Exercise caution when handling your film
One of the first things they tell you when you get an instant camera is to be careful with the film- this is important because there are indeed a raft of ways you can ruin it. You should keep your polaroids out of direct sunlight, humid conditions and store them away where they won’t be affected by temperature fluctuations. When you handle polaroids, hold them by their corners with clean hands. Oil and dirt from your fingers can damage or smudge the photos, especially if they’re still developing. Before storing them, you should let your images dry for several weeks. Over time, polaroids fade naturally To lengthen their lifespan, it is advised that you keep them in the fridge. Odd as this sounds, it’s meant to lock in colour, contrast and detail for an extended period of time by ensuring the film chemistry remains stable.
Keep in mind that perfection is an illusion
I had started off with expectations as to how my photos should look and was always disappointed when they came out significantly different. I was so concerned with being a good photographer that I almost felt insulted by the lack of turnout. From time to time, I still struggle when a picture I have high hopes for falls flat. I have a perfectionist streak and am not satisfied with a photo being good enough when it could be just right. Taking the perfect photo with a polaroid camera isn’t the most realistic, however. You’re working with old technology that simply doesn’t allow for high definition, high clarity photos. Some shots turn out blurry, other times the colours are off. Occasionally, you may even end up with a blank polaroid- overexposure is a real problem! These points aside, old school polaroid photography is a lost art and can be a lot of fun. There’s a real charm to it once you get past the fact that not every shot will turn out as you imagine.
If Polaroid Photography is beginning to disappoint and bore you, consider taking creative license and changing the narrative. In a content creators world, there are no rules or guidelines designed to box you in and stifle your talents and imagination. Why not consider how your subject might appear from a different angle? Most of us have go to poses behind the camera. In front of the camera is no different. You likely have a preferred angle, mode or setting that achieves a certain look. Resist the urge to follow your instincts. Pay attention only to the most standard of photographic principles and wing the rest. Try crouching down low, or alternatively, elevate yourself. Stand on a wall or a chair. Consider the position of dominance or submission that you are in and build a narrative through a series of photographs. Standing in front of a subject and pressing the shutter button won’t always achieve the results you so wish for.
Be selective with what you photograph
Instax cameras are not at all expensive and for one main reason- they make their money from film purchases rather than the camera itself. I have the Instax Mini Nine in baby blue and was only set back around ninety dollars. I was thrilled at this cheap price but stunned to realise that a twenty pack of film costs around thirty dollars. Yes, you read that right. I used to take photos of anything and everything that I thought had the potential to turn out well. I wasn’t thinking about whether or not it was worth the picture and subsequently chewed through a lot of film without any real results. I didn’t get many high quality shots- just a whole lot of subpar flower pictures I’d snapped on a whim.
Generally, landscape shots, interiors, portraits and the like make for good photos. What won’t work is photographing sunsets, sunrises, close ups and anything with small details or poor lighting. Natural light is your best friend- always be selective when using flash! This can brighten your photos but makes them look washed out sometimes. You may need to change up your angles or avoid taking photos at certain times of day or in some locations. I’ve heard that a great setting to use is HiKey as it achieves a soft look in your photos. It’s meant to work particularly well indoors and gets rid of annoying dark spots and shadows.
Take your time in framing a shot and stand at a suitable distance
I find that when I give little thought to what I’m taking a photo of, I get sloppy. I might capture a bad angle or include something that I was trying to miss into a photo. A perfect example of this is the time I visited a beach in Melbourne and saw the most amazing vintage car. It was the stuff of dreams. The photo didn’t turn out so well however- in my excitement, I’d neglected to frame the shot properly and captured a bin. The lighting wasn’t great also. Disappointed, I decided to throw the photo out. As you may have deduced, it doesn’t pay off to be impulsive!
What’s also worth considering is the distance you stand at when taking a polaroid. The Instax Mini Nine has a minimum focus distance of fifty centimetres- this is sufficient for taking a selfie at arm’s length. For shots up close and personal however, you’ll want to clip on the supplied close up adaptor which allows you to shoot between 35 and 50 centimetres. A blurry photo could be the result of any number of factors- camera shake, lack of proper lighting or the lens being too close to the subject. On the other hand, standing too far away from your subject will see you achieve a similar, unsatisfactory result. Polaroids are credit card sized, after all. A subject photographed in this way will be imperceptible. There is a delicate balance you need to strike distance wise.
Don’t assume the default settings are correct- always double check and adjust them accordingly
For the longest time, I simply assumed that the camera knew best. The way Instax works is through an adjustable dial that allows you to choose how much light you want the camera to let in when you shoot. It does make an initial guess at your lighting conditions using sensors but I’ve found it to be off sometimes. If you think the light meter is inaccurate, use your best judgement and make a guess as to what conditions suit your photo. If you choose the full sun setting, for example, the camera will let in very little light so as to avoid overexposure. If you choose cloudy, more light will be let in so it doesn’t turn out too dark. Better still, try deactivating flash and make use of natural light. Even indoors, this technique will yield better results when it comes to contrast and subject definition. Experimentation is key!