Holga Struggles

Posted on Oct 30, 2013 in Photography | 19 Comments

In April, I got a very special present for my birthday: A Holga.

This is the only picture in this post that wasn't taken with a Holga. It's an iPhone shot.

This is the only picture in this post that wasn’t taken with a Holga. It’s an iPhone shot.

Holgas are plastic toy cameras that became popular for their evocative lo-fi images, rampant light-leaks, and unpredictability.

I craved one. All that mystery! All that analog glory!

So, why haven’t I posted any Holga pictures here?

Because I am seriously struggling to get any photographs from my Holga.

Mananiko in Tbilisi with a Holga

I’m thwarted at nearly every turn. The guys at the photo lab can’t seem to figure out why most of my rolls come out blank, with only a few severely underexposed frames developing. I’ve loaded the film, they’ve loaded the film; I’ve taped up the sides, I’ve shot with and without the flash, I’ve fiddled and futzed and fumed and I still can’t seem to make the darn thing work.

Except for one roll.

Kumkapi Holga

One glorious roll. Only six of the twelve frames developed, and only three are good enough for me, but those three! I want more; I want to make this camera work so I can make more beautiful, evocative, light-leaky images like these.

Niko via Holga

Wish me luck.

Got any Holga tips? Any ideas why I’m having such a hard time getting images out of this camera? Let me know!

19 Comments

  1. alan aaronson
    October 31, 2013

    I don’t know anything about the Holga but I do know that the picture of the couple walking on the cobblestones is totally stunning.

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      November 1, 2013

      Thank you so much! It was a split-second snap and I was lucky all the elements lined up, AND the photograph developed :-)

      Reply
  2. Migratory Habits
    October 31, 2013

    I got a Holga recently too! I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m almost done shooting my first roll in Malawi so we’ll see how that turns out. I’m afraid I can’t help you out with any tips yet but I’m as determined as you are to bend the camera to my will. Good luck, and I look forward to seeing more of your holgatography :)

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      November 1, 2013

      Welcome to the Holga club! I can’t wait to see how your roll develops… and if you have problems, we can commiserate. Best of luck. Hopefully I’ll figure it out and share some more Holga shots soon!

      Reply
  3. Rhianne
    October 31, 2013

    I would recommend not using it inside to start with until you know its limits and make sure you have enough light outside – and if not enough light then use a higher iso film – what iso have you been using? The holgas a toughy to get the hang of – it seems simple enough – but you have to make all the right choices before you press the shutter – is it bright enough? Am I using the right film? Have I focused the shutter properly? Once you master its limitations though, you’ll find more of the right situations to use it in. There’s some great flickr groups for toy cameras that might be able to help you as well, so check them out too.

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      November 1, 2013

      Thanks for your advice, Rhianne! I’ve been trying a lot of different scenarios to see what works, which is why it’s so frustrating that almost NOTHING has come out. The b+w I’ve been shooting is ISO 400 and the color is 100. Those three pictures that developed are all from different light– the first was shot inside with a flash, the second was shot outside in bright sunlight, and the third was shot outside at night with a flash.
      And I tend to forget about Flickr all the time, even though I’m on it– great suggestion! I will go poke around those groups.

      Reply
  4. Ed Graham
    October 31, 2013

    Hey Katrinka sorry to hear about the Holga. Thankfully it’s such a simple camera that it should be easy to narrow it down. It sounds like your shots are severely underexposed which could be a problem with the camera, the film development place, or you. Here’s what I would try:

    What film do you use? Try Fuji Pro 400H (color) or Kodak TriX 400 (B&W), they’re both fast enough to shoot on overcast days or indoors with flash.

    Holga aperture is either f/8 or f/11 depending on your “cloudy/sunny” switch. Shutter speed is always 1/125 sec. Try these settings with a DSLR in manual mode and with the ISO set to the film speed you use in the Holga. If the shots come out on the DSLR they should come out on the Holga.

    It sounds really basic but it’s also VERY easy to forget to leave the lens cap on while shooting because the viewfinder always shows an image. This doesn’t sound like this is your problem but just double check anyways, I have lost a few photos to this.

    Take the back off the camera without film and shoot a couple pictures. Watch to make sure the shutter is actuating.

    If it’s none of the above issues, you should try a different film development place. 120 size film is rare these days and it may be a problem on their end. Good luck and let us know what happens!

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      November 1, 2013

      Hello Ed!
      I have been shooting either with Ilford XP2 400 or Ektachrome 100 Plus. None of the Ektachrome (cross processed) has developed; only this roll of Ilford developed, other rolls did not.
      The shutter seems to be working and I’ve been shooting in all kinds of light situations, with and without flash. The picture on the cobblestones was taken outside with bright sunlight; the Joy Division frame was taken inside with flash, and the last image was taken at night, outside, with flash.
      My photo guys seem to think I’m using bad film, so I might try to buy a fresh roll and see if that makes a difference.
      Otherwise, I’ll take your advice and try a difference place. Hopefully it won’t come to that!
      And you know, I have definitely lost frames to that darn lens cap. Only a few though– not whole rolls.
      Thanks for all this advice. I’m going to keep trying– hopefully things will work out!

      Reply
      • Ed Graham
        November 1, 2013

        Weird. There’s not much to the Holga… if the shutter works the film should capture the light, plain and simple. Well good luck and I’m curious to know what you eventually find out.

        Reply
        • Katrinka
          November 2, 2013

          Ed! I am so glad you asked me these questions! I just loaded some more Ilford into my Holga, but this roll was in a box… XP2 is color process film– it’s developed in C41! I bet I lost a roll because I didn’t realize that and my lab developed it in B+W chemicals.
          So, I know that’s not why you asked about the film, but regardless– thank you! You might have solved part of the mystery.

          Reply
  5. lizt84
    November 1, 2013

    Sorry you have been having such a struggle! I shoot with mine using Ilford ISO 400 B&W film and have never had any problems. I usually shoot outside in the daytime when it is reasonably bright avoiding areas that are too shady and dark.

    I have posted scans of the contact sheets of the first two rolls of Ilford I shot here on my blog:

    http://liztylerphotography.com/2013/08/03/darkroom-skills/

    I literally just went to the park on a reasonably bright day and fired off two films and as you can see I came back with 24 images so none failed. That was with my camera new from the box, no taping or modifications of any kind. So I am thinking there might be something wrong with your camera because I don’t think it should be so hard! If you have shot a few films and have only got 3 exposed images that is not normal even for Holgas with their ‘unpredictable’ reputation. Maybe see if it can be returned otherwise they are super cheap on eBay, I bought 2 Holga 120GCFN cameras from eBay both cost me only £10, one was used the other new, Otherwise you can Buy it Now from Hong King Sellers for £20 ish and I bought a 135BC from one of these guys (KGHOBBIE)and I can’t fault their service.

    Keep trying because you seem to have a great eye and I love the images you posted!

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      November 2, 2013

      Thanks for your advice, compliments, and for sharing your images!! I just loaded another roll of Ilford to try to use some of the advice from all these comments– hopefully this one will work. Otherwise, I’ll probably try to get another camera, though I hope it doesn’t come to that!

      Reply
  6. holgajen
    November 1, 2013

    Agree very much with Rhianne and Ed. The shots do look very underexposed. Do you have a B-N switch on the bottom? Is it set on N right now? If so, if set it to B (bulb) and try a long exposure to see if that works. Keep the camera as still as possible, shoot in low light or indoors and hold the shutter open for a few seconds. Try a few different shots with different exposure times. This will give you an idea on if the shutter is actually opening enough.

    It’s really hard to say what the problem could be other wise. It sounds like you are doing everything right. Another test I would do is to Shoot some good 400 speed film outside (on N mode) during the day, overcast would be best. See what results you get. There is no reason they should not turn out to some degree. If they do not turn out then the sad part might be that you got a dud Holga and need a new one. :(

    Feel free to email me if you have any more questions!

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      November 2, 2013

      Thank you so much! I’m trying another roll and will be using all this advice… it’s great. I will definitely email you with questions. I appreciate it!

      Reply
  7. Benjamin Witte
    November 4, 2013

    Oh man the shot on the street is FANTASTIC, could not be more perfect. Hopefully you’ve figured out your holga issues, because this stuff is gold.

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      November 4, 2013

      Ahhh thank you Ben!! Keep your fingers crossed, I’m shooting another roll now.

      Reply
  8. Naomi
    November 15, 2013

    Ohhh that shot of the couple in the street is PER-FEC-TION. The film advances as you wind, right? Maybe the trouble is with the shutter?

    Reply
    • Katrinka
      November 15, 2013

      Thanks girl! I’m giving the Holga another go… it doesn’t appear to be the shutter or the film advancing, but who knows…

      Reply

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