And now for something completely different! Who’s heard of a Holga camera? This is my Holga, a medium format 120 film camera from Hong Kong. 

The Holga is known as a toy camera. It has an incredibly low-cost construction with a plastic meniscus lens (two spherical curved surfaces, convex on one side and concave on the other side).

So, it’s a bad camera. Why would I want to take wedding photos on this thing?

What you can expect from Holga wedding photos

First thing you might notice if you’re particularly eagle-eyed: this camera is held together with tape. 🤣

The photos you get from this bad boy have heavy vignettes and sometimes have light leaks and other distortions too. 

Some folks really like how this camera captures a vintage, timeless feel. There’s nothing quite like the analog process that film is all about. I think this lends itself really well to the classic nature of weddings.

You get a surprisingly wide tonal range, lots of grain, and an unpredictable element to the finished photos. 

I currently am using only black and white film, which adds to the vintage feel of the images.

Beyond all of this, it’s a challenge for myself. Sure, I could use film cameras that are better suited to the job – and indeed I do have other film cameras (a Canon Elan and a Fuji Discovery 80 Plus, both little-known 35mm cameras).

But there is something irresistible about taking beautiful images with something so cheap and simple, it’s actually a children’s toy. It’s very in-keeping with my sensibilities from my fine art background.

Where and why I picked up this analog camera

I bought this camera second-hand on eBay in 2018. I felt like seeing what images I could get with truly the crappiest kind of camera – and to see if I could find some romance and beauty in imagery stripped down to the basics.

No fancy editing, no cropping or straightening, not even any color to make things ‘pop’. Film is beautiful, so images from even the most basic film camera oozes more beauty and personality than a decent digital camera or phone.

order of Holga 120FN bought on eBay for under $20

It’s been a fun journey figuring out how to actually use this thing. There are very few settings on it (unlike a modern-day DSLR). It works entirely mechanically. 

It really is so incredibly low-tech, you literally have to crank the film for every exposure you take. The way you focus this camera? Simply stand the appropriate distance away from the subject! 

I prepared the following table below to help you out with focusing distances for your Holga 120:

One person3 feet
Family 6 feet
Large group18 feet 
Mountain30 feet +
How far away to stand for focusing with Holga toy camera

I began bringing it along to weddings just for fun. Soon enough, I began making images that really made me feel something. I began to feel excited about wedding photography again.

I actually started off using film back in high school in the 90’s and I love that I’m coming back to my analog roots! I love that there are only 12 exposures on each roll of film (120 film), so it makes each exposure even more precious.

photo of a Holga 120FN film camera and gallery of sample wedding images
Holga 120FN 120 film camera

Holga photos are unpredictable… that’s what makes them fun. The small print.

If you vibe with the serendipity of film, grab yourself some Holga photos!

Please note: Holga photos are delivered digitally only. The film is sent to a lab for processing, and the scans are sent back to me. I will then add these to your existing wedding online gallery and alert you by email.

Expect your Holga additions to take about 3-5 months to be delivered

This is due to my lab that processes the film taking several weeks as per their expected turnaround time.

Plus, as I will not shoot a whole roll of film at one wedding, I’ll typically shoot 3 or 4 weddings on one roll of Holga. Since not that many clients want Holga photos, it can take a few weeks or so to fill up a roll of 12 exposures.

There is a small fee if you’d like to add Holga photos. This is more of a passion project for me, so the fee is nominal and helps me cover the significant costs associated with purchasing and developing the film.

120 film is hard to come by and expensive to purchase.

Also, I currently am only using black and white 120 film, which, believe it or not, is more costly to purchase and to develop than color film.

While I’ll do my best to come up with something cool, this isn’t a professional camera so the quality or outcome of the images isn’t guaranteed.

It is not subject to the same level of quality and service as the images that form your wedding gallery (i.e taken on professional digital equipment, edited to high level). The Holga camera is a children’s toy.

If nothing usable comes out on the film, I’ll apply the Holga photo fee as credit to your actual wedding gallery print store.

Please check your photography planning document to view the current price of this add-on to your package. Holga photos are only available with Zoe as your photographer, not with any associate photographer.

Holga 120FN wedding photography gallery

2019: completely clueless (point and hope)

First iteration – before I realized there was a switch that changed the length of the shutter speed. I’d been using ‘bulb’ mode, which basically keeps the shutter open. Not my greatest moment, but I came up with some interesting impressionistic images.

Shot on expired Ilford 400. Developed at Photoworks SF.

Trying out my Holga 120FN camera before taking it to weddings

Early 2021: getting the hang of it (quietly optimistic)

Shot on expired Holga 400. Developed at Photoworks SF. I still take unintentional double-exposures, but I swear one day I’ll do one on purpose.

Bay Area wedding photography with black and white film and Holga 120 toy camera
wedding photo taken with toy camera (Holga)
Holga 120 wedding photo sample

Later 2021: better focusing, deeper tones (enjoying the analog journey)

Changed suppliers for developing to Process One. Found a bunch of cheap-ish Ilford HP5 Plus film, so bought 3 rolls not knowing what to expect.

Grain was way less pronounced here, much deeper contrasts because of the deeper blacks that render in an almost sepia warm hue.

Nailed in my focusing distances a bit better than before!

Also – spot my first light leak! 👇🏽

san francisco captured with Holga camera - wedding photos
san francisco trolley on Holga 120 black and white film
wedding photography with black and white film and Holga 120 toy camera
double exposure sample photo taken with Holga 120 toy camera
San Francisco wedding photos taken with a toy camera, the Holga 120
bride and groom on their wedding day in san francisco captured on Holga 120 black and white film by Zoe Larkin Photography

December 2021

Processed by Process One, using Ilford HP5 Plus film from my previous supply.

Loved some of the more up-close-and-intimate shots and how light flare renders (something I do a lot in my digital work).

Realized I vastly prefer this than direct sun – shadows are just as unforgiving with film as with digital images.

I tried adding batteries to get the flash working (I have the Holga 120FN which is the flash model), and had to tape the batteries in due to the battery holder panel being missing.

Sadly, it didn’t hold, and the one exposure I tried indoors didn’t work out because the flash didn’t fire.

Holga photos toy camera (medium format analog camera)
example photos taken with holga 120 medium format toy camera
black and white holga wedding photos - toy camera photography in san francisco
sample image taken with a Holga 120N Camera with black and white film with golden gate bridge

Strongly considering offering a whole roll of Holga for each wedding – what would you pay for this?!

March 2022

I’m using Process One as my film developer – they take a long time, but I love how consistent the images come out, and also the price.

Things to notice: Holga film cameras need LOTS of light (as well as ISO 400 filme ONLY). The image below and on the left is super dark because it was taken right around sunset on a dark street. Compare that with the image on the right, and that beautiful glow from where the light was directly hitting the couple from behind.

I’ve mastered how I want to shoot in terms of lighting!

The middle row below is of a super cute LGBTQ+ couple, captured on their engagement shoot by the water in Oakland. I love how this lighting looks, and let me tell you, it was a super bright location (with light bouncing off the boardwalk and the water that we were surrounded by on all sides).

There’s something SO soft and beautiful about film when done right!

wedding photos from san francisco city hall taken with Holga 120N Film camera by Zoe Larkin photography
LGBTQ+ bay area engagement captured on Holga 120N by zoe Larkin
Outside SF City Hall black and white film photos - Holga toy camera

April 2022

Another month, another roll! Wow, I’m definitely getting more trigger-happy with my Holga, taking more and more shots at each wedding : )

I’m probably not going to showcase as much on here, because there are so many now! I’m sometimes getting two rolls developed at once, like I did this month.

Notable points: I used the toy camera for the first time indoors (at City Hall, of course!) in the brightest area of the building. The photo turned out really dark but I did a some cool imprint of the number and some dots that are printed on the back of the film!

This camera photographs best when there’s even light or there’s a touch of sunflare for that magical je ne sais quoi. This camera LOVES LIGHT.

wedding photos taken with Holga 120F camera
San francisco city hall wedding photos taken with Holga 120F camera
wedding photos with sunflare, taken with Holga 120F camera
couple exiting san Francisco city hall - photographed with Holga 120F toy camera
toy camera engagement photos by zoe larkin photography
sample photos taken with holga 120 film camera
medium format film - black and white wedding photos
san francisco city hall wedding photos with Holga 120F toy camera by zoe larkin photography
wedding photos in black and white taken with a Holga toy camera medium format film

May – June 2022

Wow, I’m really cranking out rolls of 120 film now! So many weddings have flown by, and more and more couples want to do some Holga photos, which I’m stoked for! I sometimes throw in some free Holga photos for some clients, when I really need to get through a roll.

wedding photos in black and white taken with a Holga toy camera medium format film
city hall film photos
san francisco wedding photos taken on a film camera
film photographer in san francisco
city hall wedding in san Francisco - shot on holga 120
same sex lgbtq wedding photos outside san francisco city hall
gay couple shot on black and white 120 film
film photographer- san francisco city hall wedding
couple walking across the street in san francisco wedding day
san Francisco filn wedding photos

August 2022

I also changed my lab to Reformed Film Lab, which promises larger file sizes, amazing customer service, fast turnaround time, and they work really hard to make sure the scans look as good as possible. I love how the dark tones turn out more of a true-black color than dark sepia.

I’m trying to take more documentary-style images with the Holga, rather than solely posed shots of the couple.

I picked up two new film cameras recently, so I can’t wait to add these to my arsenal. Blog post coming soon!

Onward and upward with my toy-camera film journey.

film wedding photographer in san francisco bay area
sample images shot with Holga 120 toy camera
black and white film shot on Holga 120N Film camera
black and white film shot on Holga 120N Film camera - san francisco city hall

Pin a graphic to your Pinterest board to bookmark this blog post! Follow @zoelarkinphoto on Pinterest!

Interested in having photos taken with a Holga 120 toy analog camera at your wedding? Check out this gallery of wedding photos by Zoe Larkin Photography and some stunning, interesting analog images with this basic film camera + 120 medium format film #holga #toycamera #analogphotography
Zoe Larkin
Zoe Larkin

I’m Zoe, a wedding photographer based in San Francisco! My style is candid, capturing authentic moments for my couples all over the Bay Area and Northern California. Creating content is my passion! Follow along the blog and Insta!

Wedding photos taken with Holga 120 toy camera

Wedding photos taken with my Holga (old toy film camera)

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