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LO-FI Photography

It’s great to be a photographer in the 21st century. We have available to us an incredible variety of cameras all equipped with effective autofocus, reliable metering systems, a wealth of shooting modes and high quality optics. The technology of the digital age has made it easy for any photographer to get a sharp & well exposed image.

 

It’s ironic then that there’s a growing number of photographers who are going lo-tech, seeking a back to basics approach using simple toy cameras, pinhole cameras, ‘vintage’ cameras with non-coated optics, basic ‘point & shoot’ film cameras or fitting plastic optics or pinhole convertors to their digital cameras.

So what exactly is the attraction?

Well first and foremost many of these lo-fi options are relatively cheap – so experimentation doesn’t cost a fortune.

 

Secondly, they can make a welcome change from what some photographers see as the predictable, clean and sterile images produced by digital cameras.

 

For example, toy cameras like the Holga and Diana are popular with fine art photographers who appreciate the soft, dreamlike images they are capable of producing. Vignetting, blurred images and light leaks are all part of these cameras appeal. Predictable they are not! Features that are shared by the Lomo camera which, like the Holga, has achieved cult status in recent years with millions of users across the world.

For those wanting more predictability and better build quality but still seeking the lo-tech experience there are alternatives that can be picked up fairly cheaply. Cameras in my collection include a 1940s Czech made TLR, a couple of Olympus Trip 35s (a ‘classic’ that is still available on ebay for the cost of a couple of pints of beer), a more recent Olympus XA3 (bought in mint condition from a charity shop for £12) and a refurbished Polaroid SX70 camera. They are all very basic & simple by today’s standards but are capable of producing great images that have their own unique character.

And a step further away from the technological sophistication of a digital camera is lensless photography – cameras that produce images without the need for any optic. I am a great fan of pinhole photography and use a camera that is simply a wooden box with a hole in the front – no viewfinder, metering or autofocus options here!

If that all sounds too radical for you then you can dip your toe into the world of lensless photography by getting a body cap converted into a pinhole ‘lens’ or by buying a Lensbaby which offers a pinhole/zone plate option (see Box Out 3) and fitting these to your latest digital camera. I’ve also used Holga lenses and simple body cap optics on my Olympus M4/3 cameras to give me the best of both low and high tech worlds.

One of the great advantages of shooting with relatively inexpensive, lo-tech equipment is that you’re more likely to use it in places and conditions where more sophisticated & expensive gear would stay cosseted in a camera bag.

For example I’ve used my pinhole cameras in pouring rain and had them soaked by incoming waves that caught me unawares and they’ve survived.

Also, by not being overly concerned about technical perfection – accepting flare, vignetting, soft edges to images, inaccurate exposures, guesswork focussing – and working within the limitations imposed by lo-tech gear can actually stimulate the creative juices.

Learning to accept a lack of control, going with the flow, relaxing and recognizing that the unknown & the unexpected are all part of the fun can be incredibly liberating.

I’ve found that simple equipment encourages me to give greater attention to the image & its inherent qualities rather than being distracted by the equipment being used to capture it.

There are no hard & fast rules about what to photograph – in the spirit of flexibility and impulsiveness try anything & everything.

The key is to match subject and technique – for example in B&W pinhole photography I’ve found that simple/minimalist images work best; in colour I search out subjects with an emphasis on bold, graphic shapes. And it’s obvious that images dependent on texture and fine detail are best not shot with a plastic optic or a pinhole camera. Trial & error and experimentation are the name of the game.

Lo-tech photography may appear to be just a bit of fun – and it is certainly that. And that alone would be justification enough to give it a go. But it can offer a relatively cheap way to get us out of that creative rut we all find ourselves in from time to time. Lo-fi photography can be just what the doctor ordered to get those creative juices flowing again.

And you never know, it might lead to a whole new direction for your photography. As I know only too well, once the lo-tech bug bites there’s no going back.

 

Box Out 1 – Top Tips

 

Tip 1 – Enjoy the Freedom

Lo-fi photography encourages a more playful & relaxed approach; spontaneity becomes a way of life. Learn to be less controlled and more experimental e.g. don’t frame precisely and shoot from the hip or from unusual angles, guess exposure settings, try shooting subjects you wouldn’t normally tackle.

 

Tip 2 – Shoot some film

Give good old analogue photography a try. Film choices are becoming more limited but there are still plenty of options on the market. Process the film at home (loading it into a developing tank in a changing bag) or use a specialist processing lab to develop and contact print the films and then select which negatives to print or scan and work on in the computer.

 

Tip 3 – Do it on a budget

The great thing about lo-fi photography is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Look for cheap cameras and lenses in charity shops, camera fairs or at car boot sales; good quality second hand film cameras can be picked up from camera dealers – the lack of demand means bargains can be readily found.

Box Out 2 – Lo Tech Resources

Some Photographers

ww.susanburnstine.com – inspirational, atmospheric images in B&W; lo-tech imagery at its best

www.jennifershaw.net – photos in colour and B&W shot with toy cameras

www.franklopez.com – images from across the world taken with pinhole, plastic & vintage cameras

Also check out www.flickr.com – where there are millions of lo-tech images to be found (use the sites search tools).

 

Some Suppliers

www.zeroimage.com – the maker of some wonderful pinhole cameras

http://pinholesolutions.co.uk/ – for pinhole cameras, adaptors and accessories

http://holgamods.com – for Holgas and other great lo-fi gear.

http://shop.holgadirect.com/ – an Aladdins cave of lo-fi equipment.

http://www.lomography.com/ – classic cameras (including the Holga, Diana, Lubitel TLR and the Lomo), films, bags, books, magazines; in fact everything for the lo-tech photographer.

www.tripman.co.uk – supplier of refurbished Olympus Trips and other Olympus film cameras.

https://www.the-impossible-project.com/ – a source of film for Polaroid instant cameras as well as refurbished cameras and accessories.

Steve GoslingOther articles by author

Steve is a professional photographer who specialises in producing creative & contemporary landscape and travel images. His photographs have been published internationally illustrating posters, cards, books, magazines, newspapers & calendars. His fine art prints have been widely exhibited and have also appeared on sets for both theatre & film productions.

His work has also won many awards - for example, his landscape images have been successful in the UK’s ‘Black & White Photographer of the Year’ competition and for the last 3 years he has had images shortlisted in the prestigious international 'B&W Spider Awards', achieving an Honourable Mention in 2016.

He enjoys writing & teaching about photography and frequently gives talks on landscape photography to photographic groups in the UK and abroad. He is also a regular contributor to many of the major photography magazines in the UK as well as a growing number of overseas titles. He has run a successful workshop programme for several years in locations across the world from Iceland to Antarctica, encouraging and inspiring photographers of all levels.

As well as working closely with Phase One (for whom he is a Fieldwork Professor) and Lee Filters Steve is an Ambassador for Olympus, Manfrotto/Gitzo tripods & Permajet inkjet papers.

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