My experiences with instant film
At the time of its introduction in 1947 by Polaroid founder Edwin Land, instant photography was revolutionary in the world of analog film. One did not have to wait for days for film to develop—the photographer was afforded the immediate gratification of viewing their work moments after shooting.
These days, this concept of immediacy in photography is not unique—it is expected. The number of photographs you can take for free with a DSLR or smartphone is limited only by storage space. Yet in spite of the unmistakable convenience of digital photography, there are a number of photographers, casual and professional alike, who continue to shoot instant film. I am one of them.
The appeal of instant photography
An instant photograph is an immediate artifact—something tangible that can be held and passed around.
There are beautiful imperfections that come along with the chemical development of instant film—light bleed, streaks, cracking—that give the finished photograph a distinctive look. It captures the world in a way that cannot be accomplished with digital photography.
Because instant film does not come cheap, the photographer must more thoughtfully consider how to frame each shot, and appreciate each photograph more fully.
Portraits with the Polaroid Spectra
I have been shooting portraits with instant film for a little over a year now, primarily with the Polaroid Spectra AF.
I was initially drawn to the Spectra because of the roomier wide-format film. It uses 1200-type film, which is rectangular in contrast to the more common square 600-type film. The Spectra comes with a Quintic 125mm f/10 lens, built-in flash that can be turned off if needed, sonar autofocus, a tripod mount, and a self-timer function.
On being patient
One pack of film for the Spectra sets me back $19.99 and comes with 8 shots, which means I’m paying roughly $2.50 per photograph. Each mistake is costly. Choosing and framing a subject is an exercise in patience and care that I do not practice with my DSLR, with which I tend to become excessively trigger-happy.
As frustrating as it can be when I over- or underexpose a photograph, I find that slowing down and taking a more thoughtful approach has benefited me tremendously as a photographer.
Lighting and flash
I tend to use natural light in most instances, but having the option of flash is a plus (some vintage Polaroid cameras do not have flash, and others have flash that cannot be turned off).
The Spectra’s sonar autofocus will calculate the distance of the subject using sound waves and display its reading in the viewfinder—if the subject is too far away or too close for flash, it will display a warning.
Film for the Spectra
Once taken, a color photograph will fully develop in about fifteen minutes and often results in blue tones in colder weather and orange tones in warmer weather, a factor to take into account when deciding when and where to shoot. Black and white film, with which I find higher contrast can be achieved, develops a little faster, finishing in about ten minutes.
Regardless of film type, the photograph needs to be shielded from direct sunlight after ejecting. I bought my refurbished Spectra from Polaroid Originals (formerly the Impossible Project), and it came already fitted with a film shield.
The launch of the new One Step 2, the first new Polaroid brand camera in ten years, was just announced on September 14. Evidently the pull of nostalgia and the desire for something beyond digital—a more tangible way to experience photography—has led to this resurgence of classic instant cameras.
Instant photography is not a cheap pastime. However, for those not deterred by the price, the joy of shooting instant film is quite rewarding.
All photos by Caro Romero