2 Minute Tricks # 14 – Holgafy

November 4th, 2005

A look at how to Holgafy your digital images. A holga is a very low-tech $20 plastic medium format camera that was really made as a toy camera, but it has caught on with many photographers due to the unique look of the images a Holga produces. Holgas are plagued with light leaks, poor plastic lenses, and unpredictable controls. So why would one want to make their pristine digital image look like it was shot with a junker of a camera? Well the raw and kind of primal look you get with a holga can be very appealing for certain images, and sometimes seeing images in a slightly different format can do wonders for the feel of an image.

The film tops and bottoms are available here: Top and bottom

Note: If you are downloading directly from the web page click here to download.

A special thanks to the Hijiyama Project for our new closing theme. You can find more about the Hijiyama Project here.

Step by Step Guide

Step 1: Open up an image in Photoshop that you would like to holgafy. Then select the crop tool from the tools pallet. While you can shoot Holgas in both rectangle and square formats, most people (including me) prefer the more unique square shape. So, with the crop tool hold down shift and drag out a crop on your image. Holding down shift will force the crop tool into a square shape. When you have a crop you like hit return to accept the crop.

Step 2: Now create a new hue/saturation adjustment layer by hitting the button on the layers pallet that looks like circle that is half white and half black and select the hue/saturation option.

Step 3: A new dialog box will pop open with 3 sliders in it. Click the saturation slider and drag it all the way to the left and click ok. This will make your image black and white. While not all Holga images are shot in black and white, I would guess that most are, and black and white adds to the Holga mood.

Step 4: Now create a levels adjustment layer the same way we made the hue saturation layer except select the levels option in the pop up menu. A new dialog box will open with a histogram graph in it. You should notice three triangles under the histogram, one white, one black, and one grey one in the middle. I usually drag both the black and white triangles toward the middle. This will increase the contrast in the image. When you have settings that looks good to you click ok. You can always adjust these settings later; so don’t be too picky about it now.

Step 5: Now create a new layer above the background layer. You can do this quickly by clicking on the background layer, then clicking the button that looks like a little sticky note at the bottom of the layers pallet.

Step 6: Now select the gradient tool from the tool pallet and push the “d” key on your keyboard. This will set the black as your foreground color. Now go to the gradient options bar or pallet and click directly on the big horizontal gradient in the options bar, you will know you will be in the right place to click if a message that says “click to edit the gradient” come up when you hover over the section of the bar or pallet.

Step 7: A dialog box will open with a bunch of gradient presets. Click on the one that is foreground to transparent (it should look like a box with black at the top left corner fading into little grey and white squares). Now look below the presets part of the dialog to the long horizontal picture of a gradient. Just above the picture you will see two triangles with squares above them. There will be a black on the left and a white one on the right. Drag the white one left till the location box below reads about 35%. Then click ok.

Step 8: Now click the radial gradient button from the gradient tools options and click the reverse check box. Then click and hold with the mouse in the middle of your image with the gradient tool and drag your mouse to one of the corners of your image. When your mouse aligns with a corner of you image let go. This should darken all the corners of your image and imitate the Vignetting the lens of the Holga creates.

Step 9: Holga lenses also have a much sharper focus in the middle of the image than at the edges, so we are going to selectively blur just the edges of the image. To do this duplicate the background layer by dragging it in the layers pallet to the sticky note button at the bottom. Then go to the filter menu and select blur then lens blur. If your copy of Photoshop doesn’t have lens blur use Gaussian blur. Blur the image so your image looks blurry but shapes and lines are still visible. The exact amount you need to use will vary depending on the size of you image. Then click OK.

Step 10: Now add a layer mask to the blurred layer by clicking on the button that looks like a grey rectangle with a white circle in the middle of it in the layers pallet. Now select your gradient tool again and select the black to white preset from the gradient options bar. Make sure that the reverse check box is unclicked, and that the radial gradient is still selected, then drag the gradient tool from the middle of the image to one of the corners of the image. This will fade the blur from the middle out to the edges of the image.

Optional Steps: For an even more holga like image you can add noise to the image with the noise filter and add film marks to the top and bottom of the image. Fake film tops and bottoms are available here and here.

Entry Filed under: FB,Podcast

29 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Catherine Murphy  |  November 5th, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    excellent trick! I love Holga’s and this one I can now apply to my “regular” photos. Great podcast!

  • 2. Andrew Lukaris  |  November 6th, 2005 at 6:00 am

    Excellent tricks. I love the look of the dog in the Holgafy podcast, but I have had difficulty completing the trick.

    My problem is with sharpening the central image whilst keeping the periphery blurred. I am using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 on my mac iBook.


  • 3. Pufi Chek  |  November 6th, 2005 at 10:28 am

    Excellent, just my level, super podcast.

    I have done this trick on several photos and they look wonderful.

    Thanks! I look forward to your next tricks!

  • 4. Ed in Alabama  |  November 15th, 2005 at 11:08 am

    Great tip. Oddly enough, I had never even heard of the Holga until I listened to this podcast. I used Photoshop to pull of the trick on a digicam image of my wife on the beach and it really is amazing. The false film markings you have provided also add a tremendous amount of realism. I did a quick Google images search for photos taken via the Holga, and found that my end result closely matched the majority of those.

    I too have had difficulty with the sharper center, blurred periphery, but I am going to try again. Heck, I may just go buy a Holga camera and get the real, freaky thing!

    Thanks again!

  • 5. Doug S.  |  November 15th, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    Tons of fun! Thanks for expanding my novice-level abilities.

    Keep up the good work.


    Doug S. Austin, TX USA

  • 6. Ken  |  November 16th, 2005 at 3:07 pm

    Very nice. I just adapted this trick for use in After Effects, too.

  • 7. Annabell  |  November 19th, 2005 at 4:31 am

    worked well! Amazing results!

  • 8. Amber  |  December 1st, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    In response to the problem Andrew L is having with Photoshop Elements 2.0…

    I just bought the new version – Elements 4.0 – and I had the same problem with the blurring step. I think it is rooted in that Elements doesn’t have that “Layer Mask” option. I welcome anyone’s advice on how to overcome this problem, if possible. Thanks!!


  • 9. Howard Chalkley  |  January 3rd, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    There is a way to use layer masks in Elements: go over to http://www.earthboundlight.com/phototips/photoshop-elements-curves.html and download their package of effects. This will allow you to add a layer mask, or use the “curves” tool.

  • 10. 2 Minute Photoshop Tricks&hellip  |  January 4th, 2006 at 1:40 am

    [...] I’m very pleased to announce the first 2 Minute Photoshop Tricks contest. The theme for this first contest will be Holgafy. If you missed the Holgafication episode of the show you can find the audio and the step by step guide for the trick here. [...]

  • 11. kathi  |  January 4th, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    I cannot thank you enough for the quick, easy and very cool tricks. You describe everything pretty clear and for that I am grateful. Been using photoshops for many years without any training and well, I am learning a lot in each section. I hope you are planning to put these all in a book too.

  • 12. Pat  |  January 22nd, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    Great effect!

    I saved the layers copy and a flattened copy in my pictures folder and they both are black squares in there until they are opened in Photoshop…..is this normal?
    I’m new to Photoshop….(obviously) Thanks again for the trick. Pat

  • 13. Kent  |  January 24th, 2006 at 11:36 am

    Hey pat, You might try saving a COPY as a JPEG in photoshop to see if that helps. It sounds like your image is saved out as a PSD and your other apps are having a hard time reading it correctly. Let me know if the helps out or if you need more help. Thanks for listening, Kent

  • 14. Jeremy  |  February 11th, 2006 at 11:36 am

    The links to the false film markings are no longer there. : ( Is there somewhere else I can find them?

  • 15. Kent  |  February 11th, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Hey Jeremy, The links for the film markings are working for me. They are located in the top of the post before the step by step guide. -Kent

  • 16. The Aptly Named, Sam̵&hellip  |  February 14th, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    [...] One of my photos created using the Holgafy technique described here has been selected amongst six photos as a finalist in the current contest. Thanks Kent! You can cast your vote for the best photo [...]

  • 17. Derek  |  March 26th, 2006 at 3:57 am

    Hey Kent,

    i’ve only recently started listening and watching your podcasts but on this particular one I have a question. You’ve provided us with some fake film tops and bottoms voor the holga look-a-likes but I can’t seem to figure out how to get these nicely fitted onto the holgafied image in photoshop. Can you help me?

    thanx and you’re a great help for us non-expert folk!


  • 18. ajp  |  April 22nd, 2006 at 7:49 am

    Hi Kent, I love this trick… I gave you a mention on my site. If that’s a problem, let me know and I will remove.

    Thanks for giving me lots of good ideas.


  • 19. myra  |  April 30th, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    I had no trouble with holga-fying my image until I tried to add the film marks at the top and bottom of the image. I downloaded them from the website (on to my desk top)—how the heck do I get them into photoshop and into my image?

    thanks- -Myra

  • 20. Sarah  |  May 21st, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    This is great! Thanks for sharing it! :D

  • 21. BaoChi  |  August 15th, 2006 at 12:05 am

    Thank you for sharing this tip but i think the result is not alike a real Holga’s. The “fall-off” (dark) at the corner is not as much natural. Can you try another way? Thank you

  • 22. Chris  |  January 17th, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Very nice! Could you provide high resolution (original size) film tops and bottoms to download, that others can use in their work?

  • 23. Firemonkeyphoto - Holgari&hellip  |  July 19th, 2007 at 8:35 am

    [...] After seeing a Strobist article on fitting a holga lens to a Canon (or Nikon) digital body, I decided to see what a Holga’d image I shot might look like. The constant aperture of f11 would bug me I think but overall I liked the effect. Its faked and silly, but its FUN dammit. Thats one of the reasons I shoot pictures and for the shots in this gallery, its perfect. The steps I used can be found here. Going black and white all the time is dull for me in this polychromatic world. So I did’nt. [...]

  • 24. CM  |  January 22nd, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    good tutorial, and well written.

  • 25. cindy  |  February 18th, 2008 at 2:23 am

    How do you get the film strips on the image? I draged them and they are so small, what am I missing?

  • 26. kelly  |  March 13th, 2008 at 11:51 am

    hello, i am a novice to photoshop software, I like to ask can i use photoshop in making film tricks eg make an object to walk on air? hope for your reply. regards

  • 27. Jimena  |  April 16th, 2008 at 8:18 am

    Great tuto! You just made my day!!! :)

  • 28. hannah  |  July 29th, 2008 at 12:58 am

    The Holga is not actually $20, its aroung $150 these days. Just so you know. Just incase people were getting the wrong idea.

  • 29. marissa  |  December 28th, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    uh no the holga is around $25. lomography jacks up the price a lot. i recommend ebay or amazon, where i just bought one for $30 plus 5 rolls of film. just incase people were getting the wrong idea.

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