As spring approaches it’s hard not to let your mind wander off to days soon to come. Evenings spent watching the sun set, the warmth of the day starts to bleed into the night and the darkness gives space to quiet, warm nights alive with possibility. There are those perfect days, not too hot, not too cold, leaving you to want nothing more than to lay out in the shade with a book. Time slows down and emotions lift along with the flowers in bloom and young leaves stretching out into the sky. It’s coming and I for one am ready for it. Funny though, this image was from last fall but I thought it held that same sort of casual warmth that a great spring day can provide. I love seasons of transition, always inspiring and here’s hoping this will be a great one.
You know whats amazing about the exposed rolls of film in the above photograph? There are no other objects on earth with their potential. They were exposed to selective amounts of light a few months ago while traveling across the US. These are memories engraved in this one singular, tangible place in front of me. The light that existed within the times and places where the film had been exposed was captured and recorded in this amazing one of a kind way. I find that light shapes a large part of the reality we experience in being alive. It gives everything life, and it can turn ordinary moments into times of absolute magic. One of the unfortunate facts about this life giving light is that it occurs only for a finite amount of time, no two moments are truly exactly alike.
Therefore each photograph I manage to capture on film I feel is unique and in a way preserves a basic essence of life. They hold a short story from my viewpoint in the space of a frame on film. It feels like a gift to have this ability and the reason I love capturing photographs with film is because of this. Because of the direct physical connection to what I am shooting. I see the process as a romantic one, not unlike writing a love letter by hand.
I find I don’t feel quite the same connection when shooting with digital cameras. While the light is still captured it feels as though it has simply been copied, just interpreting the moment into ones and zeros which somehow feels less meaningful. I feel the process of using film is a more fulfilling experience, almost timeless in a way. The precious few images I have to expose within each roll feel like they all hold a unique opportunity to share something wonderful and this feeling adds a lot of thought and care to my shooting habits which in turn improved my digital shooting as well.
For me the photos waiting to be seen on these undeveloped rolls of film are not simply more images to share on the internet or on a gallery wall, they are proof that these moments existed within my life. A life I try to live to its fullest in order to seek out the best pieces of it and record them in this way. No digital manipulation to dramatize it, just simply the light etched onto on these precious few negatives.
This all may sound overly dramatic but its true. Today with an abundance of digital cameras giving us this bizarre ability to copy every single random nuance of light we come across, seemingly without question, I think you are able feel so much more connected to the subject and the moment at hand when using film. That little rush you get seconds before you know you are going to press down the shutter release is like magic. The small amount of anxiousness involved also subtly pushes you into refining your shooting habits.
Then (unless your shooting with Polaroid film) there is the idea that you must wait to see your image. The patience involved gives you distance from the moment you were so devoted to capturing. That bit of longing and wonder, did I get the exposure right? Did the framing work? Did I truly express what I was feeling at that moment? That anticipation can be refreshing if you let it. Not everything in your life has to be rushed and instant. I find that having that time to detach myself from what I shoot gives me an opportunity to see the images with a fresh perspective. There is nothing quite like that first time looking over the negatives or prints there in my hands. Good or bad results it’s satisfying either way.
This is not to say digital photography has any less merit than film photography, not at all. As you may have noticed around here or on my flickr stream, I do love both ways of creating images but I just had to share my feelings on using film cameras to encourage others that may not have used one to give them a try.
In the future, as with my previous post on the Holga, I will be exploring a number of great film cameras and share my experiences with them to help out others if perhaps they are interested in learning more about certain cameras or maybe need a suggestion to find one that best fits your needs and desires. Also, to all you digital shooters out there, don’t fret, this is not going to be my only focus around here. Photography is not all chemicals and film and its not all ones and zeros. There are a lot of wonderful things to explore and I am exited to share here with everyone to the best of my ability.
(an additional viewpoint of the photo above is also included in the wallpapers zip and in download number 2 below)
First off, I never thought I would find much of any desire to shoot with a plastic camera. A few years ago I brushed the Lomography movement off as a trend and criticized it as dumbing down photography. I have no problems admitting that I was being short sighted in this way of thinking. In this day of iPhone applications pretending to look as though they were taken with various film cameras it’s clear what kind of influence this style of photography has been left on the world of casual photography. In the same way the DSLR left traditional SLR cameras to question their purpose in life, gimmicky iPhone applications have left countless Holgas and LC-A’s wondering what to do with themselves.
While it’s easy to think that the digital revolution in photography has left film cameras obsolete I feel as though, in many ways, quite the opposite effect is happening. A mass of new photographers have entered the field because of these digital tools yet as time goes on I see more and more of these new photographers wanting to experience the joys of shooting with film. It only makes sense really because as much as we try to emulate the grain, saturation, and detail of a great film exposure nothing quite comes close to the real thing. While digital photography certainly has its place in the world, film photography still has a growing amount of affection lavished upon it and I for one am excited to see this happening. Not only has this left more people trying cameras like the Holga, but has also pushed the popularity of vintage SLR’s and rangefinders up as demand has been growing for these amazing old cameras. It’s not just fun it’s rewarding. I will leave that discussion for another day.
In light of this I realized why not embrace the fun being had among photographers shooting with “toy” cameras? You know the type, plastic bodies, plastic lenses, cleap construction occasionally leaving you with now iconic look of light leaks across your film. It’s a strange thing putting a roll of film into such a cheap shell of a camera but the results can be surprisingly rewarding. So hopefully without rambling too much I thought it would be good to talk about the way the Holga functions and my expereinces in shooting with the camera so far, for those of you who have not had the opportunity to shoot with one. While some of this may be obvious or already known to many of my readers I feel I should cover everything from the lens to developing the film.
While some of these toy cameras are built to higher standards than those like the Holga and sometimes include features like basic automatic exposure control, the Holga is about as basic as you can get. There is a simple spring loaded mechanical shutter release only capable of one speed of shooting which is believed to be around 1/100th of a second but this time varies slightly from camera to camera. It is simply a bent piece of metal wire that flips the shutter after all. The aperture size is a debated subject and while most believe the two settings, sunny or cloudy, to be f/11 and f/8 there are some users that have dicected the camera and meticulously measured and tested the few simple mechanics of it to find that there is only one aperture in use believed to be somewhere around f/13. Whatever you believe its only a stop or two of a differnce here and unless your shooting slide film, this should not present too much of a hindrance to your shooting.
The simple fact of the matter is that you need to experement with your Holga to get a feel for it. As simple of a camera as it is you still need to be aware of the conditions you are shooting in. Due to the basic options available on the camera the conditions you can shoot in and get well exposed negatives depends entirely on what the ISO of the film you load into the camera is. Shooting around 100 you will be set for bright sunny days, 400 and you can get away with shooting just out of direct sunlight, 800 and up and you can slip into the shadows more and more. Getting good results involves a good amount of experimenting and taking chances. In my experiences so far with the Holga your best bet is to use it as a sunny day camera. to get the iconic sauration, contrast and vignetting, you are better off shooting with a sower color film or even 400 in many cases will work and take the camera out with you on sunny afternoons and have fun with it.
So then there is the focusing, the trickiest part of shooting with the Holga. This is not a rangefinder, you have no visual cue to see if your shot will be in focus. All you can do is set the lens at the correct distance from your subject and hope for the best. If you are a good judge of distance then by all means, use the focus but if you are like me and don’t have a great sense of how far something is away from you then leave the focus set at infinity. You will end up with most of your images with a nice sharp center. When deciding on your composition there really is no question here. Always put your subject un the middle. Should you put it in the corner or to the side you will have a strange looking, distorted subject. The basic nature of the lens leaves only the center in true focus. An alternative to always at shooting infinity focus you could measure the length of your arm, leg, and average walking stride then use this knowledge to best guess your distance from the subject. Also something to take note of is not all lenses on Holgas are created equal. While most of them that you see being used are made with a plastic lens, there is the option of getting a glass lens version of the camera which can yield sharper images. You can tell which ones have the glass lens in the name of the Holga. The one pictured above of the one I am using is a glass version and is indicated by the letter ‘G’.
One more thing I wanted to mention here while on the subject of shooting with a Holga, film choice. This is laregely going to depend on your personal taste and desire in shooting with film. Not all color films are created equal. A couple of basic ideas for anyone trying a Holga out for the first time. If you would like a nice negative film that still holds a nice amount of saturation try Kodak Ektar. This will allow you to have the forgiving nature of negative film on your side as well. If you are looking for a more natural look to your photos try fuji Pro160S or 400H. These films are a couple of my personal favorites because of their neutral preservation of color. If you want to shoot with slide film to get saturated colors and rich, dark blacks try Fuji Provia but keep in mind that slide film is not so forgiving and you should have a pretty solid idea of how your Holga handles certain light so you can be sure to get as close to an accurate exposure as you can manage. Even with a lot of films leaving the market there are still a lot of wonderful variations to experement with to find just the right look for you. Another Holga shooters favorite is cross processing slide film in negative film chemicals. Not all labs do this, however, so ask ahead if your goal is to try X-Pro on for size.
On developing film. The Holga uses a medium format 120 film which can be tricky for those of you not living in larger cities where you are more likely to find a local photo lab to develop it but its not impossible, it will just cost you more to use because you will be mailing off your undeveloped negatives. There are a lot of shops that deveop film sent through the mail and a quick google search will give you plenty of options. It’s unfortunate that the initial decline in film usage killed off many labs that once developed 120 but seeing as a Holga is only around $30USD it still may be worth your time to have a little fun with film and shoot through a couple rolls with it when you have the time and a few dollars to spare. Alternativly, there is a 35mm flim adaptor available for Holgas that let you shoot 35mm film through the camera which can still be developed almost everywhere.
That is about all there is to know about the basics of shooting with the Holga. It’s easy to think that there is no skill at all involved in using a toy camera but the fact is that you need to be aware that not anything you shoot with the camera will automatically turn into something amazing. As with any camera it has strengths and weaknesses and by catering to it’s strengths as a camera I think anyone can have fun shooting with one of these. For further digging I suggest you have a look through www.squarefrog.co.uk which offers a lot more thoughts and details on shooting with these fun, unpredictable cameras.
So if you were ever interested in shooting with a Holga I encourage anyone with even a slight interest and access to a lab that develops 120 film to jump in and give it a try. I for one have had a lot of fun exploring them after so many years of dismissing them as a novelty and I very much look forward to continuing to explore what I can do with this camera. This will not be the only post of this nature here on 50ft. You can expect a number of closer looks into the film cameras I use in the future.
ALSO! I plan on giving away a Holga sometime in the nearish future so keep an eye out here on Fiftyfootshadows.net for the chance to get one of these great simple cameras free. I just need to get the details together and decide how I will go about it
As a bonus to the write up here I have included a number of shots from my first two rolls with the Holga to give you an idea of the kind of results I have been getting with the camera so far. Also! The image above of the Holga I have made available as a desktop and you can find the link at the bottom of the post. Simply follow the Read more link to find them.
I have had requests for these a number of times since sharing the video containing every image taken on my fall road trip and I decided today would be the day to share them. At the end of a day spent exploring Memphis, TN we ended up down by the Mississippi river for the sun set and oh what a great sunset it was. Our time was spend laying out on big rocks and throwing them carelessly into the water as the sun dipped below the horizon. One of those moments in life you imagine will come to mind in your older age, looking back on the warmer times. These photos were taken quickly while walking down to the shore and ended up with that classic sort of fiftyfootshadows feel to them. I knew I had some lovely shots when I noticed the tiny flowers there in the grass, lit up orange just for me. Another world hiding under my feet. Something that does not present itself every day of my life thats for sure. Looking back through these images though I am always reminded how great it is to be able to capture these moments in this way. Each click a time capsule. Love it.
Many of you may or may not have already heard the name James Blake. An up and coming young artist making beautiful and unique music that was included in the last 50ft radio mix. I saw this recently and quickly fell in love with both the song and the beautiful video and could not resist sharing it here with everyone. I may have the opportunity to film and edit together a music video this year and so lately I have been on the look out for inspiration. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Simply posting this for the sake of personal nostalgia. I was digging through old Aperture libraries and I came across this photo, the first image taken with the 5D I still shoot with today. The camera I had used previous to this was the Canon 20D. It was August 30th of 2006 when I shot this. It’s hard to believe I have been shooting with the same digital camera for so long, especially in a tech world constantly on the move. I have often thought about an upgrade but have not had enough of a reason to go through with it yet. Goes to show you don’t always have to keep up with the bleeding edge of whats new. I feel as though the only reason I would upgrade to a newer DSLR would be to have the video capabilities. It’s something I have long enjoyed playing with and hope to explore more in the future.
At any rate, the 5D has treated me all too well over the years and I know it like the back of my hand. The body is scratched, it has a chunk of metal broken off next to the battery compartment, and the bottom back edge of the camera is taped down because of a couple of missing screws yet it still makes photographs just as beautifully as the day I bought it. The only thing I have needed is a bit of a dusting of the sensor, a trick I don’t suggest you try at home as I made mine much worse once after an attempt. It’s a skill I would like to learn though.
When it comes to the 5D there has always been this wonderful warmth to the images that I have not been able to achieve when trying other DSLR bodies. I have fiddled with Nikons of all varieties but they always felt kind of cold and strangely sharp and mechanical feeling. Even my experiences with the 5D Mark II have not felt the same. Bigger, bolder images but lacking the mysterious something that I have loved for so many years with my 5D. In my humble opinion Canon just seems to have made a modern classic in the 5D and I will most likely continue to shoot with it even with a future upgrade.
I actually look at my Hasselblad as being my upgrade as the negatives can be scanned at wonderfully high resolutions when needed and the beauty of film still to this day trumps the limitations of digital shooting. You just can’t beat the way film handles subtle gradation between light and dark and you never have any issues with color banding, ugh, thats the worst! Of course proper exposure when shooting reduces these things greatly but still. Hmm, all this aside I simply wanted to write a little something about my trusty 5D.
For those curious about lenses, I started off with a Canon 35mm f/1.4L and I absolutely loved it it was an absolutely flawless copy of the lens that I felt could do anything. At one point I felt that I wanted to change things up and so I sold the 35mm to my brother at a insane price of $800 and bought a Canon 50mm f/1.2L as well as a Canon 24mm f/1.4L in an attempt to give myself a wider range of possibility when shooting. While I really loved those lenses I eventually realized how much I missed the simplicity of shooting with one lens and in that time I narrowed it down to just the 50mm and then, more recently, back to a 35mm. My brother still uses my old copy which I still prefer over my new one which does have a few issues with Chromatic Abrasion but I still love the simple pleasure of shooting with one lens. I think eventually I will end up with a couple more lenses for the sake of expanding my capabilities professionally but even within having more I will always reach for the 35 first.
The 5D and the 35mm is a combination I know backward and forward and it’s that kind of close relationship with my gear that lets me focus more on taking photos rather than worrying about which lens to pull out of my bag. It’s something I suggest any photographer wanting to work on his or her abilities practice. Simplify. It’s a beautiful thing.