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Written content and design Š 2012 Design by amr



So you’ve opened the box and now you’re wondering what the heck this contraption is and if you’ve just wasted twenty bucks. It seems so . . . plastic. Well, congratulations! You just got yourself a cheap, plastic camera! Before you decide to chuck it under your bed, take a minute to flip through this catalog to see some of the surprisingly beautiful images holgas are capable of producing. According to the official holga manual (online at www.freestylephoto. biz/pdf/holga-manual.pdf ) The holga was born in China in the early 1980s “as an inexpensive medium format camera.” Unfortunately, it was pushed aside due to the rise of limelight-stealing 35mm film. Only in the last decade, have holgas suddenly increased in popularity. Just think, you are the soon-to-be-proud owner of a historic camera and part of a growing photographic movement. And you were going to throw it under your bed. Shooting with a holga is all about resolution. In the most literal sense, yes, you must consider resolution, or picture quality, when handling anything of photographic nature. But resolution is also about expressing an opinion. Because of the character that is uniquely holga, a holga photograph can convey powerful opinions—think in terms of framing via vignetting, and taking advantage of the plastic lens which makes certain things fall out of focus. The term “resolution” also refers to making something simpler or being separated into the most basic parts. Likewise, holgas allow photographers to return to the essence of photography with minimal controls and simply focus on what makes a photograph amazing.

sam abell

As I have practiced it, photography produces pleasure by simplicity. I see something special and show it to the camera. A picture is produced. The moment is held until someone sees it. Then it is theirs.

Hold your holgas! Before holgaing around and shooting your first roll of


film, you need to understand the basics of holgaism. Holgas are technically classified as plastic or toy cameras, but they still have several switches. Have no fear—you’ll soon know what they all are, and you probably won’t even use all of them anyway. (If you ever forget what something is or where in the holga it is located, please refer to the handy diagram to the right.)


I always thought good photos were like good jokes. If you have to explain it, it just isn’t that good.

There are only two ingredients that make up a photograph—light and time—(and you thought photography was complicated, didn’t you?) so there are only two things to keep in mind: aperture and shutter speed. Aperture deals with light and shutter speed primarily deals with time. Aperture (also called an f-stop) is the opening in the camera that lets light in to expose the film. The larger the opening, the more light that is allowed in. Each aperture size is identified by a specific number written out like this: f/20 or f/13. The tricky thing to remember is that the smaller the number, the bigger the hole. So f/13 is a bigger opening than f/20. Your holga has only two apertures. The little switch above the lens lets you switch between the two settings. For really bright scenes, shoot on the sunny setting (about f/11), and for cloudy days or not-as-bright scenes shoot on the cloudy setting ( about f/8). Shutter speed refers to how long the film is exposed to light. When you take a picture, a little plastic flap, or shutter, inside lifts open for a fraction of a second and then quickly closes. Holgas have a shutter speed of about 1/100th of a second which is fast enough for hand-held shooting. Now that you know some photography lingo and your way around your holga, it’s time to prep it for use, and then get the film rolling! 1. Begin by flocking the interior of your camera, including the two boxy inserts, by painting it with matte black paint. This gets rid of reflective surfaces and prevents light leaks. Once it’s dry, snap in the square insert and load your film (Ilford 120 works well). 2. On the back of your holga is an image counter (the little red win-

Hot shoe



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Film advance

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ut er b



to n


e t t ur er me n p A us t j ad

i ng On the bottom: Tripod socket & shutter speed adjustment


dow) that tells you what picture you’re on. Point the arrow at the 12, and


then wind, wind, wind the film advance until you see the upside-down 1. (Confused? The square insert produces 12 square pictures per roll of film so you set it to 12. The other insert allows for 16 photos per roll.) 3. Even though the metal clips should keep the camera back in place, the backs are infamous for ejecting themselves (sans warning) from

ansel adams

Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communication, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.

the camera body prematurely exposing your film. To prevent this, tape your holga together. Yes, tape it together. Do it. Tape along the crevices where the back snaps in place, over the clips, and put a little piece over the image counter (remove this piece when you advance the film though). Not only will your camera stay together, but by sealing off the cracks, you can ward off serious light leaks that would otherwise thwart a perfect exposure. 4. Now you’re ready to take a photograph! Adjust your shutter speed and aperture, focus the camera by turning the focus ring (pages 11–13 explain how to focus), and you’re all set up! But before you press the shutter button, keep in mind that what the viewfinder sees and what the lens sees are different. Make sure to point the lens at what you want to shoot instead of relying on the viewfinder. (To prove this point, try this little test: while looking through the viewfinder put your finger in front of the lens and then in front of the viewfinder. When do you see your finger? I thought so.) 5. The last step is to decide if you want to A.) look like you know what you’re doing or B.) look like a tourist. For option A, use the tripod socket on the bottom of the camera and mount it to a tripod. For option B, put the strap around your neck. While looking this way no one will take you seriously, allowing you to more discreetly take incredible pictures. Please double check that you removed the lens cap, and you’ll be on a roll! (As long as you’ve advanced the roll of film.)




Two shutter speed settings are found on the bottom of the camera. When shooting on “N” (“N” is for normal, that’s good enough for me), the shutter speed is always about 1/100th of a second. Even if you hold the shutter button down until your finger falls off, the shutter speed will still only be


Take three pictures of the same subject and alter the exposure on each photograph. Use the metered exposure as well as an over- and underexposure. This technique better ensures at least one photograph will turn out well for those shots you can’t afford to reshoot.

1/100th of a second. That is great news if there is no tripod handy and you have to hand-hold. For borderline obsessive exposure pherds (that’s a really cool mash-up of the words “photo” and “nerds”), you can shoot at about 2:00 in the afternoon (that lighting is ideal for holga photography), bracket your shots, and shoot with the help of a hand-held light meter (or the light meter in your digital camera) to get perfect exposures. (A meter tells you what aperture and shutter speed are appropriate for the scene to be photographed.) For everyone else who is not borderline obsessive, just ensure you shoot with adequate lighting and follow basic exposure guidelines (refer to the aperture explanation on page 3). If 1/100th of a second isn’t sufficient, you have three options: mount a flash on the hot shoe, shoot on Bulb (explained on the next page), or get clever. For the last option, mount your holga on a tripod and click the shutter button multiple times without advancing the film. Each click will expose the film a little more. Two clicks, for example, is the equivalent of 1/50th of a second (1/100 x 2 = 2/100 which reduces to 1/50). Make a chart for on-the-go referral.

Jaime. Austin Gillins. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Austin Gillins



Bulb: For when Normal just isn’t good enough. When shooting on “B” (for Bulb) a tripod is a must. Setting your holga to the “B” setting allows the shutter to stay open as long as you hold down the shutter button. Use Bulb for fireworks, motion blur, light streaks (pictured), to make

dorothea lange

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.

running water look soft, and simply to avoid seemingly complex mathematical computations. How many clicks at 1/100th of a second equals a 5 second exposure? Forget it. You’re a photographer, not a mathematician. It’s a lot easier, and a lot less tiring, to just hold the shutter button down for 5 seconds than to click 500 times.

Ferris Wheel. Kent Barney. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Kent Barney



If you want everything in your photograph to be in focus and you want a large depth of field (DOF), set your focus ring to the mountain setting, which will focus for infinity. DOF refers to how much of the plane is in focus. A photograph with a large DOF, such as Nye (to the right), means

robert frank

Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.

that the things close to the camera, far from the camera, and everything in between are in focus. DISCLAIMER: “If you want everything. . .to be in focus.” The term “everything” is to be thought of loosely. Holgas cannot focus closer than a few feet away from the lens, and due to nature of the holga and the unpredictability of a plastic lens, something will inevitably go wrong, throwing something, probably around the edges, out of focus.

Nye. Robert Curl. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Robert Curl



For photographs a little closer to home, set the focus ring to one of the friendly people settings. Even though the seven-people/polygamist-

focus ring icons

family setting shows 7 people, this setting is not to be used exclusively for shooting groups of 7 people. Choose this focus setting to throw things into focus about 18 feet from your camera lens. The family-of-three set-

3 feet

6 feet

18 feet

ting will focus objects about 6 feet away, and the one-person setting will focus from about 3 feet away.

Santa Fe 1. Austin Gillins. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Austin Gillins



Just because the camera came the way it did, doesn’t mean you have to be satisfied with it. Make a resolution to modify your camera! Many holga-ers modify their cameras, not only the outer appearance (take another gander at the cameras on page 6), but also the way the appa-

ansel adams

You don’t take a photograph, you make it.

ratus behaves. Popular modifications include altering the aperture size, focal length, creating custom inserts to go inside the camera, and cutting shapes out of the lens cap. By going inside and repositioning one dinky little piece of plastic you can allow your holga to focus at the minimum distance, which is about 2 feet (maybe closer if you cross your fingers and hold your breath). Keep in mind that the closer you try to focus, the more the edges of your photograph will fall out of focus. Woohoo for identifying a holga paradox!

Molting. Ashley Ruff. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Ashley Ruff



Resolution is about making decisions, so here’s a decision for you to make: being able to focus closer or having less dramatic vignetting—you can only choose one. (Vignetting refers to the dark corners and edges in a photograph, usually in a circular shape. You’ve probably seen this is older

michelle bates

The way these images are—. . . sharp in the center and . . . vignette[d] in the corners—is more how we really see. When you’re looking at the world, you’re not seeing a scene that is sharp all the way to the edges and bright all the way to the edges . . . You’re seeing something sharp in the center and then the rest of it is all kind of blurring out.

photos, botch Photoshop jobs, and almost every photograph in this catalog.) The closer you focus, the more vignetting you get. Keep in mind that not all holgas are created equal. While some will create perfect vignetting, some produce uneven or extremely dramatic vignetting. When it is extremely dramatic, the pictures tend to be circular and it mimics the illusion of looking through though a pinhole, which will either cut your subject out of the photograph or really draw your eyes to it.

Untitled. Kent Barney. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Kent Barney



The effect pictured here was achieved by turning the focus ring mid photograph. To try this technique yourself, set your holga to shoot on Bulb and mount it on a tripod. Turn the focus ring all the way to the right (so it’s set to focus up close). Meter your scene to determine how long to leave

sam abell

Photography alone of the arts, seems perfected to serve the desire humans have for a moment—this very moment—to stay.

the shutter open. Now it’s time to take the picture. Let’s say that the meter told you the ideal shutter speed is 3 seconds. With your finger holding the shutter button down, take the entire 3 seconds to turn the focus ring, in one fluid movement, all the way to the left. Be careful not to cover up the lens as you do this. Here’s another example. If your shutter speed is 5 seconds, take the entire 5 seconds to turn the focus ring. Ten seconds? Take 10 seconds. It’s easy. Get the picture?

Britney. Ashley Ruff. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Ashley Ruff



No Photoshop was used in the making of this photograph. Seriously. If you understand the science of multiple exposures it’s relatively easy to achieve incredible in-camera effects. A multiple exposure is simply overlapping photographs. Even while

robert frank

There is one thing the photograph must contain: the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough. There has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.

haphazardly shooting without any regard to exposure or composition, you can still get some cool multiple exposures, but the coolest effects require a little bit of planning. When you shoot any photograph, the amount of reflected light from your subject determines how the film is exposed. Most basically, everything in a photograph that is white has been completely exposed and everything that is black has not been exposed. If you can keep in mind— or even control—what is black and what is white in a photograph then you can compose another photograph on top of the first one and fill in the black (or unexposed) parts of the photograph. Two Faced: Joe is a double exposure, meaning it is two photographs. To get this effect, set up your holga (on a tripod) in a completely dark room. Light half of the subject’s face and snap a picture, but do not advance the film. Move the light source and light the other half of the subject’s face and snap a picture. This technique is a little bit difficult to master, but is great fun after some practice and trial and error.

Two Faced: Joe. Ashley Ruff. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Ashley Ruff



Okay, yes, this is technically a multiple exposure, but the effect is slightly different than the last one. For this technique you simply do not make

berenice abbott


Photography helps people to see.

a full rotation of the film advance wheel. This allows the edges of your photographs to be overlapping, essentially creating one long photograph. To be precise you can mark the halfway point on the film advance wheel to wind the film the same amount each time. To get a little more variation, such as in Trees, you can take a more freestyle approach and advance the film different amounts for each shot. This photograph was shot using a tripod in order to keep the horizon line consistent throughout the picture. As the film was advanced, the camera moved slightly in order to show a panoramic view. Try this technique for the entire roll of film to get one epic 5’ long photograph. Kudos to you if you can figure out how to print it.

Trees. Ashley Ruff. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Ashley Ruff



A great big thank you to Ashley Ruff, Austin Gillins, Cherisa Chappell, Kent Barney, and Robert Curl for allowing their photographs to be used in this publication. Thanks also to Ashley, Austin, and Kent for allowing their customized holgas to be featured.


For more information on holgas and holga photography please visit holga/

Now, fellow photographers, pherds, holga-ers (whoever the holga you are) go out and get your holga on!

Untitled. Cherisa Chappell. 2011 Photograph courtesy of Cherisa Chappell

Holga: Resolution  

A catalog about holga photography--the history, basic set up, and how to achieve specific techniques.

Holga: Resolution  

A catalog about holga photography--the history, basic set up, and how to achieve specific techniques.