One hand holding the 4 pounds of my fully auto focus frame advancing Nikon SLR camera
with attached 35-70 mm lens and the other using a paddle thrust into the mud of the
rivers bottom to hold the canoe steady, I eased myself into position to shoot a bow
in the center of the frame shot that I love. The morning light glowed. I snapped.
Snapped again, and once again. I put the camera into a dry bag and pulled the paddle
out of the mud. I love photography, but sometimes wish for an easier method of
capturing those great moments in time. In this age of mega-pixels, digital, 5 frames
per second film camera and $10 slide films, getting back to an easier way to
photography refreshes the inner vision and affords a needed rest.
The Lomo Compact-Automat camera is a capable toy camera with a worldwide cult
following that affords the wary photographer a fun rest from the current auto focus
mega-pixel race that drives the modern photography business. Most photographers, who
employ this camera, use it as a small street photography camera that will attract
little attention. The pictures it shoots in automatic tend to run slightly
underexposed, color saturated, and blurry from slow shutter speeds, but it sports a
fast Minitar 1 32mm f/2.8 lens making it an ideal simple camera for canoe and kayak
photography. The pictures can be sharp and properly exposed if used correctly. It
will vignette in bright light, but it usually adds to the unique quality of the
images it produces instead of distracting.
The key to using a Lomo LC-A is to understand its limitations, exploit them, and have
fun doing it. Most important is understanding how the apertures and shutter speeds
are set on this little automatic wonder, and then how to apply them to kayak and
The Lomo sports an electromechanical program shutter controlled with electronic
exposure meter according to the manual. It automatically sets the aperture and
shutter speed according to the amount of light it thinks is necessary to properly
expose the film. The upside of this is that you can simply press and hold the shutter
release, and the camera figures everything else out. Most of the pictures taken this
way have what can be described as a very lomo look to them. If the shutter speed
drops below 1/30th of a second, a red light will appear in the viewfinder when the
shutter release is depressed halfway. If this happens expect very lomo-like photos.
The downside is that you will never know what settings the camera is shooting, so you
will never have control of the final image.
Manual Exposure Mode
Although shooting in automatic mode releases you from thinking about the technical
parts of photography and produces fun images that alone make this camera worth
owning, the camera also provides a second way of setting exposure. Originally
intended for flash photography, a lever to the side of the lens changes aperture
settings from 2.8 to 16 and A. When the camera is taken off of A and set to one of
the other aperture settings, the shutter speed is automatically set to 1/60th of a
second. Knowing this allows us to use the Sunny 16 rule for exposing photos. Using
this system, we can now set our own aperture according to the Sunny 16 rule and have
more control over how our images appear. More importantly, it allows us to set our
aperture at f/16, which will provide a deep depth of field, and it will keep
everything from to foreground to the background in focus. It is best to use ISO 50
film, because of the set shutter speed of this camera, but a print film ISO of 100
should be fine. If using 100 ISO slide film make sure you have it professionally
processed and let them know you want it pull processed. Dont mix any auto-exposure
shots with Sunny 16 shots if pull processing slide film.
The sunny 16 rule is simple: On a sunny day you set your shutter speed to the same
ISO as your film, then to get properly exposed pictures set your aperture to f/16.
You can use any equivalent setting of aperture and shutter speed to achieve the same
results. For example, with 100-speed film f/5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/1000 will
also achieve the perfect exposure.
But it’s not Sunny
The Sunny 16 rule can be used when it isn’t sunny if you change the aperture. The
important thing to remember is that the darker the scene gets, the wider you have to
open the aperture. The Lomo is no different than any other camera, so the apertures
work the same. Each step on the lever of the lomo is called a stop. If you imagine
the aperture of a camera as a circle, and view each setting as a fraction of that
circle you can see that 1 / 2.8th of the circle is bigger of 1/16th of that same
circle. A bigger opening lets in more light. Each step of the aperture lets in
exactly half or double of the setting below or above it, respectively.
Knowing this we can make some changes to the Sunny 16 rule for correct exposures in
other circumstance. When an object is side-lit (side light creates shadows, shadows
are darker, so you have to let in more light), instead of front lit we must open up a
stop to make it properly exposed (f/11). When the sun is low in the sky, like in
morning or evening, you consider it side-lit. When an object is back-lit (the whole
object is in a shadow), you must open up two stops (f/8). On slightly overcast days
with thin light clouds, you must open up one stop. When the sky is very cloudy, you
must open up 3 stops. You best bet is to experiment on a cloudy day. Step outside at
noon with the film you like to use and shoot 6 images of grass in your yard. Shoot a
picture at each setting of your aperture. When you get back your prints look at each
exposure and decide which one you like best. You will eventually come up with a chart
that you can tape to the back of your camera.
Focusing the Lomo LC-A
One of the best parts about the Lomo is that focusing is easy. The camera has a lever
that sets at four stops. The first is when the subject is less than 2 feet away, the
second is when the subject is 4.5 feet away, the third is when the subject is 15 feet
away, and the final is when the subject is far away. If using the Sunny 16 rule and
an aperture of f/11 or above, you can keep the focus set at infinity and expect sharp
photos from foreground to background.
Shutter Speed and Sharp Focus
In order to get a sharp handheld picture you must shoot at a shutter speed equal or
greater than the length of the lens. So, for a 32mm lens, it must be 1/30th of a
Fun with Filters
The Lomo has no threads for filters, but by holding a filter in front of the lens a
filtered effect can be achieved. The single best filter for use with the Lomo is a
polarizing filter. A polarizer acts to remove reflections from the water and surfaces
coated with water. It brings out colors, and darkens the blue of the sky. When
holding a polarizer to the sky and rotating it, it will go from dark to light. To
apply the effect you want don’t change orientation of the filter as you move it to
the front of the lens. This change in appearance also effects the exposure when
shooting the Sunny 16 Rule. At its lightest it is one stop darker and at its darkest
it is two stops darker. To compensate for this using a lomo, change the aperture from
f/16 to f/11 using its lightest setting and from f/16 to f/8 at its darkest setting.
Getting Keeper Photos
They key to getting great photos from the Lomo is to use its 32mm lens to produce
photos that have strong foregrounds that lead into interesting backgrounds. This is
the perfect lens to use for bow in the shot photos that show the viewer where you are
heading. Secondly, make sure you fill the frame with any items or people you are
shooting. The 32 mm lens tends to make whatever you are taking a picture of smaller
in the final image. Thirdly, try and keep you main subject out of the center of the
frame. This will provide more impact when your photos come back from the lab.
The Lomo Compact-Automat camera is a fun little camera to use when you want a break
from the modern camera. It’s easy to hold in one hand while your other hand is
controlling the paddle. In the morning when the mist is rising from the lake, and the
sunlight glows perfectly, you can easily snap a shot, kick back, relax and know that
you will have a perfect keeper shot to wow your friends with.