Lomography is the hottest movement to hit the photography scene in the last few decades. Some call it real art and an expression of oneself. Some others consider it childish and nothing to do with photography. Opinions are divided. Lomography is interesting. It is weird. If there ever was a hippies movement in the photography then this is it. It has taken the form of a cult now. Above all, lomography can teach a lot of things.
(Lomo LCA Sample Image)
How did it all start?
The story goes that a camera model called Lomo LC-A was developed in USSR sometime in the early 1990s. People who used it were mostly students. They captured their travels and candid moments on the camera and used unconventional angles. The rolls when printed came out with weird results. There were shifts in colors, lack of sharpness, saturation was high and some even had artifacts from light leakages. It all sounds bad but what actually happened was that the photographs which came out focused viewers’ attention on the main subject in the photograph. All the distractions were lost. The use of different angles, unconventional compositions and candid photography turned this into a movement. The students also put up exhibitions which were liked by people. The people behind the camera formed an organization and named it Lomography. Now they promote their equipment and way of photography as an art form in itself.
Can lomography be called photography?
In scientific terms yes, lomography also uses cameras, lenses and film rolls. The images are captures on the film and then developed and printed. It is photography if you consider this. When it comes to considering it as photography in the philosophical sense, a lot of photographers disagree. Photographers see lomographers as kids with no real sense of art. I do not indulge in lomography. People who do lomography may look down upon me as a mere photographer. I do however have a lot of respect for some aspects of lomograhy. It provides us an insight into how we visualize our world and how lomographers do.
(Lomographs – Eiffel-Lomo and Lomomoto)
The 10 lomography rules
I have taken these rules from the Lomography website. These are wonderful if every photographer can understand the meaning behind these rules instead of following them blindly.
RULE #1 Take your camera everywhere you go
Photographs are waiting to be created everywhere. One never knows when something interesting might appear and can become a memorable photograph. Think of Vivian Maier, the controversial street photographer with her TLR. Even while she was working as a nanny, she had her camera round her neck. Have your camera with you always. Another version of this rule which is making rounds in the photography circles is about the best possible camera. The best camera is the one that you have with you.
RULE #2 Use it any time – day and night
Every second is special; every moment is monumental. You don’t only live in sunshine, daytime, on holidays and on Aunt Frida’s birthday, do you? Start thinking the same way about your photography! (These are the exact words from Lomography website). Photographs are to be created all the time. Some of my best photographs were created in the least expected moments.
RULE #3 Lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it
This is something which I strongly agree with. Get comfortable with your camera. It should become an extension of your body. The only factor between you and the photograph should be your creativity. Camera should not be something odd. Make friends with your camera (Knowing my camera).
RULE #4 Try the shot from the hip
Forget the conventional eye level shots. Move the camera around. Great shots can be had from all kinds of perspectives. Conventional photographers (non-lomography folk) do create such photographs occasionally but not as often as they should. With the easy availability of cameras and the digital revolution, it would not be wrong to say that everything that can be photographed has already been photographed. The question is how you are going to photograph?
RULE #5 Approach the objects of your Lomographic desire as close as possible
Another recommendation which makes the composition powerful. Getting close not only fills the frame with the subject but it also brings out the real character of the subject. It puts the viewer in front of the scene itself instead of just viewing the photograph. Try to go close with a wide-angle lens and you would have given the best perception of depth.
RULE #6 Don’t think
Moments happen and fly away. Do not wait endlessly. Get your camera out and photograph. Lomographers are happy as long as the moment is captured. Photographers get lost in the camera settings and light conditions and the moment is lost forever. Though I do not completely agree with this rule but in the true spirit if you go beyond the words, it is once again saying not to loose the precious moments.
RULE #7 Be fast
Capture what is in front of you. This is what lomography wants people to do. Lomographers go click, click, click. As a photographer you should go – see, see, see and CLICK. Capture the decisive moment. I do not agree with firing camera away endlessly. Don’t be a snap-shooter. Be a photographer.
RULE #8 You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film.
Do not plan on what to click. Recently I was invited to do some photography in a shopping mall with a group of friends. I took my camera with a 25mm lens mounted on it. When I reached the mall, something else interested me and I changed my lens to a short tele and spend the whole evening with that lens. I saw engineering feats, fractals, interesting shapes and even some abandoned shopping carts. I got some good photographs (though not what the mall’s officials were hoping to use in their advertisements).
RULE #9 Afterwards either
This is another rule which I disagree with. Lomographers love the surprises that the photographs serve them. I recommend trying to understand them. This is self-learning, the best way to improve photography. So if you are not a true lomographer ignore this rule and if you are a true lomographer then read the rule 10 and stick to that. 😉
RULE #10 Don’t worry about any rules
Does this need any explanation?
(Lomography Embassy Shop of Lisbon)
The Lomography look
Now if you are a photographer like me and not a true lomographer, then there are ways to get that lomography look occasionally. Try lomography on your existing Nikon or Canon DSLR and give the Petzval lens a spin. It is available in black glossy finish and golden brass finish. Some photographers also use Lensbaby for similar interesting results.
Next comes the ‘lomo’ look. After analyzing tonnes of lomography pictures, this is what I have found common in most of them-
- Obvious vignetting which helps the main subject stand out.
- Saturated colors with limited tonal variation (somewhat like polaroid pictures from few decades back).
- Moments captured which pull the viewer into the scene.
- Glare, Streaks, Color casts and various other artefacts which end up covering some of the distracting elements in the photographs. Sometimes these become the supporting elements, making the main element (subject) stand out.
- Images look cross-processed with interesting colors. Greens quite frequently creep in into the most unexpected places. Do it in post-processing if you want to.
- Blurred background and sometimes even subject.
- High contrast with blown highlights and no details in shadow areas.
- Film grain.
Use the photo-editing program of your choice and try creating some ‘lomo-effect’ photographs.
(Horse Carriage – Processed on Gimp to look like a lomograph by addition of vignette, color shift, increased saturation, increased contrast and addition of noise.)
My take on lomography is to understand what lomographers preach and combine their creativity with your photographic skills. Get comfortable with your camera. Capture images as you see them. There are photographs happening to be created all around us. Be ready with your camera always. Every photographer should imbibe the energy and spontaneity of lomographers.
By the way, did you know that Lomography organization has come out with a camera that needs to be built. A built it yourself camera! Now, how cool is that?
Lomo sample image – by Loker / Wikimedia Commons / GFDL / CC BY 2.0 / CC BY-SA 3.0
Eiffel Lomo – by Arnaud333 / Wikimedia Commons / GFDL / CC BY-SA 3.0
Lomomoto – by Beni Rivas / Wikimedia Commons / GFDL / CC BY-SA 3.0
Lomography Embassy Shop of Lisbon – by Christine Zenino from Chicago, US / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0