PetaPixel

The Joys of Instant Photography

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A few months ago, I was in Los Angeles and grabbed coffee with my friend Eric Steelberg. Eric’s a talented cinematographer and mentioned a piece of gear he wanted me to check out. Expecting the latest digital gadget to appear out of his bag, I was surprised to see him pull out a large brick of a camera that I’d never seen before. It was a Polaroid 180 Land Camera from the 1970s.

This was not the type of Polaroid I was familiar with. Eric had one of those as well, a SX-70 loaded with Impossible Project film. But it was the 180 I was drawn to. He arbitrarily took a photo, pulled the sheet of film out of the camera, and 90 seconds later peeled away a photograph of incredible quality.

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Unlike most Polaroid cameras, the 180 has full manual control, the image is rectangular instead of square, and has a nice white border. Fuji still makes two film stocks for these types of cameras: a 100ISO color and 3200ISO black-and-white. Even better, you can buy them on Amazon with free shipping.

I couldn’t help but think of Harry Taylor, this subject of my short documentary American Tintype, and his work. There’s something amazing about having a physical photographic print in your hands moments after the photo is taken through a purely mechanical and chemical process. No electronics involved. With Eric’s encouragement, I set off to find one for myself and within a month, found a lovely 180 on eBay.

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It’s been a joy. The photos look amazing, and everyone gets a kick out of seeing the camera and how the prints develop. My heart always beats faster during the 20-90 second wait during development. As I peel away the photo, I wonder, did I capture the moment I wanted? Did my tricky double exposure work? When everything goes well, the feeling can’t be beat.

At the same time that I’ve embraced analog instant photography, I’ve also spent more time using Instagram (@mattmorrisfilms). I should note that previously, I’d dismissed both Polaroids and Instagrams as gimmicks. I’ve had people ask me, “Why take a Polaroid when you can get a much better image on medium format? Why use the iPhone when a 5D is a much better tool for the job?”

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Personally, I thought Instagram was more about people being excited about what they were seeing, not how they were seeing it. However, I couldn’t deny the appeal of a more visually dynamic photo being taken on a phone. As I’ve used it more, I’ve come to really appreciate it as a photographic exercise.

Unlike my 5D or Nikkormat, I have my phone on me at all times. It forces me to constantly think with a photographic mindset. The social aspect of it is nice as well, and it’s allowed me to discover some wonderful photographers whose work I might not have otherwise discovered.

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So what do the old school and new school have in common? For me, it’s all about constraints. I find that embracing limitations allows for creative solutions you might not otherwise find — similar to poetry written with specific rhyme and meter.

Both my phone and the Polaroid use fixed lenses and have limited controls. The final product comes directly from the device that took the image, and there’s the pleasure of seeing the finished photo within minutes of having an idea. Is it making me a better photographer? I hope so. But mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.


About the author: Matt Morris is a documentary filmmaker and photography enthusiast based out of Napa, CA. You can find him on his website, Facebook and Twitter. This article originally appeared here.


 
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  • Crabby Umbo

    The problem with all digital, is you have to spend YOUR time doing something with it after you’ve taken the picture (unless you take your stuff to a color service). Which is precisely why a know a bunch of people starting to get more and more involved with the Fuji Instax stuff. The release of their new, multi-function 90 series, after the first of the year here, seems like it’s going to be quite the “silver bullet” I need. Even tho I’m a professional photographer, using digital for about 50% of my work, I gave up keeping my own stuff in scrap books when I stopped being able to get cheap 35mm color neg film and development into nice prints. It’s been two years now, and I’m thinking I’m going to try again with the new Fuji Instax stuff…

  • Rabi Abonour

    Some really nice photos here, and I totally agree with how fun shooting with constraints can be.

  • Matt Morris

    This is one of the reasons I enjoy it, as well. I could spend 5-10 minutes on a digital photo getting it where I want it, whereas when a Fuji FP100c comes out of the camera and you’ve gotten your exposure right, you just look at it and say to yourself, “Yep. Got it.”

    As far as price goes, with the Fuji FP3000b and FP100c available on Amazon with free shipping, they run a little less than $1 per frame. Not too bad when you consider purchasing a roll of 120 or 135, paying for development and printing or scanning.

    When it comes to Instagram, as much as filters can be maligned, there’s plenty out there (VSCO, Afterlight, Snapseed) that can provide shortcuts so in the 30-90 seconds it would take for a Polaroid to develop, you can get the look you’re after.

    I’m also excited about the new Instax!

    Matt

  • Matt Morris

    Thanks!

  • pgb0517

    You’ve inspired me to dust off my still-usable Polaroid 660AF. In fact, it looks almost new.

  • gochugogi

    I still have my 180, inherited from my great uncle while I was a HS runt. The BW prints age well and are crisp and clear although nearly 4 decades old.

  • BenjamimDaniel

    Hi Matt! Thanks a lot for this article! Really love the results!
    May I ask you something? What instant cameras do you have? (Only the 120 one?) And what kind/brand of film you use? Thanks in advance!