HOLGA TIPS,  plus Photoshop & Faux Holga Techniques
Holga cameras (the basic 120N described here and most of the over two dozen Holga variants, including several 120 film and 35mm film models, panoramic, pinhole, and fisheye Holgas, even a “Meow Kitty” point & shoot style 35mm camera, with blinking lights and cat sounds to get a cat subject’s attention) have severe limitations that can cause glaring faults in a photo (out of focus images, motion blurred images, overlapping and multiple exposed frames, contrasty or "muddy" looking photos and other faults that have led to the Holga's status as a favored "cult camera." But while some or all of these faults are present to some degree in all Holga photos, they can become overpowering at times if careful attention is not given to camera handling and picture taking technique. With proper technique, the Holga can produce some amazingly nice photos that use some of these faults to enhance the image.
The original Holga 120S had but one shutter speed of 1/125th of a second; the 120N has two (1/125th and B for “Bulb” to hold the shutter open for several seconds as needed for low light exposures). The original took only 6x4.50cm (“645”) medium format images. The 120N can be switched to take either 645 or 6x6cm images (but not switched in mid-roll). The current 120N also has foam inserts to hold the film spools a little more firmly; the 120S let the film spools flop around somewhat loosely. And the 120N has a tripod mount. Heady stuff!
The name “Volkswagen” translates roughly to “people’s car,” and like the VW, the Holga is a camera for the people.
Set for sunny conditions.
Set for cloudy conditions. Note also the focusing symbols - at this time the lens is set on the "Group" symbol indicating 20 ft.
N = 1/125th shutter speed.
B = "Bulb" for time exposures.
To see the frame numbers on the roll film, set the red window for (16) 645 exposures or (12) 6x6 exosures by moving the arrow to point to the appropriate number. This camera has the window marked 16 uncovered but note the arrow is pointing to 12, meaning the camera is really set for (12) 6x6 exposures. Brilliant, huh?
Same with the Holga. Nothing is automatic. Only the very basic and very limited and simple functions of picture taking are needed to operate. Focusing is by guess and by golly (you guess at the distance to your subject and turn the lens to one of four pre-set marks to get a sharp image, by golly). Focusing is even so basic that the focus distance for each setting is not listed, rather generic symbols of a single silhouette for portraits (3 1/4 feet); three people for families (6 1/2 ft.); multiple people for groups (20 ft.), and mountains for scenics (33 ft. to infinity) are given for your convenience.
If setting shutter speed and aperture seems bass ackwards, it is! For shutter speed selection, you slide a little tab toward “N” (for 1/125th) or “B” (for long time exposures). Pretty straight forward, heh? But for aperture, you slide another little tab OVER either the full sun or partly sunny symbols for the desired setting. This lets the unused setting show, and logic would dictate that would instead indicate the setting selected. But nooooo....
For example, if the cloudy/partly sunny symbol (for f/8) is showing, you have set the camera to the full sun setting (f/11), and vice-versa. (As if one stop difference is all that is needed for correct exposure when there are two or more stops of light between full sun and cloudy!) And in a further stoke of simplicity motivated genius, the shutter speeds and apertures are not marked. (Maybe there was not enough room to place Chinese language characters indicating the speeds and apertures?)
Important! ALWAYS wind the film first, or else! When you advance the film for each new shot (using a knurled knob that can make your thumb and forefinger feel raw after winding a few frames), remember that the shutter automatically recocks after every use. Since the shutter is always ready to fire, you must be sure the film has been advanced to a fresh frame before taking another picture. Not doing so will result in multiple exposures on the one frame as the shutter can be fired over and over and over at any time.
A good rule of thumb is to ALWAYS WAIT to wind the film UNTIL READY to TAKE another picture. If you do not wind the film the same way each time you use the camera, when you are ready to shoot again, you may forget if you wound the film or not after shooting, risking a double exposure if you have not wound the film, or a wasted frame if you did and you wind again just to be sure. Oh, and by the way, there is no frame counter, rather you look for the next frame number on the film’s paper backing to appear in the little red window on the camera back as you turn the wind knob.
Reloading fresh film is easy, but a problem to watch out for is putting the 120N's back plate back on upside down (it will fit either way). If shooting 6x6 and the film back is replaced upside down, you will be seeing the frame numbers for 645 resulting in overlapped images if you do not realize what has happened, as the film is not wound as much for 645 as it is for the larger 6x6 frames.
Speaking of 645, the Holga 120N can be set to take either 12 6x6 images or 16 645 images, by easily changing an insert that sits behind the lens (of course, this cannot be done in mid-roll). To get the correct film advance for the selected format, be sure you slide the red window tab on the camera back to align with the appropriate mark, else you will be advancing the film for the wrong frame size, again causing overlapping of your images.
But confusion again enters here as one would logically push the tab to let the frame numbers for 12 6x6 images show through the red film window marked “12,” and slide the tab away from the red film window marked “16” for 16 645 images.
Noooooo again! Instead, you slide the tab so its little arrow points to the 12 or 16 mark as appropriate. This means the correct frame numbers for the 16 645 images are showing in the red film window marked with a “12,” while the 12 6x6 image frame numbers will show beside the window marked “16.”
Is that clearer than mud, or what!?
|An example of overlapping frames due to putting the camera's back on upside down
so the proper frame numbers do not show!
|Confusion does not stop with the film window! The viewfinder is not through the lens, nor is this a rangefinder. The viewfinder is simply an “aiming” mechanism that does not show you exactly what the lens sees, as your picture will always have more around the edges than seen in the viewfinder.
This is especially true with the 645 insert, as you are still seeing the same square image as when the 6x6 insert is in place. If shooting the smaller 645 format you have to mentally compose so that your main subject is centered in the viewfinder to get a properly framed image on the narrow 645 frame. One advantage of the 645 format is you can turn the camera sideways to get a horizontal image, or hold the camera up right to get verticals.
The best way to compose a 6x6 image with the Holga is to put your main subject against the edges of the viewfinder window. This will result in an appropriate space between your subject and the edges of the final photo.
Additionally, if you are using one of Holga's 2X telephoto lens adapter, the image on film will be about twice as big as what you see in the viewfinder. Framing tightly in the viewfinder will result in a large portion of your subject missing in the final photo! Similar problems of precise image composition VS what is captured on film may also occur when using a Holga wide angle, close-up or macro adapter. It is advised you shoot a test roll of film to see what viewfinder compositions give the best result on film.
The 120N has a tripod screw, but it is about useless as it will not hold tight, and tightening down too much could (probably will!) break the plastic camera casing.
One needs to photograph carefully, however, especially being sure to set the focus correctly. For subjects you guesstimate to be 10 feet or more away out to the 33 feet infinity focus setting, one trick is to imagine the 10 feet distance from the floor to a basketball goal and mentally multiply this distance one and one half, two or three times to guesstimate the focus distance for subjects you feel to be 15 feet, 20 feet or 30 feet away. For these resulting focus distances you have determined to be mid-way between the marked settings, position the lens part way between the marked settings as appropriate to your guesstimated distance to the subject.
For the closer 3 1/4 and 6 1/2 feet settings, imagine a yard stick or two held between the lens and your subject. Or step off the distance to your subject (usually, a normal step is about three feet). Again, these tips should really clear up any focusing confusion!
Then be sure to hold the camera verrrry steady as you press the shutter button. And remember, at the blazing speed of 1/125th a second, your subject should be moving slowly if at all. Also remember to check the aperture and shutter tabs frequently in case they get bumped to the wrong setting. And wind the film to the next frame only when you are ready to shoot again!
Correct exposure? Fughedaboudit! With no ISO setting to let the meter determine a correct exposure for different speed films in different light conditions (oh yes, there IS no meter!); and with only two aperture choices and one day time shutter speed to choose from anyway, you will rarely get a perfect exposure.
The best procedure is to shoot an ISO 400 negative film and adjust for exposure and corrections in a computer editing program, or in the darkroom. But poor exposure which can lead to muddy (underexposed) or overly contrasty (overexposed) images is part of the old tyme look and charm of a Holga photo.
Above all, use your imagination!
A common problem are the side clips that hold the back in place. As the camera strap attaches to these, with any downward tug on the camera - even gravity - they can pull loose and the back will fall off, exposing your film. Or if bent even slightly, they will not stay in place. A strong rubber band around the camera - even when the camera is new - is a good bet to keep the back in place. The best fix of all is to always keep at least one extra Holga with you. And extra rubber bands. After all, they can break too!
What is not to like!!?
Corner Vignetting: In Photoshop or Elements use the BURN TOOL set to an EXPOSURE of about 25% or less (to give you more control over the amount of darkening) and “burn in” (darken) each corner of the image making the darkening “fade” from light to darker as it gets close to the corners.
With the circular ELLIPTICAL MARQUEE TOOL with FEATHERING set to about 80 px (pixels), draw a circle or oval down over the subject to the opposite bottom right corner (leaving a small curved section of the image in each corner). (If this gives too large a corner area to match a Holga’s corner vignetting effect, first add 2-3 inches of blank canvas space around the image with CANVAS SIZE and start drawing your circle or oval in the blank border to leave smaller corners of the image for darkening.) Then use INVERSE to switch the selection to the background corners, and use LEVELS and move the center slider to the right to progressively darken the corners.
Holga Alternatives: Certain other cameras that have low quality lenses can produce images with some or most of the following traits: a fall off of sharpness, vignetting, light leaks, and poorly exposed images with bad contrast as there may be no built-in exposure meter to set exposure by. And some have limited apertures and shutter speeds, and may have to be zone or “guesstimate” focused. A few examples include the all plastic Diana camera; the cheaply made Russian Lubitel twin lens reflex (TLR) and Seagull TLRs and 6x6 folders; small APS and 110 format cameras’ that can start to exhibit image softness when enlarged much over 5x7 inches; and 2 MP digitals that can start to “pixilate” when enlarged for a “textured” form of image softness.
And Lensbaby offers a series of lenses for most popular SLR digital and film cameras that are designed to shift focus from side to side and up and down by “bending” the lens to create a sharp focus spot that can vary with its placement in the frame and with a fade to very soft edges. Note: If these alternative cameras do not create a holga-like corner vignetting, use the corner vignetting techniques previously described.
Adding “Grain”: A “grainy” look helps enhance the old tyme feel or dramatic look of a photo. “Grain” is the term given to the minute particles of light sensitive emulsion on a strip of film. This emulsion tends to lump into microscopic sized crystals. High ISO films use more emulsion in larger “lumps” to yield a greater sensitivity to low light. When the image is enlarged, these larger emulsion crystals start to become visible, giving the image a look similar to grains of sand on a beach. Low ISO film will have a thin layer of emulsion with much smaller crystal lumps, yielding less “grain” when enlarged. In digital images, electronic interference between pixels creates an effect known as “noise” which looks a lot like film grain. The smaller the pixels and higher the ISO, the more noise is created.
Desautrate or Intensify Color: To simulate a faded or soft pastel look as seen in some vintage photos, create an overly rich look of color, or even change the color to transform a dull image into something whimsical, use the HUE & SATURATION function's SATURATION slider with the EDIT box set to MASTER to reduce or increase the overall color intensity, or the HUE slider to change the overall color. To change only certain colors, use the EDIT box to choose each color (REDS, YELLOWS, GREENS, CYANS, BLUES, MAGENTAS) for changes.
Individual areas in an image can also be selected to receive the above color changes by use of the POLYGONAL LASSO TOOL select all areas to change, then use the HUE & SATURATION function's HUE and/or SATURATION sliders to change or remove the color in these areas while leaving color in the area not selected.
Convert a Color Image to B&W and/or Sepia: Black & white photos have an appeal in their simple use of dark and light tones that can be lost in color. In addition, many older vintage photos were taken on black & white film. Converting color photos to B&W is easy, by using the GRAYSCALE mode. Or, desaturate all color in the HUE & SATURATION function. If using a Holga lens on a digital SLR, some digital cameras can be set to capture in a grayscale (B&W) or Sepia mode.
To add a sepia tone to help effect a nostalgic or “old tyme” vintage look, in Photoshop or Elements first convert a B&W image to RGB color mode (it will still look B&W), or use HUE & SATURATION to desaturate a color image to B&W. Then use the VARIATIONS function to pick a sepia color. To fine tune the sepia, use HUE & SATURATION or LEVELS or CURVES.
Removing the Unwanted: At times it may be hard to compose a photo so unwanted surrounding elements are not seen, such as modern signs or vehicles that can intrude on the “lovely look of long ago” with a nostalgic subject.
Cropping: At times when you are not able to get close enough to your subject for a good composition, you may want to take the best shot possible then crop out a tighter image. Note that doing so, the resulting cropped and enlarged portion of the image brings out the image softness. You will probably loose any corner vignetting, but this can be reapplied in Photoshop (see the Faux Holga section above). To crop, use the RECTANGULAR MARQUEE TOOL to select the area to crop down to, then use CROP to get the final composition.
Texture Effects: Similar to using multiple exposures in a Holga camera to create a texture effect, texture can be easily added to an existing image in an image processing program.
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