Tired of dull, awkward pictures that you thought you had nailed but failed? Are your boring, cheap, regular film, and your not so over the top camera not making it easy for you?? Buy some staples and enter a whole new wonder world!
I have to be honest. I’m not too happy about my new/old Smena Symbol, mainly because I’m a control freak. It so happens that I’m awful at guessing, and that’s about all you do with a Smena. First off you can’t really get on top of things, the way I love to do, because it only starts focusing from 1 meter onwards. You have to guess the settings (no light meter); you have to guess the distance to get something anyway near a focused picture; and you have to guess the framing due to the difference between viewfinder and actual lens. I get to the point where what I was aiming for barely even makes it into the picture. And that is a serious disappointment after all the trouble I went to in order to get hold of one of these beauties.
On my first try with the Smena I used some cheap expired film just to see if it was working properly. Those actually turned out to be the best results so far, and they weren’t stunning to begin with. So I started thinking what I could do to make all the error prone shots I was getting, actually worth the money I was expending.
As I was drifting around the Lomo site, and around Flickr I got some nice tips on how to take the best possible advantage of a camera like the Smena that I love so much but am still struggling with. This is me sharing.
Get some sort of measuring device and carry it around with you. It makes you feel silly at times but it really helps you get a hand at calculating your distances at a guess (not that I have mastered it so far). It can be a mechanical retracting measuring tape (like the one I bought for like 3 Euros) or just a piece of string with some marks on it.
- Analogue Light Meter
The Smena Symbol got its name from the little weather symbols that correspond to certain velocities. The ISO setting determines the aperture and that you just have to snap and choose your light according to the weather. This is all right and good as long as you only use ISO 200 or below. Faster films aren’t an option without some math involved. There is also some conversion disk on the back of the camera, to match outside light with interior light, but I never quite got along how to crack that one. I guess it implies you should change the ISO/Aperture when shooting indoors.
Anyways, this was a limitation I wasn’t about to let me fumble around for long, so if you also lack a light meter in your camera go to this site , download the pdf file and print it at home. You even get two sizes to choose from. It’s brilliant.
Your non light meter life won’t ever be the same again. It really does help. It’s inspired on the Sunny 16 rule (again, it comes with pictures too) that is really easy to memorize or just carry around on a piece of paper. I carry my analogue light meter mat anywhere with my Smena, sliding it between the camera’s back and the leather case for storage. And they even come with little icons :)
- Framing properly
Haven’t quite figured this one out but I am open to suggestions.
When I first started browsing over the Lomo community I was astounded over some of the results some people achieved. Mouth-watering colours and vibrancies. A rainbow of hope at the reach of a finger pressing a shutter button. But some of those aren’t as easily achieved as all that. They need time, money and lots of experience sometimes to reach such results.
And let’s face it: slide film and developing (the instances where colour effects become most astounding), either regular or cross processing is expensive. A coloured flash isn’t cheap. And you start getting a bit tired of redscaling after a while (this last one hasn’t happened to me yet, cause redscaling rules!!) in a try to actually get something remarkable out of your regular film.
If there was sun all year round it might be easier to get brighter colours, but where I live at least half the year is overcast, and regular coloured film starts getting a bit too brooding and dull after a while in such conditions.
After reading over some tipsters I noticed a lot of people used either lens filters (expensive) or coloured gels (from the above mentioned flash device) on their cameras to get some interesting coloured effects on their pictures. Some people even get more creative and suggest used candy wrappers (I got a bit worried over the stickiness on that one though :)
So this started my quest for coloured translucid materials I could use. I looked into staples selling stores for my answer but most of them (plastic tranparent folders mostly) had some kind of texture, even if translucent they weren’t clear enough. They’re sturdiness was ideal, as they wouldn’t bend or get folding marks on them, but I was concerned over the sharpness of my pictures. So I continued on looking. I settled over a kid’s manual arts booklet, with a wide assortment of materials. The most interesting of them: cellophane!! Some paper glue tape and some scissors later and my smena was never boring again…
After the first roll of film I realised some colours needed more than one layer so the effects could be more noticeable. The slight tint is there, but on photos where there is more light the colours almost don’t change enough to be noticeable.
So on my next try I used two layers of cellophane instead of just one. Here the results were much stronger and noticeable. Although a slight misjudge on my part turned this test film into an unexpected study on double exposures. Some of the colours I tried aren’t as noticeable because of this turn of events, but some ended up quite vivid.
Looking at these results I find that even though I might have misjudged my distances and the shot is a bit blurry; that maybe I even measured the light wrong and the film got a bit underexposed; or even that I completely missed the aimed targeted subject, vivid colour adds that little extra something to my pictures and makes me feel better about some of my less fortunate shots.
Even though all of this is nothing new, I hope these tips might help you with similar struggles as mine, and maybe you won’t get disappointed on something that at the beginning had you so excited and it turned out not to be all you were hoping for (yes Smena, I am unfortunately talking about you. I still love you, I do, I swear… it just me being so bad at guessing….).
Let me know if you have more suggestions to improve my Russian lomo experience, and let me know if any of this helped. :)