What is alternative photography, you ask? Well, I guess it is any photograph that looks different to a ‘normal’ photograph? No, that doesn’t sound quite right. That’s more like the result. The art of alternative photography, or Lomography as it is often called, is about taking pictures with pretty much no rules, no boundaries. It is about having fun taking pictures. You don’t worry about rules. You don’t think about technique. You don’t bother about quality. You don’t care about high quality gear. You just take pictures. I think the Lomography motto is something like ‘don’t think, just shoot’ – that pretty much sums up the art of Lomography for me
Alternative Photography Or Lomography
Lomography has now come to be identified by the lo-fi type of image that toy film cameras originally produced…low quality, quirky images, often with heavy vignetting around the corners, bright colors, maybe even light streaks across the image…stuff like that. The term was coined from the original Russian Lomo camera, the LC-A – made by Leningrad Optical Mechanical Amalgamation (LOMO) – which popularized the lo-fi image look, and really got peopled hooked. The new Lomo LC-As and other toy cameras are now made by the Lomography community, and include other models, such as the Diana F+, and many others. They even have a analog video camera that shoots on 35mm film! Holga is another brand that is as popular as the Lomo stuff these days…and is very much part of the Lomo community. They all take pretty good pictures…or lomographs…too
Most current “Lomographers” tend to use these toy film cameras. If a professional digital is ‘normal’, then I guess a toy film camera is ‘alternative’? Yeah. Something like that. Here’s a couple that I own and use – in keeping with the style of this article, I shot these using my mobile phone’s Lomo-style filters!
But you don’t specifically need a toy film camera to shoot alternative shots. That would kinda defeat the purpose of not caring about your gear. You can shoot alternative with any camera. However, the alternative look that has come to be known as the Lomo look is only got directly from these toy cameras. If you shoot digital, you could try to replicate the look with the abundance of Lomo-style digital filters that give a pretty authentic look, but if you’re truly into Lomography, you might want to pick up one of the toys for a more complete feel of the art. They’re toys, they’re cheap (click here to buy!)
So, once you got your camera – go out there and shoot. Don’t think. In the Lomography world, people don’t care what you shoot. It could be a garbage bin, it could be your dog, it could be yourself in the mirror. Don’t bother about looking through the viewfinder (not that the finders on these cameras are that great anyway!) – try shooting off your hip, from above your head, from the level of your feet…who cares?! Skip advancing your film to the next frame and try out some double (or triple) exposures…try out panoramas that are perfectly aligned, overlapping, or with large gaps in between…if you’re shooting Lomo, it’s all good. It also helps that the really cool effect that these cameras give will actually make rather mundane subjects look better than they should. Are you liking the sound of this yet?
Well you should. Did I mention how easy this all is? Surely it was implied right in the first few lines of this post? There are a couple of settings you need to fiddle around with on these cameras…the only thing that would take getting used to is the focusing method, known as zone focusing…but apart from that, you just point and shoot. Or just shoot. Yeah, it really is a lot of fun, and can be a very refreshing change from serious photography. I love it
And the results…the results are sometimes magnificent! Don’t be afraid to experiment, and you’ll be rewarded with some truly beautiful images. Like I said, not beautiful in the traditional sense…but in the Lomo sense. Lo-fi…sometimes grainy…with overly saturated and sometimes weird colors…strong vignetting in the corners…what else? Yeah, you never can tell. And that’s great. It’s unpredictable, but not unnecessarily so. Color shots look great because the colors are usually bright and crazy, but black and whites could have a very good look to it too. You can do anything, remember? Ok, let me share a few of my more laid-back and less drastic/experimental ‘lomographs’ with you here:
Not bad for a toy camera, yes? And if you want weirder, wackier effects, fear not…if you’re crazier than I am, there are ways to get the results you want. Cross processing of film is a common process that Lomographers use, in an attempt get even more wacky results, if ordinary Lomo stuff is not wacky enough. This is pretty unpredictable, and can sometimes have not-so-great results. What this means is that you shoot slide film (E6 film) and get it processed in negative color (C-41) chemistry. This can cause weird colors, and color casts over the entire image, from purple, to red, to yellow, to green…yeah, it’s unpredictable. The Lomography brand has a film range called X-Pro, which does exactly this – it is slide film, labeled as C-41…so the lab will process it as C-41 negative film, while in reality it is slide film. Here are a couple of samples of cross processed film that look fantastic, I think – and not wanting to offend anyone, I’m not sharing any shots that I found of the technique gone horribly wrong…and I don’t have any of my own at the moment either:
The first example is a typical cross processed result a funky green color that could be got no other way (except Photoshop I guess) – the second one (taken on a Lomo LC-A) is actually looks pretty great in an almost normal sense…but the shining colors, dark corners and something about it has that Lomo look
Another technique to get different results is to use expired film, which can also give interesting colors, added contrast, saturation, and…again, you never know. But I think using expired film is a little less drastic than cross processing. Try it out if you want something in between the safety of normality and the extreme unpredictability of cross processing. Myself, I prefer to use ordinary film and normal processing for Lomography. Sure, you can get good results with cross processing…but the possibility of a good set of shots being ruined by a ghastly color cast is a bit too much of the unpredictability factor for me
See what I mean? It is especially noticeable in the brilliant second shot, taken on a Lomo Lubitel medium format camera…fantastic, isn’t it?
UPDATED: Ok, I finally caved in, a while back, and got myself a couple of rolls of Lomo X-Pro film, and got into the whole cross processing thing, and I have to say the results were fantastic! I’m going to be using this film a lot more from now on – shame I didn’t try it out earlier. Here are some of my best:
Ok, this was just a ‘quick’ post (by my standards) on alternative photography or Lomography. Oh, that reminds me…somebody once told me that these two terms (alt photography and Lomography) are not interchangeable, that they mean completely different things, and that I should do more research before I write. I told him he had completely missed the point of this post. If you do a lot of research, maybe he was probably right…but seriously…who cares what it’s called?! Does it matter if there’s a fine line separating the two? Don’t think so much! That’s the whole idea of Lomography. Or alternative photography. Whatever you call it. Just shoot!
For those of you who didn’t know about this form of photography, I hope this has been enough to get you excited over it, and maybe even go out and get yourself a couple of toy cameras. If you really want to know the kind of effect you get from it, try out any mobile phone photo editing app…I’m sure you already have…any app will have some form of Lomo filter. If you like these effects, go out and get yourself a Diana/Holga/Lomo – they’re cheap, and a lot more fun than using your mobile phone. Don’t be disappointed if your very first roll isn’t all fantastic – my first couple of rolls were absolute disasters – just keep at it and you’ll get there. If you got any questions, you know the drill – leave a comment/contact me. Until next time
NOTE: If you’d like to help this blog, and you’re interested in buying one of the cameras I was talking about in this post, it’d be a big help if you bought it by using one of these links – here’s a list of my recommended Lomo tools!:
Holga 120N or Holga 120 CFN Starter Kit - the classic Holga
Diana F+ with Flash - the Diana F+, with flash…great little camera
Lomography LC-A+ Camera Pack - the best quality toy camera, in my opinion
Lomography LOMO LC-A+ RL Camera - I prefer this RL (Russian Lens) model, instead of the ordinary one with the Made in China lens – it’s most like the LC-A I own, which is an original 1989 Russian made LC-A – but the LC-A+ has a couple of extra features, such as easy access to double exposures, and an accessory slot for add-on stuff
Lomographic Colorsplash Flash for 35MM Cameras - works with most Lomo cameras, including the LC-A
Holga Manual Flash - works on all cameras with a hot shoe
120 format film - if you buy a Diana F+ or a Holga 120, you will need 120 format film, which can be a bit of a trouble to buy. Amazon has a good selection – you could also try the Lomography Store
35mm film - good 35mm film can be hard to come by too – check out this link, you can find plenty
And that’s it! I hope this gets you shooting Lomo style soon. Cheers!
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By Heshan Jayakody All content in this post is my own, except where noted