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
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 3×5 and 4×6. 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.
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.)
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.
Princeton, NJ and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, looking at Manhattan.
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 $9.99 for 120 and that includes a full set of 5×5 prints. Worth the extra money in my mind to get important feedback and higher quality prints.”
Tip #5: Understand your buttons and settings.
There aren’t very many so this isn’t a difficult tip. When you are taking photos, make sure that you have correctly adjusted the cloudy/sunny switch and that you focus the camera. Occasionally in the in the heat of the photo-taking moment I forget to adjust one of the settings and my photo won’t turn out as well as it could. Also, the B-N switch is important to knot about– it’s on the bottom of your Holga, and it’s an awesome little button. N stands for normal, which is what you will usually want the camera set to. B stands for “bulb” which means that the shutter will be open as long as your finger presses it down. If you have a tripod and a steady hand, you can come up with some really incredible long exposures.
Tip #6: Where to get your film developed.
This is HUGE. And I have an awesome tip for you. I actually got my Holga prints developed through Walmart for about 3$ per roll. THAT’S IT. I could not believe it. Here’s what you need to do:
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.
Next, in the special instructions section, make sure you write “120 Film Processing, 4×4 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.
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.