips to share. :)

7 Tips for Holga Cameras

Holga Photography, NYC
The little red lighthouse under the great gray bridge. (George Washington Bridge)

With Holga cameras, the thing you really need to remember is that you are shooting with a toy camera. Your pictures are not going to be perfect-- but most likely, you don't want them to be perfect. ;) The shot above of the George Washington Bridge is one of my favorite Holga shots that I've taken, and it has so many imperfections from the vignetting (blacker corners) to the camera shake, to the light flares.

My favorite things about Holga pictures:
--You are shooting with medium format film (120 film) so you might be surprised by the level of detail on the film. (I was. ;))
--Square pictures. It's so refreshing to see a different photo shape after so many years where the dominant dimensions are 3x5 and 4x6. Any maybe the square format is part of Instagram's formula for success?
--The plastic lens makes everything dreeeeeamy. :)

Tip #1: Expect the Unexpected.
You never know what will end up in your frame-- light leaks, accidental double exposures, neighboring frames, vignetting. Just go with it and focus more on composition than technical quality.
Holga Photography, NYC Holga Photography, Princeton
Statue of Liberty and an arch at Princeton University.

Tip #2: Avoid dark situations.
Don't shoot in shadowy places unless you have a flash or a high speed film. (I had 400 speed film, I wouldn't shoot in low light unless you have at least 1600 speed.)
Holga Photography, Riverside Park Riverside Church
Riverside Church and Riverside Park on the Upper West Side.

Tip #3: If you don't like light leaks...
Cover the back of the camera where the film counter is. I kind of like the light leaks, though. They give the photos more character.
Holga Photography, Princeton Holga Photography, NYC
Princeton, NJ and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, looking at Manhattan.

This is where the film counter is-- you can cover this with a piece of dark paper, duct tape, or electrical tape and just pull it back when you need to wind the film.

Tip #4: Your Holga's tension adjustment might be off.
There is no tension adjustment so your photos might look like the ones below. (I am pretty sure that is what happened here.) These cameras are so cheap sometimes that they aren't very good at keeping the film in place after it's been wound so it slides back a bit on itself and there is a smidge of double exposure on multiple shots. If you like this look, I have no idea how to replicate it if your camera works properly, haha. ;)

Update: (Comment from Twofold, thanks for the help! :))
"You are getting "neighboring frames" because you have the back set incorrectly and not anything to do with tension adjustment. If you are shooting with the square insert you want the arrow pointing to the 12 not the 16. Switch that and you will get perfectly spaced frames if you wind it correctly. Hence another reason to probably avoid sending your film out to Walmart and support a local lab instead. I work at an independent lab in Iowa City and we charge $9.99 for 120 and that includes a full set of 5x5 prints. Worth the extra money in my mind to get important feedback and higher quality prints."

Coney Island, Wonder Wheel

Tip #5: Understand your buttons and settings.
There aren't very many so this isn't a difficult tip. When you are taking photos, make sure that you have correctly adjusted the cloudy/sunny switch and that you focus the camera. Occasionally in the in the heat of the photo-taking moment I forget to adjust one of the settings and my photo won't turn out as well as it could. Also, the B-N switch is important to knot about-- it's on the bottom of your Holga, and it's an awesome little button. N stands for normal, which is what you will usually want the camera set to. B stands for "bulb" which means that the shutter will be open as long as your finger presses it down. If you have a tripod and a steady hand, you can come up with some really incredible long exposures.

Holga Photography, NYC
The view of New Jersey from my Upper West Side dorm.

Tip #6: Where to get your film developed.
This is HUGE. And I have an awesome tip for you. I actually got my Holga prints developed through Walmart for about 3$ per roll. THAT'S IT. I could not believe it. Here's what you need to do:
How to Get Holga Film Developed
For each roll of film, take a separate film envelope and write "SEND OUT ONLY" at the top. Then fill in your info. "Send Out Only" means that Walmart will send it to a photo lab to be developed instead of developing it in the store. I don't know how many (if any) Walmarts still develop 35mm film, but they definitely won't do 120 film. Just send it out to a lab that knows what to do. :)
How to get Holga Film Developed
Next, in the special instructions section, make sure you write "120 Film Processing, 4x4 prints." And then drop them in the box! It's seriously that simple. I was really paranoid when I sent out my film, but Walmart actually did a nice job. :)

Tip# 7: PLAY.
Holgas are cheap little pieces of plastic. You aren't going to be the next Ansel Adams with your sweeping perfect landscapes. Just mess around and go crazy with the soft dreamy tones of your plastic camera.
Holga Photography, Riverside Church
Riverside Church

Holga Photography, Princeton Junction
Princeton Junction, NJ

Holga Photography, NYC
A photo along the Hudson River when I rode my bike all over NYC.

If you liked this post, you should totally check out my guide to buying a Polaroid camera, my post on photo tips for beginners, or any of my Polaroid photos. :) And if you have any Holga questions, I will totally try to answer them. :)


oonaballoona said...

this post was so great, you make me want to buy a holga...

Sam said...

Here's my favorite shot from my cousin's holga,

Herschel Pollard said...

I love dark situations. Multiple shutter presses do wonders and talk about adding unpredictability.
Also, I suggest anyone who doesn't like light leaks and/or expects uniform results really, really shouldn't shoot ain't for type A personalities :)
Nice article.

Whitney said...

Your blog is one of my favorites!
You are totally inspiring me to dust off my toy fish eye and create! I am always hesitant to use film because it always turns out to be such a pain in the butt to find places that will develop the film. Thanks for the tip about "send out only"


Kerry said...

Excellent post; thanks SO much for the tip about Walmart! I do have one question though- Do you know of any good places online where you can mail your film to have it processed? I live 30 minutes from the nearest Walmart and I don't have a car. :(

FAKoLL said...

great! too bad i don't know if i can use the walmart tip since i live in italy? i didn't even know what walmart was till now.. i don't know how it will work :/

ZenGirlie said...

I'm going to check out WalMart for my 120 processing.

Damian said...

Love the article except for the last portion. If I've just spent half the day shooting a roll of film, the last place I want to trust with the processing is Walmart's third party film processing affiliate. Take it to a proper lab where you know the people, can get a snip test and can have it pushed or pulled if necessary.

Stacie Grissom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Taryn said...

I've heard of a lot of people trying the walmart send out for 120 film and they've said things about it costing $9+, was your $3 for developing and prints or just developing? depends on b&w or color?

Stacie Grissom said...

Hey Taryn! I actually read that it was $9 online, but when I was checking out, it said $2.98... I don't know if that was because there were only 12 prints in there? I am going to try it again soon to see what happens. I thought it was so crazy that both of my 120 rolls added up to $6 total. I also got a roll of 35mm film developed and it was about $10.

Stacie Grissom said...

@Damien: haha glad you liked the first part at least. :) I looked into sending my film directly to Dwaynes, but it required so much work (and it was a lot more expensive) so I decided to try Walmart. I was really scared, though!

And about getting it developed at a local shop, I live in Indiana and I have no idea if we have a local film shop.

Stacie Grissom said...

@FakOll: That is so crazy to me that you've never heard of Walmart-- if you haven't heard of it in Italy, I am sure it isn't there. It is one of those enormous beasts of a store that you could never miss. ;)

Stacie Grissom said...

@Kerry: I do know of a good place to ship your film! Check out this site:

I almost sent my film there, but I decided to try the Walmart thing instead. Good luck! :)

Taryn said...

what an awesome surprise! i think im gonna try it out, i've got a few rolls i need to send in. crossin my fingers it works out for me too!

Twofold said...

You are getting "neighboring frames" because you have the back set incorrectly and not anything to do with tension adjustment. If you are shooting with the square insert you want the arrow pointing to the 12 not the 16. Switch that and you will get perfectly spaced frames if you wind it correctly. Hence another reason to probably avoid sending your film out to Walmart and support a local lab instead. I work at an independent lab in Iowa City and we charge $9.99 for 120 and that includes a full set of 5x5 prints. Worth the extra money in my mind to get important feedback and higher quality prints.

Stacie Grissom said...

Thanks Twofold! I updated the post with your suggestion. :)

Madalynne said...

This is great! Thank you. I recently purchased a Diana +F camera but haven't used it much because my first roll of film turned out not so pretty at all, no lomographic so to say. Do you have any tips for a Diana +F? Or do you know where I could get tips for this camera?

Stacie Grissom said...

@Madalynne: I use a really old Diana camera, so I don't know if my tips would be the same. This post has some pretty cool tips--

But I would recommend getting on the Flickr message boards, joining the groups, asking questions, and looking around in Reddit. :)

Good luck! :)

Ashmo said...

Thanks sooo much for the tips!!! I've had my Holga for 2 years just sitting collecting dust because I had no idea how to use it! This was very helpful!!

KAT said...

I only go to walmart for the film developing! Where I'm at color is about $2 and B&W is about $8-$9. Thanks for this awesome post!

Kelly said...

I intend to buy a Holfa. Thanks for the great tips.

BrettBuen said...

Great walk through there for a photography crash course! I wish you have some online elearning videos as well since you just have the flair for training a dummy to an acceptable amateur in this field.

Sarabell said...

I just discovered your blog through this post on google, looking up stuff for my holga camera. Following! Love your blog!

Nerissa said...

I've been looking for this in a Camera House for so long! I need to know where you got it! Thanks a bunch!!

ali said...

this helps so much! iv been wanting to buy a holga for a while but how do you get the envolopes to send to walmart? i dont have a walmart near me. please reply!

StacieGrissom said...

They just have the envelopes wherever you turn in the film at the photo department. You can always just print off the order form and send it to Dwayne's Photo.

(Their site looks bad but they're actually really good and where the Midwestern Walmarts send their film.)

tea said...

hi, I was just wondering if Walmart still did the $3 thing? because I've heard that they've stopped. thanks!

Graham said...

I've had 3 rolls of film developed at Walmart and none of them cost any more than $3.50 which was awesome! My only issue is that I have to wait about a month to pick up my prints. I don't know if this has anything to do with the staff at the Walmart I visit, but its kind of a drag. I never get a call when my film has arrived back at the store either. I've asked 2 different associates and they both said I would get a call or message about my prints, but it never actually happens. Its kind of a guessing game. I haven't gone back in a while but I think I'll try again after I get through my next roll.

Rebekah said...

I just got the Diana F+ for my birthday, and it uses the 120 Film. I noticed, however, that there are a few size options: "12 large square shots" (using no frame mask), "16 small square shots" (using the 4.2x4.2 small frame mask), or "Endless Panorama" (using the 4.6x4x6 small frame mask). This suggests putting "4x4 prints" in the special instructions. To which of these frames (or lack thereof) does this apply to?

StacieStacieStacie said...

I haven't done it in a year because I moved to NYC, but I'll try to test whenever I go back home to Indiana! :)

StacieStacieStacie said...

I think I did the 12 large square shots-- but I think they can make 4x4 prints out of either!

Albert einstien said...

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Light said...

Anything else you want can be done in the free Gimp program, from your scanned film. Including several one click Lomo treatments, with such as vignetting etc.... Either at CVS, Wall-greens, and optionally just film dev for $ from them and then scan yourself (get a V700 maybe) at home if you're in to it and prefer. After a while it would pay for the scanner; but maybe not your time. Of course, once scanned either way, they're like digital and you may order prints just the same. But you also have the option of getting (or making if you're really into it) print from the film. The is also a good archival way to save the memory. The plastic lens here being the weak point. But actual acuity isn't everything. Get CLOSE to help it. You may find the highlight detail and range (difficult bright with dark scenes) better with film. Once digital you can change the colors. Gimp (with numerous addition free plug-ins) can also changing it to other expensive film colors! Like portra 400 looks (but not clarity). However, you might be shocked at "inverse diffusion" in the GMIC plug-in and when slid to just enough, make it looks like a much better lens. About say 20%. Enough where you would be fine printing a little bigger and that may be all that matters.

Holga_Luv said...

ok, bought a used holga on ebay and it does not wind the film tight/correctly so only getting first 3 or 4 pics, after that the film is ruined. Any ideas how to get it to spool correctly? I do know how to load the film and spools since my new holga works perfectly.

Ximena said...

I was wondering what exact holga do you have?

I am trying to figure out the difference between the 120 GN and 120 SF

Aub said...

my prints were $15, what did I do wrong?

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