If you’ve ever used a Holga, you know that you don’t expect to get “good” photographs out of it, at least by a certain very technical definition of the word good. To some, this might be cause to shy away from a camera whose plastic lens, blurry focus, and obvious vignetting makes for images that are far from perfect.
But from another point of view, these built-in imperfections make it a camera that’s perfect for experimentation. When the images aren’t supposed to look “good” what have you got to lose?
As one who has done a lot of long exposure work with medium format film, I decided to see what kind of results I could get with long exposures with my Holga 120N. It’s got a bulb shutter setting after all.
After doing some research, I realized that a shutter cable release and ND filters made specifically for the Holga were both difficult to find and out of my budget. While these tools would make doing long exposures a lot easier, there are ways around it. And perhaps an imperfect method would be more fitting for an imperfect camera?
So with no shutter cable release and no ND filters, I was left with a more awkward option: hold my usual ND filter in front of the Holga lens while holding the shutter down manually (that is by hand) for the length of the exposure. Not an ideal method by any means since you can easily introduce camera shake during the exposure, even on a tripod.
Using the Bulb Setting
The Holga only has 2 shutter settings, B or N, indicated by a switch on the bottom of the camera. The N is the normal shutter setting and gives you about 1/100th of a second. The B, or bulb setting, is what you want for long exposures. It will leave the shutter open for as long as you hold it down.
So with my Holga on a tripod, set to Bulb mode, and one hand holding a filter over the lens, I triggered the shutter with my other hand.
I was as careful as I could not to shake the camera at all. The exposures I made ranged from 3 seconds to 1 minute, and I was happy to see that even in the longer exposures, there was no evidence of camera shake.
All of the exposures were taken on Ilford Delta 400 film, and developed in Kodak HC-110 developer (dilution B).
The images came out very soft, which is to be expected from a Holga, but I think the long exposures softened them even more.
The iconic vignette that the Holga produces was also present, and, in some cases, was intensified by the ND filter. Whether that was just a product of the filter, or because the filter was not made to fit the Holga, I’m not sure. Either way, I kind of like it.
If anything, my long exposure Holga experiment showed me that even without the Holga specific equipment, it is still possible to make long exposure images with the Holga.
More so, I think the way long exposures soften and simplify images is conducive to the quirky imperfections that make the Holga such an endearing camera.
Now that I know it’s possible, it’s definitely a technique I’m going try more in the future.