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Getting The Most Out Of Holga

December 1, 2010

Over the last few years, lo-fi photography has grown incredibly popular. Retro cameras like the Diana, and the Holga are being pulled from the trash bins and put into regular use. From a technical perspective, these cameras are abysmal.  They leak light, produce blurry, out of focus images, and are anything but consistent. Of course, these imperfections are what draw people to shoot lo-fi. That and lo-fi cameras encourage a rather carefree approach to photography. The Holga, has nothing more than shutter button, a basic focus ring and two switches. Mechanically, there are fewer cameras simpler than the Holga.  And yet, for all its simplicity there is a lot that can go wrong when using one. Light leaks can be endearing, but they can also ruin perfectly good shots. Furthermore, the Holga’s less than stellar construction creates all sorts of problems that can lead to film scratches and spool slippage. For these reasons, I’ve created a quick tutorial to help out new Holga owners.

First things first. If you don’t have one already, you should probably order one. Some places  sell a standard Holga for upwards of of $75. Don’t bother spending your money here. You can purchase the same product minus the useless flash elsewhere. I suggest Holga Mods. A standard Holga 120N can be had for roughly $24, whereas the modded (and much better) version can be purchased for $32.

If you already have a Holga, and haven’t modified it or are unhappy with the results you are currently getting, here are the changes I’d suggest. You may want to shoot a roll of 120 first in order to determine whether you like the shots your camera is producing before you go ahead with a few of these modifications as much of the work done will eliminate any existing light leaks. However, at $5 per roll, plus development costs, its nice to improve the chances of a good result.
First, I’d recommend taping the edges of the walls that surround the shutter box. These walls are quite rough and tend to scratch the film when the spool is turned. I recommend electrical tape.

If you like, you can then seal off all the edges within the shutter box with gaffers tape or electrical tape. In this case, gaffers tape is the ideal choice because electrical tape isn’t quite light tight. If you are forced to use electrical tape, make sure to add more than one layer. This step is especially necessary if you have an older Holga model, as there are two small holes at the top of the shutter box that will leak light.

Next, I would recommend jamming a small piece of thin cardboard between the bottom of the right spool and the camera base. Because of poor design decisions, the spools within a Holga are quite loose, which can result in a loss of film tension. The cardboard insures that the spool is held firmly in place. I find a business card folded in half works best.

You will also want to tape down the bulb switch so it does not move away from “Normal” mode. The switch is located on the backside of the camera. Because of its location, it is quite easy to accidentally shift it. Unless you have a tripod on hand, you really shouldn’t be in bulb mode, so it is best to tape it down and avoid ruining all your shots.

Finally, use some gaffers tape or electrical tape to cover the red viewing window on the back of the camera. This window isn’t supposed to let in light, but it does. In order to avoid fogging your film, tape over it. You can pull back the tape when you are winding your film, just make sure to replace the cover afterward. I also like taping a focusing chart to the back of the camera. This chart corresponds to the images on the focusing ring. Your chart should contain the following information:

Hope that helps! Here are some of my results with this setup. You can see more here.

Taylor Summach is a photographer from Manitoba who also writes for Parade. Check out his website

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