How to start shooting with analog instant Polaroid film and cameras

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You have your first Polaroid camera and film: congrats! Read this list to take nice photos and to avoid some of the most common mistakes!

1. Prepare film and camera

First things first: charge the battery of your camera (if you have an I-Type camera) and insert the film correctly.

Do you need more information about your camera?

Check the manual here: Where can I find a user manual for my Polaroid camera?

If you did not insert the film inside the camera yet, check what the correct film is: What film do I use with Polaroid cameras?

See here: How do I insert Polaroid film into the camera?

2. Aim and frame correctly

The most important thing is to take parallax into account: this means there is a slight difference in placement between your camera’s viewfinder and shutter, so line up your shot, then adjust by aiming the camera accordingly to the articles below:

How do I aim and frame with Polaroid Now camera?

How do I aim and frame with the OneStep 2?

If you have a go camera, the parallax is minimal but if you’re shooting landscapes, keep in mind what you’re applying to the Now camera.

If you do not aim correctly, you could end with a background perfectly sharp and an out-of-focus subject.

3. Taking photos indoors (with flash)

If you are taking photos indoors and you do not have a wall/backdrop right behind your object, the background will be dark. That is completely normal for analog photography. The flash bounces off the first object it hits, and the camera will correctly expose that object. The light which bounces off the background reaches the camera only after the shutter is already closed and the picture taken. Also, keep in mind that flash is less effective over distance so make sure your subject stands in front of a background.

While taking indoor photos with flash, please be sure to aim correctly at your subject. If you aim further and half press the shutter button, the camera light meter will calculate the distance and adjust exposure for the further object in this case, hence your subject is overexposed (and not perfectly in focus).

4. Taking photos indoors (without flash)

Light is your best friend when it comes to analog instant photography, so we recommend to almost always use the flash. Keep in mind your camera’s flash range: if your subject is further, your flash photo may turn out too dark because the flash can’t reach.

If you are taking photos indoors without flash, remember to switch on all the lights you have and use a tripod or be still. If you do not do that, you will risk having a blurry photo (as without flash the camera will make a longer exposure, that is why it is important not to move the camera until the photo is completely ejected). Note also that shooting indoors, you could have a yellow-ish photo (or pink, or blue), depending on the color of the indoor lights. For best results, we recommend always shooting with flash indoors, however.

5. Taking photos outdoors

While taking photos outdoors, consider Polaroid film has a very narrow dynamic range. That means it's not possible to have the same grade of exposure and details in bright and dark areas. The camera will either calculate the exposure for the dark area, so you have some details there and your light photo areas are overexposed or the other way around: the light areas are well exposed, and the dark areas are underexposed. For example, if you take a photo of a landscape, the sky might be perfectly exposed and the land will be dark, or the sky will be overexposed, and the land will be well-exposed. A similar result will happen if you’re shooting in the shadows with your main light source (or sun) in front, and you may have dark photos if shooting on a cloudy day.

If you’re outdoors and your subject is beyond the flash range, we recommend keeping the flash off. This will prevent the camera from adjusting the aperture, resulting in an underexposed photo. If it’s a sunny day outdoors, let the sun be your light source. Position yourself so the sun is behind you, face your subject side-on to avoid a shadow, turn the flash off and keep the camera as steady as possible.

6. Taking photos with self-timer

If you’re taking photos using the self-timer, make sure to set the self-timer while you are behind the camera, not in front of it.

7. Taking photos in front of a mirror

If you want to take photos in front of a mirror, be careful to have enough added lights on (not pointing or reflecting directly on and from the mirror) and keep in mind to disable the flash first. If you don’t do that, the light reflection will trigger the light meter the wrong way and the camera will underexpose the photo. The result will be a very dark or black photo.

In case it’s needed you can always adjust the exposure using the exposure value.

8. Use the 8 shots within a month

We always recommend using the 8 shots in a film pack within a month from the moment you insert the film inside your camera: this will allow you to get the most in terms of color and contrast. After that period, film will start oxidising and colors will be less bright.

Always store your camera in a cool, dry area. This is even more important when you have a film pack in it.

9. Film is sensitive to temperature

If you want to avoid photos that are too green or too red, protect your film and camera from lower and higher temperatures. Read here more.

10. Protect film from light

It’s crucial to protect film from light before the exposure but it’s also particularly important you protect it from light after the ejection: the best way is to leave it under the film shield for about 10 seconds. After that time, you can carefully remove the photo from under the film shield and let it develop completely away from light, in a pocket or bag, or face down on a table.

11. How to remove film pack from camera?

Once you’ve shot all 8 photos just pull the tab sticker at the bottom of the film pack. This sticker tab is in place to make it easier to remove the film pack from the camera. Make sure not to pull the sticker tab off the film cartridge: you’ll need it.

12. What to do with empty packs

Ok, you shot all 8 photos and now your film pack is empty. What now? Read here how to dispose it correctly.

13. How to store photos after exposure

Once a photo has been ejected and it’s fully developed there is still some information you need to know when it comes to storage, to avoid changes over time. Read here how to store Polaroid film.

14. Don’t remove film pack from camera until it’s done.

You may have the idea to switch between a color and a black and white film pack while you have one inside the camera with a few photos left. We don’t recommend doing that: removing a film pack with photos in it will expose the remaining photos to light, ruining them. Shoot all 8 photos before changing the pack of film.

15. Warning: this is analog instant film, not digital imagery.

Last but not least, this is not digital imagery. Being analog instant photography, this means 2 main things: 1. You cannot compare digital images with the photos you’re shooting with your Polaroid camera (or any other analog camera and film), they are literally something different. The difference between digital imagery and analog photography is the same you have between digital music like MP3s and vinyl records: digital photography looks flawless, but the beauty of analog photography is not in its perfection. It has its own color palette, its texture and look: you cannot have anything like that with digital images. 2. Digital cameras (including your smartphone) have kind of spoiled us. While we aim our digital camera at a subject, the camera is automatically making a lot of small adjustments so that we don't have to think about them: exposure, aperture, contrast and so on. None (or almost none) of them is possible while shooting with an analog instant camera unless you do it by yourself.

If you want to read more about our film, have a look here: How to get the most out of Polaroid film

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