SHOOTING WITH INSTANT FILM

Image by Andrea Jenkins

We recently interviewed Andrea Jenkins, where she talked about road trips and collections and her lovely family and her love for Atlanta. Today, she’s talking all about instant film –Polaroid film, Impossible Project film, Fuji film…Believe it or not, that magical stuff is still out there and in some photography communities, it’s thriving. Read along for Andrea’s helpful tips on getting started with and making the most of instant film…

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins Image by Andrea Jenkins

I’ve been shooting instant film seriously now for the past eight years and have loved just about every minute of it. I know not everyone feels this way about it but for me, the learning process has been an invaluable one, one that’s played a huge part in finding my voice as a photographer. When approaching instant photography, the most important thing to remember is the process: how different it is from other shooting processes and how much value there is in that.

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins

I love digital and iPhone photography as much as the next person; I am not a film snob (okay, maybe a little) but the one thing instant photography has taught me is to slow down, to shoot more thoughtfully. Not that this is impossible to do with a DSLR or even an iPhone, but shooting with an old Polaroid camera (or any film camera, for that matter) really forces you to slow down, to think about what you’re shooting, especially when you have just 8-10 shots in your film pack and each one is costing you a couple bucks. And when you do that over and over again, you learn. You really, really learn. So when people ask me why I shoot instant film, why I spend my time and money on it, this is what I tell them.

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins

I do find it a bit easier to shoot Impossible Project film now that they’ve worked out some of the kinks and quirks. They’re always evolving, always working on the film, and as an instant photographer, I really do appreciate that. However, the film is still a bit quirky, still a little hit or miss. The key thing to remember here though is the Impossible Project is the only company making integral film for old Polaroid cameras. Period. Which is why I believe so wholeheartedly in supporting them, no matter how frustrated I get with the film, no matter how much I may disagree with the decisions and directions the company takes. I’ve been supporting them from the very beginning. I was a film tester for them when the very first packs came out. It’s been a long wild ride and the film has come a long way. It’s still got a long way to go but I’m thankful for the work they’ve done and consider all my film purchases an investment in the future of instant photography.

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins

GENERAL TIPS FOR SHOOTING INSTANT FILM

Know your instant camera. Whether you’ve just inherited an old Polaroid camera or picked one up secondhand, do your research. The go-to resource (one that’s been around for ages) is rwhirled.com. There you’ll find basic information on nearly every Polaroid camera ever made. And naturally, the internet is now teeming with articles, blog posts, and the like regarding instant photography. You’re bound to find someone out there who’s written about their experience with the camera you have. This is how you find out the basics — everything from what kind of instant film your camera takes to how it operates to what quirks it may have, etc.

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins

If you have yet to purchase a camera, get to know your options.
Again, do your research. There are many, many different kinds of instant cameras out there, Polaroid and otherwise, and they’re all different. Each type functions and handles differently, takes different types of film, produces images with different aesthetics. It can be a little overwhelming at first but it’s really important to get an idea of your options before you take the plunge and buy a camera. For example, do you want to shoot with a vintage Polaroid or a new Fuji Instax? Vintage Polaroid cameras are going to give you dreamier images with softer colors but may be harder to find. The cost of film is also something to consider. Fuji Instax cameras are new, readily available, and the film is a little more affordable but images are flatter with a completely different aesthetic. Try entering a type of instant camera into the search field over on Flickr and you’ll see examples of the kinds of images they produce. And if it’s possible, get yourself someplace where you can see and/or hold a variety of instant cameras in your hands. Old school camera shops are a great place to start.

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins

You’ve got your instant camera, your instant film, and you’re ready to shoot. Now what? 
First of all, double check your settings, make sure they’re all set the way they need to be. If applicable, check your rollers; make sure they’re clean. Once you’ve checked and double-checked these things, you’re finally ready to shoot. The biggest and best advice I can give is this: think before you shoot. Really look through your viewfinder at things, walk around your subject, look at it from different angles. Note the light, what works about it, what doesn’t. This might feel weird at first, maybe even a little counterintuitive (especially if you’re used to shooting digitally) but it’s essential when working with a limited amount of film. More importantly, it will help you adjust to a slower pace of more intentional shooting.

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins

Value the process.
 Know that it takes a little time, a little patience, and yes, probably a little bit of money. If you’re just starting out, look at that first pack of film solely as practice. If you get even one decent shot out of it, great. If not, don’t give up. People often expect magical results from that first pack. They forget that with pretty much every other camera out there, you often have to shoot tons of photographs to get just one that really works. Why would it be any different with instant photography? There’s a learning curve for both the camera and the film. Learn from your mistakes. If you need to, write things down. Document your process so you can learn from what you’re doing. Write down the type of film you used, time of day, weather and temperature, quality of light, distance from your subject, camera settings, etc. The more you shoot, the more you’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t. Every shot is a lesson. Therefore no shot is a waste of money. If it didn’t turn out, figure out why. And when you get a shot you really love, write down why you think it works. When you do get that one shot, I promise, it will be worth it.

 

ALCjenkins-14 Image by Andrea Jenkins

TIPS FOR SHOOTING WITH IMPOSSIBLE PROJECT FILM


If you’re just starting out, shoot with the black and white film first. It develops much faster and in my experience, seems to yield more consistent results, which has been especially great for my instant photography students. Working with the color film is fun but definitely trickier.

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins

While the film is more stable than it has ever been, it can still be sort of hit or miss. Make sure you shield it from light the minute it ejects from the camera. Supposedly, the newest film doesn’t need to be shielded but I always shield, just in case. The color film is definitely somewhat sensitive to temperature. The warmer the temperature, the warmer your image will be. The cooler the temperature, the cooler your image will be. This can either be really interesting or completely frustrating, depending on how you feel about it. If it’s the latter, there are a few tricks to help you manipulate the outcome. Super hot outside? Stick your image in front of the vent of a blowing air conditioner while it develops. Freezing cold outside? Slip the image underneath your arm to give it some warmth while it develops. I’m sure there will come a day when we won’t have to do any of these things, when we’ll be shooting with a completely evolved pack of integral film but until then, these tips and tricks will help you get the most out of your Impossible Project film.

 

Image by Andrea Jenkins Image by Andrea Jenkins

Finally, embrace the imperfections.
One of the great joys of shooting instant film is that you never really know what you’re going to get. You might have an idea but the camera might do something unexpected with the light, or there might be a slight imperfection with the film. This is true whether you’re working with new Impossible Project film or expired Polaroid film. Learn to love those happy accidents.

Many, many thanks to the fine folks at Instantly Framed for having me here! Happy instant shooting, friends!

(Thank you, Andrea! To read Andrea’s interview, please click here. To view more of her magical instant film images, click here.)

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