I have three main guidelines I try to live by when my Holga is by my side:
- Don’t be afraid to break all the rules
- No expectations, leads to amazing creations
- Be bold, be brazen, and let go
I will admit that I am not an expert when it comes to the Holga and its mysterious ways. However, I have had some extraordinary good luck in the last 2 years and have bonded with each and every Holga I have. You will hear repeatedly that every Holga is very different — that statement could not be more accurate!
While this can lead to many moments of wanting to pull your hair out, or you may find yourself wanting to throw the camera on down a flight of stairs (which you can do and possibly get some great images), I want to urge you to keep shooting!
I have come to learn a few tried and true “rules” that I remind myself of every time I head out with Holga in hand. So while I will tell you not to be afraid to break the rules, which I mean whole-heartedly, I wanted to share some things I have learned along the way that have proven to give great results time and time again.
Film choice – stick with higher ISOs, 400 and up!! The Holga is not a fan of low light unless you decide to shoot with black and white film and then that’s a different story. But for color film what I have found is that 400 is a wonderful ISO for all times of day. I have found that film with higher contrast such as Kodak VC will give me a large range of saturated color that is a lot of fun to work with in Light Room. It’s imperative to make sure that if you are going to use a finer grain film such as 160 or lower; that you make sure you are shooting on a bright sunny day with minimal cloud cover. The Holga’s lens is notorious for blocking out light. Since the lens is plastic, light doesn’t penetrate as crisply as it does with glass, which is not a bad thing provided that you have a higher speed film for uncontrolled light situations.
You will, however, get light leaking in from all sorts of other places if you don’t mummify your Holga. Light leaks, in many cases are very coveted and a unique trademark of the Holga. In those cases you are creating, to quote the great Bob Ross, “happy little accidents.”
Keeping track of exposures – Now it’s time to go way back… remember those early days when you were shooting your first few rolls of film and that little notebook you use to carry with you? That little notebook was the Holy Grail in may cases, it had all the important info, a frame-by-frame replay of your most amazing photographs right? Ok, well now go find that little spiral notebook (I know you all have that first one somewhere) and get to work shooting and recording.
I believe the best advice I got was to shoot my first (full) roll of film using only one of the three Holga “focal” lengths, and repeat with a new roll of film and the next focal length. Now if I had been smart I would have followed this advice, but it’s not in my nature to, er, follow rules.
So instead of shooting one roll of film per focal length (because frankly that can be an expensive way to experiment), get out that notebook and record what you do with every frame of that first roll of film. This will get you acquainted with your Holga’s special quirks much, much faster. Make sure to include whether or not your Holga was taped up, where it was taped up and how much you taped it up. You will thank me later.
Last but not least… make sure you PLAY!
Play with multiple exposures, play with not advancing the film all the way, play with old or warped film, play with long exposures and flash, turn your Holga upside down and sideways, throw it down that flight of stairs, do a camera toss, just play, play, play.
The Holga gives back the more you put into it. My boyfriend often laughs at me because he says that with all the thousands of dollars worth of equipment I have, more often than not, he sees me showing preference for my Holga before anything else.
For me there is something freeing in knowing that shooting with the Holga is about embracing mistakes instead of worrying that you might be making them. The words “wrong” or “mistake” just don’t seem to exist in the Holga vocabulary, and I find that revolutionary!
So, go be bold! Be willing to explore what art means to you. With a tool like the Holga who’s purpose it is to have little to no boundaries…what will you see, what will you create?
The Photographs (Courtesy of Sarah Hodzic)
Written by: Pictage Member and Washington, DC based photographer Sarah Hodzic of Blink Photography