Cellophane Land: A Tipster on Colour and Smena Symbol Usage


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.

For example, here I was aiming for the cactus…

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.

  1. Focusing
    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.
  1. 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.

In this picture for example: for a 400 ISO film, to shoot during sunsets or rainy days I have only to match aperture (red arrow) with shutter speed (yellow).

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 :)

  1. Framing properly
    Haven’t quite figured this one out but I am open to suggestions.
  1. Colour
    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.

Yellow tint makes it all sunny…
Green tint
Pink tint
Blue, yellow and pink all mixed up :)

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.

Double Blue, Pink, Yellow, Pink, Orange and Blue tints…

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. :)

written by blablabla-anab on 2011-11-21 #gear #tutorials #diy #camera #filters #colour #smena-symbol #tipster #lightmeter #focusing #cellophane #hand-craft


  1. jawatembak
    jawatembak ·

    thanks for the tips and the result picture. really like it.

  2. blablabla-anab
    blablabla-anab ·

    @jawatembak thank you for reading and commenting. I hope it helps :D

  3. asharnanae
    asharnanae ·

    To frame my pictures with my diana camera I usually just point it up about one CM higher than it apparently needs to be, and this generally corrects for the fact the viewfinder is mounted higher than the lens. Or the other method I have found that works is to frame the shot in the viewfinder, then move the camera up so that the lens area is corresponding to your eye level, this should give you a more accurate shot. :)

  4. blablabla-anab
    blablabla-anab ·

    @asharnanae Thank you for the tip :) I actually tried that, but I obviously over compensated, or something like that. I think I make it worse *pouts*
    Oh well, I will eventually get it right :P

    Thank you for reading and comenting!!

  5. ibkc
    ibkc ·

    It's funny - I've not had any framing issues with my Smena Symbol, or any 35mm viewfinder camera. These are designed to compensate for parallax, just as twin-lens reflex and rangefinder cameras are. So I am unsure why you are having such problems.
    Guessing distance - this, to me, is the most difficult thing about using the Symbol. One more tip if you find yourself without a measuring device: focusing distances are printed on the lens in both feet and meters. You can use your actual feet to count out the distance in feet: using the baseline of one human foot as roughly equivalent to one foot measurement unit. I have small feet, so for me I step out just a bit over the length of each of my feet. It's a method that works fairly well.
    Metering: bravo for you, you are on the right track! Very soon you will know this stuff very well by using your analogue light metering card. (Also, though, for those who have iPhones, there is a free downloadable light meter app called, appropriately enough, "Light Meter". It's very handy.)

  6. blablabla-anab
    blablabla-anab ·

    @ibkc Yes, the first time I tried it out, I thought so as well, so I framed everything through the viewfinder, but then when I got my photos most of them were a little to the side, when they were supposed to be centered. So I started trying to compensate, and so it got worse. Lol, I think I'm just bad at it.
    Like I said, me and my smena is a love hate thing. But I'm learning more and more how to take the best out of it. And this article was way of sharing the little tricks I've come across and sharing my experience over not giving up on a sometimes frustrating camera. But I have to be honest, I love some of the surprises Smena gives me ^____^
    That tips about the distance in feets is awesome. I never made the conection, It's silly really. You ARE right. Got to try that one as well.
    Unfortunately I don't have an iPhone, so no lightmeter (although whoever thought of that was a genious :) but I'm in love with my little Metering card and it works wonderfuly for me.
    Thank you so much for reading, and for your input, it's very apreciated.
    Hugs and Lomo 4 ever :P

  7. ibkc
    ibkc ·

    @blablabla-anab Hi! You know, I would try running some cheap films through your Smena and go back to framing through the viewfinder and just practice ... it could be the one you have was somehow damaged but that seems unlikely.
    I know what you mean about the love/hate thing with the Smenas - but look at it this way - they FORCE us to learn, don't they? I considered myself a kind of "intermediate" photographer, but the focusing thing really killed me! Still does. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to take a decent photo of a moving object with a Smena. For instance, my son! Five-year-old boys do not stay still long enough to to measure or count out the focusing.
    The thing is, though - that LOMO glass is wonderful and when you get a photo back where everything is right -- it's all worth it!

  8. blablabla-anab
    blablabla-anab ·

    @ibkc Oh, have no doubts, I WILL keep trying :)

    Thank you so much for the positive input, It really is appreaciated!

  9. wuxiong
    wuxiong ·

    Great article and nice example pics...<:)

  10. blablabla-anab
    blablabla-anab ·

    @wuxiong thank you ^____^

  11. glenn
    glenn ·


  12. blablabla-anab
    blablabla-anab ·

    @glenn Thank you so much for reading, liking and letting me know :) It's very appreciated!

  13. joao-lomo-leao
    joao-lomo-leao ·


  14. carolinep008
    carolinep008 ·

    great article! i'm going to try this with my holga

  15. blablabla-anab
    blablabla-anab ·

    @carolinep008 I'm very glad I could help :) Hope you get really good results. Would love to see the results ^____^

  16. blablabla-anab
    blablabla-anab ·

    @joao-lomo-leao :D

  17. marcustegtmeier
    marcustegtmeier ·

    I like these shots, they make things look really moody. I can't wait to try this!

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