When I first started photography as a serious hobby I was shooting a Fujifilm X10 digital camera. I chose it because was an advanced compact and allowed me to play with various settings to help me get the shots I wanted. I upgraded it to a Fujifilm X100S and later a Fujifilm X-T1, all the time thinking about all the control I had over making an image: what shutter speed, what aperture, what filter mode, etc, etc. 

It was at this point I realised that despite having all this control at my fingertips, I was shooting in Auto mode.

Thus, my journey into film photography started with the purchase of an Olympus OM1n, a 35mm film camera with manual settings that would force me into actually start learning about different settings and out of my comfort zone. 

Olympus OM-1n
Olympus OM-1n

Shooting with the OM was great and I certainly did learn a lot more about ISO, aperture and shutter speed and their relationship. It was then that a Holga arrived in my life, a curious and infuriating little glow in the dark plastic box with a plastic lens, fixed shutter speed and two settings for aperture: F/8 or F/11.

For a bit of fun I thought I would do a 52 Rolls project with the Holga, shooting a roll of film every week for one year. I was expecting it to be a fun little Lo-Fi project and to be honest, at the start, I probably didn’t believe I would last more than a few weeks before running back to the OM.

Holga 120 GLO
Holga 120 GLO

What I didn’t expect was that the crappy little plastic box would fundamentally change my photography and teach me more in a year than I could ever have learnt otherwise.

With the OM, whilst I was learning about metering, depth of field and motion I would spend quite a lot of time ensuring my settings were right before pressing the shutter. Having the correct shutter speed and aperture was my thought process. The first time I took the Holga out it quickly dawned on me that I had no control over this and it showed over the first few weeks with over and underexposed shots. 

In the early days with the Holga I would choose a film, load it up and go out. I would meter the scene to see if the film and exposure could cope with the available light. This either meant I took no photos that day or was ‘forced’ to take pictures I wasn’t really interested in. I’m not sure what changed or how it happened, but one day shooting with the Holga I put the meter away and figured, I was competent enough to try this knowing what film I had loaded.

This is where things suddenly became interesting. I spent almost zero time worrying about “settings”. At the most I would flick the Holga to cloudy setting if it was a bit dull. I actually spent much more time just looking at the scene I wanted to photograph. How will it look in a square 6×6 format, what elements did I want to ensure were captured, was it worth pressing the shutter, etc.

In regard to light, I was now looking at where the light was in a frame and if there was enough in that section to convey what I wanted. I was no longer worried about ensuring there was enough light for the whole scene, concerning myself with the interplay between shadow and light and how I wanted to capture it. Slide film and infrared films were added into the mix as my confidence in being able to judge scenes grew.

The OM had taken me back from auto mode to learn about ISO, aperture and shutter speed. The Holga took me a step further and right back to basics. For me now, there where only two important elements in any picture I took through the Holga. Light and composition, nothing else really mattered. The image below was taken using Tri-X 400 film and is one of many taken with the Holga that I have had printed a framed and hung on my walls at home.

Holga 120 GLO + Kodak Tri-X 400
Holga 120 GLO + Kodak Tri-X 400

I now bring these elements back with me when shooting through any other camera. Light and composition first, settings to then add to it where necessary. 

Thus, the Holga fundamentally changed the way I took photographs. Or another way, it stripped me back to foundations which I can now build upon.

~ Sandeep

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About the author

Avatar - Sandeep Sumal

Sandeep Sumal

London and South East England based amateur film photographer. I enjoy wandering with my camera seeing what the world has to offer and how I can capture it. Oh and biscuits, I enjoy biscuits.

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