Monthly Archives: September 2008

Thrift Store Panoramic Pinhole

I’ve gotten lots of inquiries about my pinhole camera, so here’s the story. I really wanted to make one and first checked out the Corbis website for their DIY pinhole instructions. While beautiful looking, I soon discovered that the published dimensions are not big enough. Apparently you have to enlarge the diagrams in Photoshop in order to get them large enough to hold a canister of 35mm film. A pinhole cam was already going to be a lot of work so I quickly abandoned that idea.

Next I decided to do a random search of pinhole cams on Google and was amazed at what I found. People will make pinholes out of anything! How cool! I saw cams made from Legos, matchboxes, shoeboxes, round metal tins and even one made from a 110 film canister. The coolest (and most do-able) was a gallon paint can pinhole, sold on Freestyle (there’s also a quart-sized version). I figured I could make it myself for about $5. Then I thought about film and developing sheet negatives and decided I didn’t want to invest in the developing equipment when I might not be using this camera more than a few times.

I really wanted to make a pinhole but was intimidated by a) making a container light-proof with yards of black electrical tape and b) figuring out how to advance the film easily. Enter the thrift store pinhole cam. In short, you take a junker camera with fixed focus, preferably no flash, remove the lens and pop a pinhole in it’s place. Genius! You don’t have to light-proof anything! I soon found out it was much harder than I anticipated. Rather than re-invent the wheel go to silverbased.org for fantastic directions that even I could follow. In theory, you have a camera in which your lens cover is the shutter and the fim advance still works by clicking the shutter button (which has been rendered obsolete except for triggering the film advance) and advancing the film. Their link is very detailed and has pictures for each step of the operation (and it is an operation in every sense of the word). There’s even a great section on how to fashion the proper pinhole and how to figure out it’s diameter, a crucial element in ensuring proper exposure.

Here are a few handy tips to keep in mind when fashioning your thrift store cam. When you go to purchase your camera be sure to get one with a lens cover that can function as your shutter. While not crucial it makes life a lot easier and you won’t have to worry as much about light leaking in. In my case, I couldn’t get the lens cover back in working order once I went to reassemble everything so I use a piece of black velcro for my shutter and it works really well with no noticeable light leakage. Also when choosing your camera make sure the lens isn’t sunk way into the body. If you can get a camera with a lens that’s almost flush with the body you won’t have to worry about the sides of your camera sneaking into the picture. Since pinholes tend to be wide-angle lenses, this is something important to consider. As silverbased.org suggests, make sure it’s the variety of camera that is made in China as these types are all put together very similarly. It’ll make following their directions a lot easier. One more thing when purchasing the camera, take a good look inside and make sure it’s one you can easily dismantle: Check that the screws in back of the inside of the camera are easily accessible and also check that you can remove the film rewind knob with a simple twist of the screwdriver. I purchased two cams the day I went and one of them did not have a screw to hold in the film rewinder–it was fused into place–so I ended up with a camera I couldn’t vandalize. It was also virtually impossible to remove the back of that same camera once I got inside the film compartment as there were screws on only one side of the back.

Now that you have your pinhole cam make sure you have a few other tools, namely a screwdriver kit that contains an array of small-diameters such as 1.4mm, 2mm, 2.4mm, etc. (sometimes known as jeweler’s screwdrivers), soda can, metal cutters (for the thin metal wall of the soda can), gloves if you’re clumsy like I am so you don’t slice your hands while working with the metal, sewing needle, exacto knife, fine-grained sandpaper and a good bonding agent, such as model glue or a hot glue gun. It doesn’t hurt to have the black electrical tape handy, either. These are your tools.

While dismantling your camera, unless you’re super-mechanically inclined, it might not be a bad idea to take shots with a digital camera so that you can recall exactly where everything goes once you need to reassemble. When I removed the back of my camera some parts fell out and I had no idea where they went upon reassembly. I also ended up with about 3 ‘extra parts’. I even had my very mechanical husband take a look and he couldn’t figure out where those parts went, either. This is how I ended up with a velcro shutter.

Now, why and how did I make a panoramic pinhole you may ask? Simple. I bought a panoramic thrift store cam to gut because it fit all the above criteria. Imagine my shock when I developed the film and it was panoramic! I posted this question on the toycamera.com forum and found that there is probably some kind of mask internally that causes the pinhole effect. It was a plesant little surprise. Another question I get is how do you get your pinhole pictures so sharply focused? First you have to make a precise and clean pinhole. Follow silverbased.org’s instructions closely when fashioning your pinhole. When it is a very clean hole (no ragged edges, no dust, uniformly round) the light doesn’t have a chance to bend around the extraneous particles, therefore you get a very clean image. Another tip? Get really close to your subjects. Your pinhole could be your new macro camera! By far the best shots I’ve gotten with my pinhole were the ones in which I was a few inches from my subject.

I’ve only shot one roll of film through it so far but I’m having a great time with my thrift store pinhole. Next I think I’ll tackle a completely homemade model. If you have any questions, comments or tips, drop me a line!


Macro Holga Instructions

Since posting my original macro Holga blog I’ve had a couple of people ask me just how I did it. I’ll relate my process as best as I can remember.

The first thing you need to do is figure out the focal length of your Holga.  Your focal length (distance from the lens to the film when focus is at infinity) equals the image distance for a far away subject. The Holga’s focal length at infinity is 60mm and sources vary as to the actual f-stop but most agree it’s either f/8 or f/11.

A diopter is basically a magnifying glass that you can attach to the end of your lens. They come in various strengths ( +1, +2, +5, +10…) and can be stacked together to achieve super-close-up capabilities. The diopter strength is basically the inverse of your focal length.

To use the diopter on your Holga first secure it to your lens. You can either use tape like I did in this picture. My +10 diopter is a 49mm and it is exactly the same size as my Holga lens so if you got a 48 1/2 mm size, it would probably work. You can also use the Cokin filter system.

When using diopters set your Holga to infinity (the mountain symbol). Because you can’t preview your images in a Holga you have to guess how close you can get to your subject. There’s a really scientific close-up lens calcualtor from Schneider optics that is available to save as an Excel file. The Schneider chart can be a little overwhelming to use when you first start out but fortunately there’s a more basic chart (re-posted below) available from the flickr Macro Holga group. Check them out for some superb examples of macro Holga shots and pick their brains for great advice:

+1 diopter = 1 meter (3′ 3″)

+2 diopter = 0.5 meter (19.5″)

+3 diopter = 0.333 meter (13″)

+4 diopter = 0.25 meter (9 7/8″)

+5 diopter = 0.20 meter (7 7/8″)

+10 diopter = 0.10 meter (3 15/16″)

This gives you a good place to start but in order to get really precise and truly focused images you need to do a little experimentation. With the +10 diopter attached to my Holga, set at infinity, I set up some toy blocks at staggered distances of 3″, 6″, 9″, 12″ and 18″. I carefully measured the distance from the lens to the block and checked my results using my Holgaroid back.

As you can see from this picture, the block all the way to the left at the bottom of the picture is the most in focus. If I recall that block was indeed almost 4 inches from my camera lens. Now, how was I to replicate this in the real world? There are a couple methods. One, take a string and cut it to the size of  your focal length so that when stretched from lens to subject one end will be at your camera lens and the other end at your subject.  Two, you can use your body, which is what I do. It’s not as accurate as the string but it’s a little more convienient. The distance between my wristwatch and the tip of my thumb was about the correct length and I’ve achieved some pretty nice results using my “rule of thumb” (pun intended).

So that’s it. I’ve used the same process when experimenting with macro Lubitel shots but because I don’t have the instant feedback of the Holgaroid my process takes much longer and is a little less exact. You can figure out your focal length without the Polaroid back on your Holga but I recommend that for each frame of film you document exactly what you did so that all your hardwork makes sense when it comes back from the photolab.  I hope this helps some of you aspiring macro photographers!


Holga 120

This is the very first toy camera I bought. As I’ve mentioned before my lo-fi love affair started as a revolt against the big, fat DSLR I couldn’t afford. Long story short: It was either $660+ for a camera body and generic lens for a crazy Canon Rebel or $24 for Holga, a medium format camera made completely out of plastic. My husband didn’t even see a choice here. He was all for the Holga.

Made in China to satisfy the exploding growth in home photography in early 1980’s Japan and Hong Kong, it’s name means “very bright” and it became very popular in Asia. As word of it’s bare-bones mechanics and inexpensive nature travelled around the globe, teachers and students of photography picked the camera up and began using it as an extremely effective tool to master the basics of photography. It wasn’t long before the Holga became a cult favorite, finding it’s way into the hands of artists who fell in love with it’s unpredictable results. Each Holga is unique and acts accordingly so it’s really no surprise that people tend to humanize the camera and speak of it as though it is an old friend. Some days you may go out and get beautiful results, great focusing and crisp colors. Other times you get crazy light leaks, fuzzy subject matter and a muted palate. This is a phenomenon related to the loose construction of the Holga. An example: There are two metal clips that are supposed to secure the back to the body but unless you want it to fly off and expose your film, you’re better off securing it with two rubber bands or some velcro.

The Holga is endlessly modifiable and can be dismantled in a matter of minutes with a jeweller’s screwdriver and a little muscle. The modifications , or mods as they’re called, that some extremely creative folks have done to their cameras are amazing! Google it, you’ll be blown away. So far the only mod I’ve attempted is to make the focal length a little shorter but that didn’t work so well for me (check out my Macro Holga blog from yesterday).

The specs are pretty simple. It has manual zone focus with three settings represented in pictures on the ‘focus ring’ by mountains, a group of people and a single person. Because the image isn’t reflected into the viewfinder like most modern cameras, you can’t tell if the shot is in focus. It’s up to you to estimate how far you should be from the subject to get the best shot. From experience I can tell you that you really can’t get much closer than 3 feet to something before it starts getting really fuzzy. It’s 60mm plastic meniscus lens offers a unique view of the world and yields all kinds of odd effects such as vignetting, light leaks, blur and a generally distorted view of the world. There are two light settings, cloudy and sunny but there’s really no difference between the two settings so forget this switch even exists. You can control the shutter speeed: It’s either 1/125 or bulb setting, no in-between. It’s a really good idea to get a cable shutter release for the camera as the shutter is controlled by a lever you depress to the right side of the lens. This can lead to lots of extra movement that could wreck your picture. A hotshoe can be found atop the Holga so you could theoretically use an external flash although one model, the Holga 120SF, comes with a flash built-in (there are other models that come with a flash but they are of the glass-lens variety). Without the flash the Holga is really only good for taking picutres in bright light, however with a light meter, tripod and a little ingenuity you should be able to adapt to any light situation.

A wide array of accessories are available for the Holga including a strobe flash, filter set, Polaroid back and fish eye lens. The Holga takes 120 film and comes with a mask that lets you get 16 pictures per roll instead of the standard 12. You can also rig your Holga to take 35mm film (I did this by using some cardboard to take up the extra room on either side of the film cartridge).

The Holga was invented for the average person to use and was built inexpensively and simply. The fact that it is so simple makes it an expert teaching tool and starter camera for those wanting to enter the world of medium format photography. For $24 you really can’t go wrong!


Macro Holga

This is one of the first modifications I ever did on my trusty Holga. I LOVE macro photography but don’t have the money for a killer lens. Thank GOD for toy cameras! By getting lots of little parts together I fashioned myself a crappy little macro outfit but it didn’t come without a lot of trial and error.

The first thing I tried was actually modifying the Holga by removing the lens and shaving down a plastic bit that acts to stop the lens from becoming unscrewed. I went to squarefrog’s website for instructions http://www.squarefrog.co.uk/holga-hacks-close.html. It didn’t work so well in my case. I just couldn’t get the focus right no matter how hard I tried.

Next I decided to add to the camera using diopters to increase the magnification of my plastic lens. I wanted to get pretty close to my subjects and I also wanted to be able to use the set-up on multiple cameras so I purchased the Cokin Filter system which comes with ring adapters in multiple sizes for a range of cameras, digital and film. I highly recommend it as it’s a) plastic b)offers a dizzying array of filters for all kinds of situations and c) inexpensive. I ordered a +3 diopter and attached it to my Holga and attempted to figure the focus point out by taping a piece of vellum paper to the back of the open camera (subsequent efforts have proven that scotch tape across the back of the camera works even better) and at the closest focus range (the single person) and bulb setting, I moved the camera close to and farther away from my subject. While this method would’ve worked eventually, it was an excruciatingly long process as it would take a couple of weeks to get the film back and by then I’d kind of lost track of what I’d done. Enter the Polaroid back or Holgaroid as it’s sometimes called. In about 30 minutes the instant results allowed me to correctly determine how close I could get to my subjects. I’ve subsequently ordered a +10 diopter that I got for $6.00 from eBay that I like even more than the Cokin (just because I can get closer).

I love the mysterious effect you can get by using the Holgaroid. Here are some of my results. Until next time…


Why I don’t use flash

I was never much for flash even before I started playing with toy cameras.

I think there is a time and place for flash and supplemental lighting, really I do. I have seen some marvelous pictures done with some crazy lighting set- ups. Just this month in Popular Photography there is an article about how to take pictures of very dark/black objects. Their phenomenal picture was of a black and chrome motorcycle against a black background. A TON of work went into a seemingly simple picture. Their biggest tip was to light the dark object with a source that is at least as big as the subject, in the case of the motorcycle a box light that was a bit longer than the bike mounted above the subject with some soft side lighting. It’s a great shot and really emphasizes the chrome and shiny aspects of the subject rather than illuminating the entire bike, a concept that is very interesting and that I can dig. But, DAMN! There is no way I could pull that off! My ‘studio light kit’ includes 4 clip on lights with the silver cones that I purchased from Home Depot about 5 years ago. I got them when a friend asked me to shoot her wedding pictures and (thank GOD) didn’t end up using them. Instead I found it physically easier to use the ambient light. At the time I was shooting with my Nikon D60 on color and black & white film and had it set to fully automatic mode. I love the shots that I got and so did my friend. I really think natural light gives a glow to your subjects that can be attained using flash, but not without a LOT of prep time and accoutrements.

Since shooting with lo-fi instruments my light meter has become my best friend. It is an absolute essential for lo-fi stuff and once again, I can thank my friend Harry for that recommendation. When I first got it I took it with me everywhere to see if I could guess the correct exposure time in a given situation. I was sooooo off in the beginning and way underestimated exposure times but my little game proved quite useful and I’m starting to feel confident shooting without my light meter, but only some of the time.

One thing about crappy cams is that most of them love bright sunlight and film with iso of 100-400. That means no good indoor shots can be had unless you can control the shutter speed, at least in a rudimentary fashion. My Holga is a great example. When I want to use it in low light situations I bust out the light meter, set the camera to it’s bulb setting and try to hold open the shutter for the appropriate time. I’d rather have a little too much light coming in than not enough so I tend to err on the side of a longer exposure. This has proved very useful. I’ve had my greatest success with my Fed 2, which being a lomographic camera actually has f 2.8 to 22 and shutter speeds from 1/500th to bulb setting (almost too much control for someone used to controlling only the speed of the film she puts in the camera)! Between the light meter and the knowledge I’ve gleaned playing my little guess-the-exposure-time game I’m starting to get the hang of things. It is truly more of an art than a science, something that can’t be said about the flash. Once you set up all those light sources you know exactly what you’re going to get and it’s usually something fantastic. For me, ambient light is part of the charm and joy of shooting lo-fi. I can use the light meter all I want and think I’m exposing the film enough, but if my plastic lens bends the light the wrong way or I aim the camera too close to the sun or the film is expired and can’t stand bright light….well, you get the picture (hee-hee, pun intended). I love the unpredictability of it all and the naturalness that I get without flash. Another bonus? No red eyes!


Why Lo-fi is better than digital


I stuck with my film cameras waaaay into the digital age. I have a wonderful Minolta SLR, fully automatic with a kick-ass telephoto lens that my parents got for me as a high school graduation present (long before digital cameras were even invented). Right after I had my first daughter my husband bought me an auto-focus Nikon D60 SLR with a two great lenses. I used the hell out of both of them. Then DSLRs got semi-affordable and with the impending birth of my third child I figured it was about time to get a digital cam. My third and final child is now 2 that’s how long I held out. My Panasonic DMC-FZ30 ultra-zoom (fixed Leica lens) is a great camera and is still my go-to camera when I absolutely have to make sure I get the shot. I was really beginning to outgrow it last spring and REALLY wanted a big, fat DSRL with a sick macro lens. I had recently began selling some of my photos and was starting to get back into photography seriously. My husband Jake is really quite wonderful when it comes to my ‘toys’. I’m the one in the house who gets all the latest and greatest gadgets and hooks up the computer and stereo equipment (it goes back to my recording engineering days) but this time we just didn’t have the money. I was bummed but not deterred. I played around with the Panasonic for a few more months but was growing increasingly bored taking a ga-zillion pictures then editing them on the computer. My good friend Harry is also a photographer and he was the one who first told me about the Holga. I googled it that night and was fascinated! I couldn’t believe there were people out there using a $24 for serious stuff. I had to have one and the price was right. For $100 I got the Holga 120N, the filter holder and filter set, and a boatload of 120 film.

That was it. I was hooked. I’ve since gotten a Lubitel 166B, Smena 2, Fed 2 with an awesome 135mm Industar lens in addition to the 55mm it comes standard with, Action Sampler, Polaroid back for my Holga–or Holgaroid as it’s commonly referred to, Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim, Polaroid iZone and the Olympus XA2 (otherwise known as the poor man’s LC-A). It’s enourmously entertaining to play with these cameras! Between the funny looks I get from adults and the blank stares I get from kids (not my own as they’re used to the fact that Mom uses film cams) when the try to look at the back of the camera to see the picture, it’s completely gratifying. I love the fact that I’m exposing my kids to what could be a dying art and have also had the chance to teach a class or two with my toys (one boy told me “My Mom should get one of these” in realtion to the Holgaroid). The two best things that lo-fi photography has done for me is a) put the joy back into it by getting me away from the computer and b) given me back my photographic eye. I had really started to get very indiscriminate about what I shot with digital because I was bound to get a good shot from the 390 that were on my camera, right? I feel like I’ve been in rehab from March until now in regards to learning how to look at subjects. It is truly only with the last few rolls that I’ve shot that I am starting to see development and improvement. Now that I’ve gotten the feel of my ‘tools’ I’m learning how to use them in a much more creative way. But that will be a subject for another blog.

I’m still trying to figure out how to hook my Flickr stuff directly onto the blog but until then here’s a link to my page.  http://flickr.com/photos/ipdegirl/


Hey There

So, here’s my blog. I’m Jenni, a semi-professional but mostly-amateur photographer who loves analogue or lo-fidelity photography. My favorite camera-of-the-moment is my Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim and I develop my own black and white film. If you too enjoy creating art from film and crazy cameras then check back, leave me comments and pictures and share your ideas so we can spread the love that is only created in a lo-fi way.


%d bloggers like this: