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Dreamy light is all the rage right now. Maybe it has been for awhile, but it is definitely something that photographers are seeking right now. But how does one achieve it? Vintage lenses. Diffusion filters. Scratching a UV filter. Those can work. How about these: shooting through an optical viewfinder, oiling a filter, or using a LoFi lens? Yep, that’ll do it, too. But there is a cheaper and easier camera hack that might just work even better!
Here’s how to do it and what it looks like.
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I made a really interesting discovery: if you tilt a diffusion filter and spin it, you can control the lens flare and bloom. For example, in the pictures above, I twisted the tilted filter, and the flare and bloom around the street lamp go from sideways to diagonal. There are several creative applications of this!
Below, I’ll explain how I made this filter (it’s simple!), and what you can do with it.
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I love using vintage lenses because they often have character. Modern lenses are often technically perfect (or close to it), but they usually lack the character that is a hallmark of analog photography—perhaps the precision engineering makes them too good. The imperfections of old glass is what gives them their unique qualities. One of those qualities is sometimes interesting lens flare. Some people love lens flare and some people hate it—if you are one of those who loves it, I discovered a trick that you might appreciate. It is simple (yet can be tricky), and you probably already have what you need to do it.
I like using vintage lenses because they often have character, and sometimes that character is pronounced in the lens flare. When light is scattered within the lens system, such as reflected between the elements, you get lens flare. Some people love it and some people don’t. Modern lenses are precision engineered and coated to avoid lens flare as much as possible. If you’re one of those who like it and try to incorporate it within your photography, you might be disappointed that newer glass just doesn’t produce very much lens flare; however, there’s a cheap and simple hack for increasing the flare in your photographs.
If you are using a lens that’s not especially prone to lens flare and you want a little more of it in your pictures, it’s very easy to do.
Well, this is going to sound crazy, but I turned my Fujifilm X100V into a disposable film camera. No, I didn’t disassemble my digital camera, rip out the sensor, and adapt a film spool. Instead, I configured my X100V to capture pictures that appear as though they were captured with a cheap throwaway film camera. Why? I’ve done crazier things before, including distressing a camera, so it shouldn’t be too shocking that I’d do this—perhaps it was just a matter of time.
The inspiration for this project has been building for awhile. I have a picture displayed on my dresser that’s over 20 years old—it’s my wife and I, captured sometime shortly after we got married. A friend took the picture with a disposable camera. I can tell that it was a Fujifilm QuickSnap camera by the color palette, which is clearly Fujicolor. The picture is special to me because it’s a very personal (and happy) moment that’s been frozen in time through photography. It’s nothing more than a snapshot captured on a cheap camera, and would be completely meaningless to almost anyone else. I have a box full of these type of pictures, mostly 4″ x 6″ prints. You might have a box like this, too—snapshots that are meaningful to you.
Fujifilm developed the QuickSnap camera, a “one-time-use” 35mm film camera, in the mid-1980’s (Kodak released its version, called FunSaver, a couple years later), and it was an instant hit. These “disposable” cameras were extremely popular in the 1990’s and 2000’s. They came preloaded with 27 frames (a 24-exposure roll of film, but you got three extra shots), and were point-and-shoot. You’d push the shutter-release and advance the film, but otherwise there typically weren’t any other controls, so anyone could use these cameras—no skill required. Once you exposed all of the frames, you’d take the camera to the 1-hour lab, where they removed the film for development and recycled the camera. 60 minutes later you’d have a packet of 4″ x 6″ prints.
Cheap digital point-and-shoots made a dent in disposable camera sales, but it was really the cellphone camera that rendered them obsolete; however, you might be surprised to learn that you can still buy disposable cameras today. Thanks to the Lomography movement and an increased interest in film photography, there’s enough of a market for these cameras to continue to exist in 2022. I briefly considered purchasing one, but instead of that, I decided to capture QuickSnap-like images on my Fujifilm X100V.
Now you know the why, so let’s get into the how.
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I just published a new video on the Fuji X Weekly YouTube Channel! This particular video is a mix of this article about creating blue hour pictures in daylight and this article about Fujifilm using my picture on their website, plus some footage of downtown Ogden, Utah. It’s pretty short, so if you have a spare two minutes, give the video a watch!
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I love photographing during the “blue hour” of dusk and dawn. The time right before sunrise and just after sunset, called twilight, is great for photography. While it’s called the blue hour, twilight is technically closer to an hour-and-a-half, but for practical photographic purposes, you have around 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening where the light is great for capturing pictures, so an hour total each day. That’s a small window of opportunity that’s easy to miss.
There are challenges to blue hour photography because the available light is limited and constantly changing. You’re using slow shutter speeds, large apertures and high ISOs. Or you are lugging around a tripod. These aren’t necessarily “bad things” they’re simply a part of blue hour photography, but there is an alternative that eliminates these challenges.
You can do faux blue hour photography anytime of the day with your Fujifilm X100V. It’s a simple trick, really. It requires three things: underexposure, warm high-shutter-speed flash, and a white balance adjustment. With a little slight-of-hand—I mean, technical knowhow—you can create pictures that appear to have been captured during the blue hour but are in fact daytime images.
The first thing you’ll need to do is underexposure your pictures by at least 3 stops from what the meter says that it should be. Most of the pictures that I captured required the exposure to be adjusted to -3 2/3 to -4 1/3, which means you’ll have to go manual, since the exposure compensation dial only goes to -3. You are basically setting the luminance of the background in your pictures, and you want it to be dark. It can be tough to judge in the moment what the exact exposure should be, and it takes a little trial-and-error to get it right, so be patient, as it might take a few tries to get an image that you’re happy with.
Next is the flash, which you’ll use to illuminate the foreground of your pictures. Because you are photographing during daylight, you’ll be using a fast shutter. I typically used a shutter speed between 1/500 and 1/4000, just depending on the picture, which would be a problem for most cameras when combined with flash photography, but on the X100V it’s no problem whatsoever. You see, the X100V’s mechanical shutter is a leaf shutter, which means that you can use the flash at high shutter speeds (something that you cannot do with a focal plane shutter). The X100V’s built-in fill-flash does marginally work for this, but I got much better results when using the EF-X500 shoe-mount flash. I taped a DIY yellow “gel” (plastic that I cut off of a pear bag that was semi-transparent and yellow) to the flash to make the foreground warmer.
White balance is the third key to this trick. While it varies depending on the exact light, I found that 2500K with a shift of +5 Red and +9 Blue produced good results. Basically, you’ll want the white balance to be very cool, and you’ll need it to be 3200K at the warmest, which will likely will be a tad too warm.
Here are some examples comparing pictures shot normal and pictures shot with this faux blue hour trick:
The difference is huge! The normal daylight and the faux blue hour versions of the pictures above look dramatically dissimilar from each other, even though they were captured only seconds apart. This little trick produces convincing results!
The settings that I used for most of my faux blue hour pictures are:
Dynamic Range: DR400
Highlight: -1 to +1
Shadow: -2 to 0
Color: -2 to +2
Noise Reduction: -4
Color Chrome Effect: Off
Color Chrome Effect Blue: Strong
Grain: Weak, Large
White Balance: 2500K, +5 Red & +9 Blue
Flash: On, with yellow “gel”
Exposure: -3 2/3 to -4 1/3 (typically)
This isn’t a film simulation recipe, so I didn’t strictly stick with one set of settings, but instead looked at each exposure individually. Still, all of my faux blue hour pictures had similar settings, and I didn’t stray very far from it.
Even though this technique is a great way to achieve a blue hour look, there are some limitations. First, you might have shadows that don’t make sense for an after-sunset image. Second, there won’t be any lights on, such as streetlamps, car lights and indoor lights, which you’d expect to find after dark. If you want to use a slow shutter speed, you’ll need to activate the built-in ND filter, but you won’t likely get it to be as slow as you would if it were actually twilight. While the shoe-mounted flash does a decent job of lighting the foreground, you’d likely get even better results if you used strobes or off-camera flashes, but that further complicates the situation.
Despite the limitations, the technique of underexposure, warm flash, and cool white balance makes for convincing blue hour images in daylight conditions. While these settings are intended for the Fujifilm X100V, they can be applied to any camera with a leaf shutter—because of the fast shutter speeds you’ll be using, the leaf shutter is the real key to this trick. Below are out-of-camera JPEGs made using this faux blue hour technique on my X100V camera during daylight.
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“…the Fujifilm X-T30 isn’t an especially good or practical way of achieving an out-of-camera Holga look. Can you? Sure, to an extent. The use of a couple of apps improves the results. Even so, there are only a few of these pictures that I really like. I think next time I’ll just load a roll of film into my Holga 120N.”
That statement above is how I concluded Part 1. Put more simply, the Fujifilm X-T30 isn’t a good option for digitally recreating an in-camera Holga aesthetic. Or is it? I’m not one to easily give up. Many of my different film simulation recipes took much trial-and-error to achieve. I failed over and over, but I didn’t give up. I kept trying! Yes, the Toy Camera effect isn’t a good option, but there has to be another way. And there is!
What I ended up doing was punching a hole in some black cardstock, and taping it to the front of the Industar 69 lens. This provided the vignetting that Holga cameras are known for. I added some tape to the edges of the hole to increase the blur at the frame edges. The aperture of the lens had to be preset (I chose f/4) because the cardstock and tape blocked it. I set the aspect ratio on the X-T30 to 1:1 for a square picture.
With this setup I could use any film simulation recipe that I wanted, and I could even do in-camera double exposures. This was a much better way to get an in-camera Holga look! This is a significantly better option than using the Toy Camera effect. It didn’t take very much work to add cardstock with a hole to the front of the lens. While better, this still isn’t the same as shooting film in an actual Holga camera, but it isn’t a bad facsimile, either. This was an interesting experiment that was worth doing, but I probably won’t be doing it again anytime soon.
These are straight-out-of-camera JPEGs using this faux Holga technique: