Homemade Holga

As much as I love the experience of shooting with film, occasionally I long for the immediacy of digital. If you’re the same but you still want that retro, filmic look to your images, look no further: this step-by-step guide will transform the most bland of digital snaps into a creaky, faded Holga-like hipster masterpiece.

Whatever your low-tech camera of choice, when shooting with these less complicated devices a graphic, simple subject will tend to give you a better final result than something more intricate or fiddly, so choose something striking. I picked out this image of a boat on Southwold beach, which I shot on a compact camera a couple of years ago. Perfect image quality isn’t important – in fact, it’ll help you in your quest for a lo-fi image, so the crummier the better. Of course, in Photoshop you have the power to make an image as grotty as you like, so let your imagination run riot.

I’m using Photoshop CS3 for this and working on a Mac, though you could easily get a similar look with the same steps using Elements or working on a PC.

1 Go square
For starters, the Holga only shoots square images (unless you use the 6x.4.5 insert), so you’ll need to crop your shot. Open your chosen shot in Photoshop, select the Crop Tool and hold down Shift to make your selection a square. Then, when you’re happy with your picture, press return or enter to reduce the size of your shot.

2 Blur the original
We’re now going to bin that perfect focus that you strived for. Copy the background layer and with Layer 1 active, go to Filter>Blur>Radial Blur. Set the amount to 3, choose Spin and Best quality then adjust the centre of the blur to your image’s point of focus. Add more blur by heading to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and selecting a blur of 2. Hit OK.

3 Going for grain
Now for grain. Create a new layer via Layer>Add New Layer. Call it Grain, change the Mode to Overlay and tick the box for Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray). You won’t see anything happen – so then go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise and select an amount that suits you. I went for 5%. Choose Gaussian distribution, Monochromatic noise and press OK.

4 Fine-tune the vignette

Vignetting is a trademark Holga/lo-fi look. Select the Rectangular Marquee tool and set Feathering to 140. Draw a box that sits just in from the edges, select Inverse, then go to Edit>Copy Merged and Edit>Paste to create a new layer with just your picture’s edges. Darken this by selecting Multiply in the layers palette and adjust the opacity to suit.

5 Adjust your colours
Now start fiddling with colours. Layers>New Adjustment Layer>Levels. Start with the blue layer and change the output levels to 50 and 220 respectively. This gives a sort of faded vintage look to the picture. Tweak the Red channel on the Input levels by bringing in the edges of the histogram to 26 and 227. I also moved the central slider to 1.10.

6 Add your light leaks
Add an empty layer and select the foreground colour swatch that brings up the Color Picker. Choose an orange – H31 seems to work. Press OK. Select the Gradient Tool, choose Foreground to Transparent and Linear Gradient and drag a line from one of your corners. Adjust the Opacity and the Fill settings of that layer and flatten your picture and save it.

Taken from the March 2011 issue of Advanced Photographer magazine