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Getting The Most Out Of Your Groovy Plastic Camera!

I love Diana. She’s been my buddy for getting on seven years now. She’s travelled with me all over the country: the beach, the art museum, the big city. I almost thought I’d lost her once on an escalator in Chicago. A piece of her busted off, but she’s still going strong.

Diana first appeared in my life when a friend of mine found her in a hardware store in Bolivia for a couple of bucks. She came in a box with a picture of a baby on it. (I’d say at that point, she was pushing 40 years old.)

Today she mostly lives in my hall closet, but occasionally I’ll take her somewhere special to use up the remaining rolls of TMAX120 in my freezer.

Diana, of course, is a plastic camera. She’s everywhere these days, in different formats, reborn by the Lomography company. You can find her in red, plaid, classic blue, with signatures; with or without a flash; normal-sized, tiny. She’s spawned so many different clones, both in her original form and today, that it’s hard to find someone in an urban neighborhood who hasn’t come across her. And with good reason! She is a great tool for interesting photographs. She has plenty of cousins: the Lomokino, the Holga.

Ah, but fame has a price. A heavy one! It’s hard to find an original Diana camera under $20 anymore. For something that once sold for $5.00 at a gas station or given as a prize at a carnival, it’s amazing to see that they’re selling for upwards of $70.00 at shops like Urban Outfitters. Phew!

I don’t know about you, but I’m low on funds. Luckily, I’ve been at the Diana thing for almost a decade, and I’d like to give you a few tips on how to get the best out of your plastic camera; or at least your money’s worth.

1) If you have a camera shop in your town, ask them if they have any expired color film. Chances are, they might and it’s possible they’ll be happy to get rid of it for a little discount. The older the film gets, the weirder the color saturation gets. Sometimes, especially if you shoot outside on a sunny day, you can get some crazy psychedelic colors. When you get your pictures processed, ask if you can have it “cross-processed.” That means if you shot your pictures on regular film, it can be processed in a different way and the colors will be crazy. If you shot on slide film, they’ll process it like regular film. The guys in my old timey camera shop in town always wince when people ask for this, but trust me – the results are neat!

2) No matter what Lomography says, your pictures will be even better if you follow some basic rules of composition. Film is going to get more expensive soon. Compose in the camera before shooting randomly! It helps if you imagine how you would like your picture to ideally look like before you take a picture. It’s too easy to get lazy with shooting when you’re used to the ease of digital pictures. Film is a little investment, so treat it with respect and you’ll be more likely to get amazing results.

3) If you have a scanner, then don’t bother getting prints! Scan your film and play with it in Lightroom, Photoshop, or any free software you can find online. There’s tons out there! Your photos will still have a very fun dimension that is different than something shot with smartphone apps, and it will allow you to play more than you would in a darkroom.

4) If you’re low on cash and can’t afford one of the new plastic cameras, look for old ones at yard sales, antique stores and flea markets, eBay. You don’t necessarily need a Diana camera to take Diana-like pictures! Often you can find cameras with plastic lenses for a song in flea markets, and they can take surreal, dreamlike pictures, too. I’ve found a couple for a buck that were once given out as thank-you gifts, for magazine subscriptions.

5) When you’re out on the prowl in a flea market or antique shop and you spot one, check the shutter before you buy it. Does it click through? Is it sticky? If they’re good, then your camera should be good to go. Make sure you check the bottom reel spools for breakoffs.

6) Sometimes your camera will have light leaks, which can be a crapshoot. I’ve had plastic cameras with light leaks that looked great with my pictures, but I’ve had some that landed a white streak right through the middle. That’s no fun. Your best bet is to get to know your camera first with a test strip of cheap film. If you like your results, go for it, but you can also eliminate light leaks with masking tape around the sides. It ain’t pretty, but heck, it’s a plastic camera! You’re making art!

7) You can try doing double or even triple exposures for some really freaky stuff. It’s simple: Just don’t advance the film before you take another shot. ¬†Three should be about the limit; if you do more than that, the film often gets overexposed.

8) If you prefer black and white, I highly recommend Tri-X film. If you can’t find it, you can still get Kodak C41 black film at CVS (at least for the time being.) C41 tends to be more contrasty, if you like that look, but if you’re scanning things in the computer, you can change that with any photo editing software.

You can read more from Alice Teeple on her blog.

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