The Diana F+ is a cult and longtime favorite for many because of its capacity for experimentation, not to mention being an inexpensive entry point to film photography. For filmmaker and photographer Dylan Overhouse, the Diana F+ was his first foray into the world of analogue photography when he received a full Diana F+ kit from his uncle at the start of the pandemic.
After having this camera with him for three years now, we talk to Dylan about his journey with the Diana F+, and he gives us a glimpse into his overlooked, yet breathtaking area of southwestern Wisconsin and the dreamy scenery he creates through the lens of this iconic camera.
Hi, can you please introduce yourself and tell us how you started film photography?
My name is Dylan Overhouse, I am a filmmaker and photographer based out of La Crosse, Wisconsin. At the beginning of the pandemic, in March of 2020, my uncle messaged me and said he had this film camera kit laying around and was wondering if I would be interested in it. Having no idea what I was about to get myself into, I said heck yeah, and a week later I received the glorious package that is the Diana F+ Kit. This included a versatile set of lenses and adapters that now going on three years later, I am still exploring.
Starting from scratch I ordered all of the equipment and chemicals and some Kodak B&W film to develop in my small apartment. I went out and shot a roll, came home super excited to see the results, and nothing. Completely blank roll. I was pretty crushed but now even more determined to get it right. On my second roll shot, I developed my first round of 120 film images, using the Diana and the 38 mm Super Wide lens. People still gravitate towards some of those photos today. It’s satisfying to know some of my first attempts held up through time. From there I began testing different lenses and documenting my results, then quickly made the jump to start shooting color film and learned the C41 development process. It wasn’t until 2021 before I even started shooting with the 35 mm back, which is what I shoot most commonly with today.
What gear do you usually use and what’s your go-to setup?
I typically have three cameras loaded at any time between my Diana F+, Nikon FE, Nikon FE2, or my Canon AE1. I shoot mostly 35 mm film, with my Diana I recently went through some Kodak Ultra Max 400 which I was surprisingly impressed with. I didn’t think I would love the film but the punchy colors really suit the Diana aesthetic. In the other two I like to have something experimental like LomoChrome Purple, otherwise, Kodak Gold 200 does the trick for my everyday stuff. Life is full of surprises so it’s good to be prepared.
What’s it like shooting in your area?
I live in a part of Southwestern Wisconsin (U.S.) known as the Driftless Region. This region in the midwest was never covered by the last ice age, so I’m surrounded by all these steep gnarly bluffs, thick woods, rivers, and lakes. In that, there are endless opportunities for iconic landscape photos, tons of farmland, and also history. I love the nature around here and it’s hard to ignore, but I tend to document abandonment, loneliness, and history. Wisconsin people, commonly known for being nice, also share a common loneliness that is attributed to long, dark, cold winters and the isolation that comes with that. I try to shine a light on this with much of my imagery, especially my street photography.
It’s generally calm shooting in my area. The streets aren’t overcrowded, and there aren’t any major airports or attractions within a couple of hours, so it’s usually pretty chill and people tend to be friendly. It helps that I am native to the area so I kind of know what I can and can’t do, or where I can go. Whenever I get burnt out on shooting in the city, I'll just hop in my car and cruise out to the valleys, or a friend and I will road trip through other small towns.
How do people in your area feel when you want to take their photo and how important is it for you to document this part of the world?
People are generally quite welcoming and friendly, but can be shy at first. When I want to stop somebody and take their photo, I get a range of reactions that include confusion, curiosity, flattered, and indifference. I think a lot of it depends on how I approach them, or what gear I am using. People will feel more intimidated by bigger lenses and digital cameras, people are either curious or don’t take me seriously at all when it is the Diana, and if it is a classic 35 mm body, folks are pretty curious or neutral. I’m usually just trying to capture the moment as it is and keep moving on so as to not take up any person's time. More often than not, I just take the image or go off social cues, once in a while I will get somebody that just isn’t having a good day or doesn’t like their photo taken.
I think it’s important to document the world as you see it, wherever you are. I just happen to be hanging out in this part of the world where we have long dark winters with short days, and people wave at you when you drive past them, hold the door for strangers, and just keep to their really normal lives I guess. But when you get closer to all of that, these folks are super interesting, and with all of the history in the area, and solitude as I mentioned, comes strong stories.
How would you describe your photography style?
Decisive, and intentional. It’s difficult to box myself into just one style when there are so many different things you can do with a camera. I enjoy the journey of always finding something new to see or try. Overall my photos are said to be "a study in simplicity and intention, with undeniable attention to composition, color, and light.”
How does your work as a filmmaker impact your style of photography and what you want to capture?
I try to imagine my videos as a series of meaningful images because visually, that’s what they should be. It should look good, and tell a story. When I’m out shooting photos, a lot of times I am like a location scout, just picking out small little scenes within the world that would be interesting and documenting them for later. Both areas of my life tend to inspire each other back and forth. It wasn’t until I started shooting film that I started to appreciate the softer, more dreamy images that I can get using different filters on my digital lenses, which I almost never take off anymore.
How has your experience been of using the Diana F+?
The Diana F+ was the first film camera I began shooting with, back in 2020. Moving from digital photography, it was a pleasant shock to be stripped down to the basics. With only three different aperture settings and three different focus ranges, the “don’t think, just shoot” Lomography motto made a quick impression on me and allowed me to just focus on the subject matter and essentially let go of everything else. It helped me stop taking things too seriously.
This unguarded approach, strictly shooting for personal pleasure and curiosity was therapeutic for me, at a very confusing time. It was exciting and gave me a renewed sense of inspiration and vision. That first year was about learning and exploring. Not striving for perfection, or to impress anyone, I just would see something that stands out to me and try to capture it. The reward of making a nice image with this camera is super exciting for me.
After using the Diana for over a year, what are your thoughts on the camera? Is there anything you would change about it?
I love the camera. There are times, very often, when I wish I could see what my lens is seeing but I think the mystery is part of the fun! I would say definitely get the 35 mm back and different size adapters, if you can. I think it would be especially helpful if you are learning how the Diana functions since you have more shots per roll. I personally love the backs that expose over the sprocket holes, the square one, and the panoramic. When you shoot an image in a way that composes well, involving the sprocket holes or going through them, is really cool to me. I am currently leaving the square back on with the intention of capturing a series of nightlife shots in my city using the flash.
What techniques or lessons have you learned from using the camera?
I found these cool little cheat sheets online for shooting pinhole with Diana which was helpful. I keep a folder on my phone with info like this, and then when I am first trying something new I like to make a note of the settings used and also take a cell phone reference photo to look back at. The combination of those habits helps the learning process go much smoother, at least for me anyway.
How would you compare your first Diana shots to the ones you're taking now?
They just keep getting weirder. I’ve learned to find light in better ways and also learned how to expose it better and more consistently. I’m a bit more focused on people currently and have become comfortable enough with the camera to be able to approach strangers with the confidence that we can create a nice image together.
I'm a lot more intentional. No more repetitive shots from testing settings or lenses. I still cut people's heads off from time to time or I might shoot a group photo and accidentally have one person hanging out of the frame but hey, it’s all in the moment and more importantly, for fun, right?
Can you share some of your favorite or most memorable photos with us?
It was my birthday last year so I made myself try something I’d been meaning to do, a pinhole portrait. I had finally begun working with a light meter so I was as ready as I needed to be, and met up with my friend Mike downtown. We took the photo, and I must have forgotten to wind the film and ended up with a pinhole double exposure. It turned out to be one of those happy accidents.
When I was first learning my lenses, I figured out I could fit the fisheye through a fence, and so doing that to take a photo of some Emu’s, right as one of them turned to peck at my lens, I hit the shutter. The lens was okay!
I was just shooting my third roll of B&W film, still not entirely confident but definitely yearning to start taking photos of people. I had been walking across a bridge when someone yelled out at me, it turned out to be a good friend of mine from out of town who just happened to be passing by at that moment. He picked me up, we went and quickly shot two or three photos and parted ways.
“Don’t Forget About Me”
This is just one of my favorite images, especially with LomoChrome Purple. This one is about finding the beauty in something that has been forgotten or overlooked. Luckily I composed it just right and ended up getting some gnarly green hues in the windows of the other trucks.
For my first roll of LomoChrome Purple my girlfriend, Bao, and I drove out to her parents' farm to shoot some of the flowers and vegetables. Her mom took this photo of us that day, and like the rest of these images, it holds a special memory during a period of growth and exploration.
Do you have any tips you can share for using this camera?
Keep the flash with you, if you aren’t in direct sun or you are indoors you will most likely want to use it. The color gels can add a nice fun pop. The 10 rules of Lomography are pretty spot on, too.
Do you have any goals going forward for your Diana photography?
Now that I am comfortable with my Diana, I think my next step is to experiment more with long exposures and perhaps try to capture some astrophotography with it. This summer I definitely plan to dial in on some portraiture using the pinhole, I'm excited to see what I can create with that.
Lastly, any pieces of advice or anything you want to say to the rest of the Lomography community?
Try it. Whatever has been sitting in the back of your mind, just try it. Let it out. Fail at it, and try it again. "A target that you hit every time, is a target that you set way too close.”
Follow your instincts and trust the process.
We thank Dylan for sharing his journey and knowledge about the Diana F+. Make sure to check out the rest of his photos and film work. Got any tips or stories with the Diana F+? Comment down below and share them with us!