Michelle Bates

Michelle Bates

Member, Freestyle Advisory Board of Photographic Professionals


Michelle Bates is one of the country's best known Holga photographers. She loves sharing her knowledge through workshops and lectures, and has done so at Maine Media Workshops, International Center of Photography, Julia Dean Workshops, SF Camerawork, Photographic Center Northwest, and many others. Her book, "Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity," was published in 2006 by Focal Press.

Ask The Experts

Hi there Grant, Well, I've noticed that, in general Holgas are not very leaky. There are two main areas where light leaks occur, and once those are taken care of, you shouldn't have too much trouble. If you remove the insert that comes in the camera, and feel at the bottom of the black box coming down above the shutter area, you will find two small holes. Cover these with opaque tape. In addition, cover the red number window on the back of the camera with gaffer's tape with the edge folded over, so you can easily pick it up to view the numbers when advancing the film. If you leave it uncovered, you will get leakage (and the printing on the paper backing will transfer to the film!). Other than that, you should be good to go! I put more gaffers tape around the metal clips and along the edge of the back, just to keep it from falling off - that creates some serious light leaks! Good luck,

Hi James, You ask about metering and compensating with the Holga. Well, the thing is, you can't really compensate with a Holga. With the newer versions that have bulb settings, you can do long exposures, but there is no way to be exact. So throw away the meter and just shoot - you can always mess with the negatives later in the darkroom or on the computer. For some control, you can bracket a little with the bulb Holga, or push your processing a little if the roll was shot in dim light. Generally, I always have at least 400 speed film in my Holgas (TX and Portra), and sometimes use 3200 Delta and the Portra 800. Only if you know you'll be doing entire rolls during one set of conditions, then choosing your film speed to be appropriate makes sense. As for filters: on very bright days, sometimes I'll use a neutral density or polarizing filter (just for the density) to cut the light. I've recently been experimenting with close-up filters and am very excited about those results. There is a lot of information about shooting with toy cameras online. Check out my website (http://www.michellebates.net) and search for Holga info on the web. More resources will be available in the future! Good luck,

Hi there Christine, All my images are taken with garden-variety Holgas. I use the entire image in my prints; if you use a standard 6" x 6" negative carrier, part of the image gets cut off, and you lose some of the effect. Also, when shooting, the image includes more than you see through the viewfinder, so compose your image, then take a few steps forward and trust that what you can't see will be part of the image. And if you hear about a telephoto Holga, let me know; there are some gargoyles with my name on them! Have fun!

Hi Bernadette, There are lots of ways to use toy cameras to teach photography. I don't have a curriculum for you. But, I would suggest using the cameras for different shooting assignments, as you would with any camera. And you can have students try different camera modifications. Combining toy cameras with pinhole camera photography is a great mix as well. Using low-tech cameras (whether Holgas, pinholes, disposable cameras, classic cameras, etc) is a great way to focus on image-making via composition, as opposed to being fixated on the technical aspects of the equipment. Also, if you try shooting in a variety of formats (with higher or lower quality gear), you can get a sense of how the same subject looks different when captured by different image shapes, lens types, capture media (B&W or color film, digital, etc). All of these elements can be used for a great class!

Hi there Peggy, Well, first thing, we have to have the teacher go out and play with a Holga! Shake off all those years of tilting and shifting and do it with your body instead. Get the students to try things you wouldn't think a Holga can do - long exposures, flash, studio strobes, filters, pinhole, transparency film, etc. They'll be used to figuring out how to make the camera do everything for them (menus...), but this will get them learning how they all really work, since the figuring out is in their heads. Let me know how it goes. Cheers,

Hi there Ron, According to my test, on that setting focus is from 4-7 feet; I dont have more specific measurements than that, and each camera is likely to slightly different in any case. You can test on your own by setting the camera up on a tripod, removing the back, locking the shutter open, and viewing what the camera sees using wax paper at the film plane. Move the camera (or subject) back and forth until your subject is in focus. Good luck!