Lessons Learnt from the Littlest Holga [Shanghai GP3 100 + Lomography 100]

littlest holga shanghai lee webb

Images shot on Shanghai GP3 100 and Lomography Color Negative 100 in Holga Glo 120N

Back in the winter of 2017, the man known as @Givemeabiscuit on Twitter and (I guess) Sandeep to his family sent his Holga Glo 120N off on a trip around the world.

The idea is that anyone who puts their hand up can receive it, shoot it a little bit, and then send it on to the next lucky volunteer on the list. You can follow its progress at the @Littlest_Holga, again on Twitter.

Having never played around with a Holga before or shot any 120 film at all, and just keen to get involved in the project itself too, I made sure to get my name down.

When the Littlest Holga arrived, I knew I wanted to put both a roll of monochrome film and a roll of colour film through it. So that’s what I did, and this is how I got on with both.

Shanghai’s skyline on Shanghai GP3 100

It didn’t take much thought to choose the monochrome film I’d use with the Littlest Holga, what with me being in Shanghai and all that. Just like when I shot this roll of the 35mm version, Shanghai GP3 100 was the obvious choice for shooting some of the city’s most iconic sights.

The obvious place to then shoot this obvious choice was at the Bund, which looks out from the west side of the Huangpu River towards the iconic Shanghai skyline.

This geography means late afternoon is the best time to go, right as the sun is beginning to go down but not before it’s already gone behind the buildings behind you.

Time it right on a sunny day and you get great light coming in over your shoulder, shining on the skyscrapers you’re shooting. It works well with anyone whose face you catch in it too, if you want to include some people in your work also.

Here’s a selection of what the travelling Holga saw of Shanghai’s skyline, captured on that aforementioned Shanghai film.

Lee’s neighbourhood on Lomography 100

When it came to which colour film to run through the Littlest Holga, it felt right to stick with another name in the lo-fi camera space: Lomography. And as the weather was forecast to be good, I went with a roll of ISO 100 here too.

I’m lucky enough to be in a picturesque part of Shanghai called Qibao. It’s got a temple, a riverside, and a touristy old street all within 20 minutes of my door.

I’ve shot enough film around the area that it could get repetitive soon, but the Holga brought that novelty value. And as I’m due to leave Shanghai anyway in the not too distant future, I really didn’t mind going around one more time.

All this added to the fact I only had 12 exposures to fill compared to the 36 I’m used to meant I didn’t see the need to traipse any further afield than my own neighbourhood.

This is the 11 of those 12 shots that are worth showing from that roll of Lomography Color Negative 100.

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Lessons learnt from the Littlest Holga

As I mentioned earlier, I’d never shot a Holga before; indeed, this was my introduction to 120 film. That means it was going to be a learning experience whatever happened.

Let’s start with the good. While nobody buys a Holga for its image quality in the traditional sense of the term, it did give some actually objectively good – i.e. sharp, well-exposed etc. – results when everything came together.

By everything, I mean the light, the focus, and the timing of the shot. All of these are down to the photographer in one way or another, which is nice. Conversely, it means any bad images were my fault too.

Regardless, I did like the girl shielding her face with her phone, the two wedding shots (although I wish I hadn’t cut her dress off), the young man in front of the war memorial, and the lady at the bottom of the stairs shot on the Shanghai GP3.

On the Lomography film, the pagoda, the young couple coming up the bridge, and the red house decorations were personal favourites.

Having said that, we learn more from our failures than our successes, and I had a bunch of them too. As already said, these are all my fault.

It’s important we share them so others can also learn, though. So please observe the following, which range from ‘annoyingly just underexposed’ to ‘did you use the lens cap as a filter?’

Let me tell you what happened there.

When the Littlest Holga arrived, I bought the roll of Shanghai GP3 and the roll of Lomography 100, shot them both, and then got them developed.

The Lomography came out mainly fine, but around 80% of the results from the Shanghai were these underexposed ones. That meant I had to get another roll and go shoot again.

This time, around 80% of the shots were fine to use, so I could at least put together a set from the two rolls combined.

It was never dark when I shot any of these, but there clearly wasn’t enough light to make photographs. I think if I go through why I believe this was, it could help future recipients of the Littlest Holga, or any Holga in general for that matter.

According to the manual, the Holga’s shutter speed is around 1/100 of a second. Always. Unless you put it on Bulb mode which keeps it open until you tell it to close, it doesn’t change from 1/100, no matter how much light you have.

You can change the aperture however, but only between f/8 and  f/11. You do this with a little switch that shows either a sun or a cloud. I left it on the sun all the time, probably because it was technically a sunny day, which was another mistake.

Not thinking too much about shutter speeds and apertures beforehand, I of course decided to hamstring myself with those ISO 100 films.

Unless it’s really important for you to shoot a film with the same name as where you are and it only comes in an ISO 100 version, it might be a good idea to give yourself a bit more leeway with a faster one when shooting a Holga.

Because I was heading out in the late afternoon to catch that sun direction, I did end up taking a few shots near the end of the rolls where it had just dipped behind a building.

I remember some of the underexposed shots were taken when it was merely behind a small cloud too, and sometimes still out but just too sideways on instead of being well enough behind me. In all cases, that 1/100 of a second wasn’t enough.

I’ll admit to thinking whilst shooting that it would probably be okay, which I’m sure comes from shooting a camera with a light meter on aperture priority mode for as long as I can remember and being lazily used to that.

So that’s what I learnt from the Littlest Holga. The fixed shutter speed will steal your dreams if you’re not careful. You’re basically shooting on manual mode but with settings you mostly can’t even change.

Using ISO 100 film is not ideal either when you only have f/8 and f/11. If you must go with some, you’d better make sure the light is absolutely optimal. One rogue cumulus can silently screw you over from way on high.

Of course, I also learnt that when things go to plan, it’s very possible to get some presentable shots from a Holga. I’m very glad I put my name down to be a temporary custodian and get to shoot this one.

If all this has got you interested and you want to know more about shooting a Holga yourself, you can check out this comprehensive review and guide I put together.

And finally, it would be very rude to not end this by acknowledging Sandeep again for organising the whole project. It’s a lovely thing.

To see what Sandeep’s been up to since so selflessly downgrading from the Littlest Holga to some Hasselblad or something, you can take a look at his blog Film Photography London.  🙂

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If you enjoyed that post, why not take a look at these others to stay inspired or learn more about some other cameras and films I’ve shot and reviewed:

  1. My comprehensive review of this Holga 120N
  2. Shooting another novelty film camera in Shanghai
  3. Shooting the 35mm version of Shanghai GP3

And if you think others will enjoy this post on shooting the Littlest Holga too, help them find it by giving it a share.  😀

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