How to Shoot Holgaramas by Alec Pain

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Alec Pain (Alastair Place)

I came across Holgaramas in Michelle Bates’ classic book “Plastic Cameras.” There were some incredible images by Pauline St. Denis and Susan Bowen that blew my mind.

Susan’s Holgaramas were half a roll long (and sometimes even a full roll). I run @thedailyholga on Instagram, and I’ve been lucky enough to feature her there recently for a week.

I also stumbled on Natalie Blom’s The Shattered Horizon zine.

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Click to enlarge.

So What is a Holgarama?

I would define a Holgarama as any image shot on a Holga film camera that is longer than a single frame – usually a series of overlapping multiple exposures that create a panorama, as the name suggests.

The images don’t necessarily need to be connected, but they form a pleasing whole.

This one is just two and a bit frames, Paddington station with a double exposure of Reading station platform on the second frame when I forgot to wind on the film:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Reading, not reading. Cinestill 400D.
Click to enlarge.
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How to Create Holgaramas

The technique is simple. Take a picture, turn the dial on the Holga to wind on your film, take another picture. Keep going until you feel your Holgarama is complete.

If you want your images to be separated from the next picture you take (like stand pictures on a roll of film), wind on to the next full number. If the next full number is very close, wind it to the next one.

If you want overlapping frames, just keep shooting and turning!

You can do this with a Diana too, and with any camera that lets you manually advance your film. If you have the 12 or 16 frame mask inside your camera, you will see faint “lines” in your images between the frames.

You can also get rid of the lines (thank you, Susan Bowen) by taking away the 12 or 16 frame mask inside the Holga.

If you have a non-flash Holga, makes sure to cover up the holes here to let less light in.

Taping light leaks on the Holga 120N
Holes that need covering. Taped up holes.

How Far Do You Turn the Film Winder?

Well, it’s up to you.

“Micro-clicks” or turning the dial a single click (you can hear or feel this as you turn the dial in your Holga in most cases) produce a standard thinner line like this.

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Everyone is here, but you’re nowhere near. Ilford HP5.
Click to enlarge.

But you can vary your clicks or make them more like turns with your thumb and your finger, and the lines will come out more spaced apart:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Ditchley direction. Ilford HP5.
Click to enlarge.

Shoot Holgaramas from Left to Right

The important thing is to shoot from left to right to get a “normal” picture, ie one that looks like it’s the right way round.

Shooting from right to left can, however, produce some glorious pictures:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Bridge incident. Portra 800.
Click to enlarge.

And this one:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
A view from the bridge. Portra 400.
Click to enlarge.

Do You Need a Tripod for Holgaramas?

You could, but that would make things far too regular, far too perfect! But it would certainly level things up more.

I find that if you have your Holga held to your face, and you just move your head to the right a little whilst turning the dial, it will keep things fairly level.

Best Subjects for Holgaramas

For the image to work, I think you need your subject to either be dead center or a point of focus on each end of the Holgarama. This helps the viewer orientate themselves.

So a normal panorama (which you could have taken with your phone) is elevated to something more atmospheric and beautiful.

Here you can see the mountains of Snowdon on the left and the beach on the right:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Dinas-ty. Kentmere 400.
Click to enlarge.

And here, the irregularity of the trees is juxtaposed with the irregularity of the Holgarama’s lines and the brightness of the large branch from the tree on the right:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
“The bluebells are out and the sky is clear blue.” Lomo 800.
Click to enlarge.

Here’s nearly the same shot a few weeks later when the bluebells were being taken over by the forest:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Brilliant trees. Portra 400.
Click to enlarge.

Creative Ways to Use Holgaramas

Shoot Vertical

You can, of course, turn your camera on its side and try things landscape. This is more tricky to get right but it can still produce a lovely image:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Left: And there you stand, making my life possible. Portra 400.
Right: Shard-o-rama. Ilford HP5.

Look for Patterns

I guess what I am looking for when I shoot Holgaramas are patterns that can repeat:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Yesterday’s still leaking through the roof. Kentmere 400.
Click to enlarge.

Shoot at Night

Shooting in the early evening or at night can make the Holgaramas “sing.”

Here’s the silhouettes of people walking in and out of Liverpool Street station shot on a Holga 120N with Kodak Portra 800:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
In a station of the metro. Portra 800.
Click to enlarge.

Here’s the same place shot with the Holga 120PAN where the lights have “fused” thanks to more overlapping:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Will the real Slim Shady please look up?
Click to enlarge.

Shot from a roof top terrace in Trafalgar Square on a summer’s evening with Portra 800, this one turned out very dark, but I ended up loving the evening to night aspect of the silhouettes and night falling:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
The evening passes over its beauty to the majesty of night.
Click to enlarge.

Use Strobes and Flashes

Why not bring your Holga to your company Christmas party?!

This was one where everyone took a turn at taking a picture as the drinks flowed. I used a Holga 12MFC Flash on top of the Holga 120N.

A Holga with a flash (an F in its name) would also work, and I’m yet to try one with a CF (colour flash):

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
You’ve got to gurn for your right to party. Portra 800.
Click to enlarge.

When using strobes against a black background, portraits can also be effective. I produced this one for Amy Elizabeth’s The Artists Collab:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
That we may find grace in the face of the humdrum everyday of life. Kentmere 400.

For this last picture, which won me the title of Holga Week Champion 2022, I also used strobes and fixed them up to my Holga.

I turned the dial “three times” to make sure my face didn’t overlap, and put an item of clothing on every time I took a picture.

For the last two images, I used a spare Holga as a prop. I had a Holga Selfie lens on the front of the lens, which meant I could get a little closer (and see myself), and then pressed the shutter with my left hand:

Holgarama film image by Alec Pain on Shoot It With Film
Getting ready for Holga Week. Kodak Gold.
Click to enlarge.

Scanning Holgaramas

Depending on the length of your Holgarama, you can either scan the image in sections or ask you lab to. Then, you’ll want to stitch them together in Photoshop.

Holgaramas are such fun to create and a wonderful surprise to see when they’ve been developed and scanned, so don’t be afraid to experiment and see what you come up with.

Thank you so much, Alec! Alec is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out more of his work on Instagram.

Leave your questions about Holgaramas below in the comments! And you pick up a Holga 120N for yourself here on Amazon.

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Alec Pain

Alec Pain (AKA Alastair Place) is a pinhole and experimental photographer and a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find his other articles here, such as How to Shoot Holgaramas.

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Blog Comments

Alec – this is such a great article! I’m always in awe of your Holgaramas and it’s great to hear your advice.

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