There's so many options that we have for shooting with the cult-classic Diana camera — from instant, to 35 mm, to the classic 120. Vancouver-based photographer and Youtuber Yvonne Hanson recently explored the iconic Diana aesthetic digitally, by using the Diana Lens Adapter for her Nikon DSLR.
We got a chance to sit down with her and discuss her results and some tips and tricks for the experimental crossover between analogue and digital.
Hi Yvonne, welcome to Lomography Magazine! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I am a Vancouver-based fashion and beauty photographer. I've been a full time freelance photographer since April and it is the best job I have ever had! My work is typically clean and focused with harsh shadows and bold pops of colour. I have a lot of fun learning and experimenting with new techniques, and documenting these endeavors on my Youtube channel.
What led to your interest in film photography?
I was always intrigued by film (the tonez!) but I thought it would be a lot more complicated than it actually is. I had an Instax Mini that I used for fun snapshots at parties and events, but I never used it for anything serious. I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that I could use it for street photography. I did a few sessions with it and fell in love. When I went to buy new cartridges for it, a disposable camera on a nearby display caught my eye. I was still thinking of this idea of "photography challenges" and I thought it would be fun to experiment with. Well, the photos came back and they were fantastic! I realized what a great art form I had been missing out on.
How did you discover Lomography?
I discovered Lomography as soon as I discovered that film photography was an accessible medium. I've always been excited about in-camera effects and Lomography offers a whole new world of creativity! I kind of skipped over regular film photography and went straight to Lomography. The day I bought my first point-and-shoot, I walked out of the photo store with one roll of LomoChrome Purple and one roll of KONO! Monsoon. It only got wackier from there... an experience that I'm sure many Lomography enthusiasts can attest to!
Can you tell us about the camera set up from your video?
The set up in my video is something I've affectionately dubbed the "poor man's film camera". It takes photos that look like they were captured on film, but I don't have to pay to get them developed. I'm using my Nikon D780 with a lens from a Diana toy camera, attached using the Lomography Adapter for Nikon. I've also done a high contrast black and white edit on some of the photos to better imitate a monochromatic novelty film.
What made you decide to shoot digital with the Diana lens?
When I was shooting film every day, I had an office job with regular hours and union pay. I could afford to shoot film as often as I wanted. Now, as a freelance photographer, film is a bit more of a luxury for me, especially since I don't develop at home. I still love Lomography, though, so I was pretty excited to find that this lens and camera combo could satisfy my urge to take imperfect and unusual photos at a fraction of the cost.
Was shooting digital with the plastic film lens any different than shooting with a regular manual SLR or DSLR?
It was quite different because of the complete lack of aperture control. It reads as F0, and the camera has no idea how to meter for it, so there's a lot of guessing and checking involved in getting the exposure right. Based on my results, I think that its actually close to F11, so I've been metering based on that and it seems to work out. There's also a very limited ability to focus, with only three different focal ranges. It's easy to get things that are further than 15 meters away in focus, but anything closer takes some fandangling. I had much better luck getting street photography in focus than I did with the portraits. Its cool though— if something is really out of focus in direct sun, it will glow brilliantly in the final image.
How were the results of the DSLR and Diana combo compared to the results on a traditional Diana camera?
Being able to adjust settings to accommodate the high F-stop is a huge help with this digital-Lomography set up. I can't imagine ever shooting the Diana at night, but with my D780 I can crank the ISO up to 8000 and edit some of the grain out later. I do miss the colors and tones that film provides though, and it's difficult to replicate in post. This set up is really cool, but it can't replace film in my heart.
Do you have a favorite photo that you shot digitally with the Diana lens? Is there a story behind it?
Its hard to pick, but I'd say these two are among my favorites. The portrait was captured during a one-hour TFP shoot by the beach, and the light was really harsh. It was difficult to get a good shot in the direct sun, but I was trying a bunch of fun tricks to get around it. I asked the model to bear with me for a few minutes while I took some shots with the Diana lens, and she was keen to try it out! I had found this windmill palm frond about a week prior and carried it around in my car in case the opportunity arose to shoot with it. We got this shot, and I was shocked that the Diana lens could create such a radiant effect.
The other shot was a bit of a throwaway taken in a shop window. I waited until someone walked by and then captured their reflection. I just love the ghostly outline of this person's shirt, combined with the colors of the leaves and shadows. There's something very... ethereal about it? I'm not sure, but I like it a lot.
Do you have any tips or tricks for shooting with your Diana lens on a digital camera?
Zone focusing — basically pick one focal length and stick to it, because it is way too finicky to adjust it for every shot. You have to poke your fingers right in there and twist it around, so save yourself the effort! Even out-of-focus shots look pretty cool under the right conditions, so keep that in mind when you're out shooting. Another thing to keep in mind is that the lens will pop off occasionally — sometimes at random, sometimes if you provoke it by grazing it with your hand. It's very upsetting to look down and see a gaping hole leading directly to your recently-cleaned full frame sensor, and even more upsetting to have to scramble for your fallen lens in the middle of an expiring crosswalk, so be wary!
Do you have any upcoming projects or videos that you can share with us?
I'm working on a full review video of this lens and camera combo, and I'm working on shooting with it in every possible condition to provide a well-rounded view of everything you can do with it. I still have to shoot with it in studio with strobe lights and at night with found light before I will release the video. So stay tuned! It will be out on my Youtube channel in the next month or so for sure.
Anything else that you'd like to share?
I want to say thank you for featuring this and sharing some of my photos! I hope other photographers will be inspired to try this out, and I'm curious to see the results!