10 Tips for Shooting Polaroids This Fall

10 Tips for Shooting Polaroids This Fall

Are you even a photographer if you’ve never taken a Polaroid? If you’ve yet to experience the magic of instant photography, or if you’ve been away from the game for a while, there’s good news. The film being produced by Polaroid over the last couple of years is more consistent than it has been for a long time. 

As well as an improvement in film quality, there’s also been a ton of new releases, including limited edition frames, round frames, and both yellow and blue duochrome.

With Fall Polaroid Week taking place October 24-29, why not dust off your Polaroid camera and go shoot some Polaroids? 

Fall Polaroid Week 

I must admit I've always been a bit puzzled by Polaroid Week. As someone who loves instant photography, why would I only shoot instant twice a year?  

There is a simple explanation, though: Polaroid Week was conceived at a time when the company was teetering on the brink of collapse. A group of instant photography fans devised Spring and Fall Polaroid Weeks to encourage people to shoot more instant film and share their images in a Flickr Group.  

There are a couple of odd things you’ll have to come to grips with about this twice yearly celebration. First of all, it’s not a week at all, but six days: the upcoming Fall Polaroid Week is October 24-29. 

Second thing — and perhaps this will only resonate if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere like me — the weeks are named after Northern Hemisphere seasons. Perhaps the organizers never thought the idea would take off beyond the United States.  

Nevertheless, it doesn’t really matter what season it is in your neck of the woods; just get out there and shoot some Polaroids. With that in mind, here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your instant pictures. 

1. Make Sure Your Camera Works

Grab your Polaroid camera and get ready to shoot. 

If you’re shooting with a vintage Polaroid that takes SX-70 or 600 series film, you can test out basic functions with an empty cartridge that still has a charge left in the battery. Yes, that's right, the battery that powers SX-70 and 600 series cameras is in the film itself. If you don’t have a spare empty cartridge, ask a friend or fellow photographer in your town. 

The newer i-Type cameras are charged by a USB cable, as there is no battery in the film pack.  Make sure you charge it the night before you want to go take pictures; there’s nothing worse then heading out and realizing that your I-type camera’s battery is flat. 

2. Clean Your Rollers

Friends don't let other friends shoot with dirty rollers. If you’re wondering why they’re so crucial, read on. 

After you press the shutter button, your image will pass through two metal rollers in the camera, which spread the developer paste between the negative and positive parts of the photo. If your rollers are dirty, the chemistry may not evenly spread across the image, and defects can form on your images.  

To get the best out of your instant experience, make sure you clean your rollers regularly. As you finish off a pack of film, take the old cartridge out and inspect the rollers. If there’s any gunk on them, use a damp cloth to gently wipe it away. Even if there’s not any residue on them, it’s a good habit to wipe them down every two or three packs. Make sure the rollers are dry before you insert a new pack of film. 

3. Use Fresh Film

Remember that pack of Polaroid 600 you have on the shelf with an expiration date of 2008? By all means, try it out, but don’t expect great results. Unfortunately, the expired film craze did not extend to Polaroid film, as it generally doesn't have a great shelf life. 

It's best to buy fresh film, shoot it, and then buy some more. Jump online or visit your local camera store and stock up. Instant photography is addictive, so buy more than you expect to shoot. While you’re waiting to shoot your Polaroids, keep the packs in the fridge. 

An interesting side note: Instax film fares a lot better when expired. Generally, it can be used years out of date with no issues. 

4. Bright Light

Gizmo from Gremlins may not have loved bright light, but your Polaroid sure does. Always make sure you're shooting in well-lit conditions. This goes especially if you're using SX-70 film indoors, as it has an ISO value of 160. 

600 film and i-Type films are a little easier to shoot with, as they have an ISO value of 640 and many of the cameras have a flash. Generally, Polaroid flashes works pretty well; just make sure your subject is within the flash range. 

With some Polaroid cameras, you can also shoot long exposure images, so don’t forget your tripod. 

5. Shield Your Print From Light

One issue with current film stocks is their light sensitivity after ejection. Although this is improving, it’s still best to shield your image from light for around 10-15 minutes after it spits out of the camera. 

This applies to the color film more than the black and white or duochrome. The duochrome images I’ve shot lately develop in a few minutes. 

To shield your images, you can buy a "frog tongue" to help with this process. A frog tongue is a plastic, curled shield, which inserts into your camera, covering each print as it ejects. I've found them a little hit or miss; after a few packs, the frog tongue starts to play up and can even jam a print as it tries to eject. 

If you decide not to use one, pop your image in your pocket or an empty Polaroid box as soon as you can. 

6. Don't Shake It (Like a Polaroid Picture)

Outkast has a lot to answer for. One simply does not shake Polaroid film. It doesn't matter if you're shooting SX-70, 600, or i-Type. There's nothing wet about the image, so it doesn't need to dry. Shaking it has absolutely no effect and can, in theory, even damage the image. 

7. Mix in Polaroids With Your Other Work

Doing a model shoot? Visiting a new city? Up early to photograph sunrise? Along with your other kit, make sure you pack your Polaroid camera. It’s fun to see the difference between your digital or other film shots and your instant images. Quite often, the Polaroid is my favorite. 

Copyright Francesco Sambati  

8. Take It Everywhere 

Take your camera with you everywhere during Polaroid week; you never know when an opportunity will present itself. Always make sure you bring a fresh pack of film along, and try to store the film in cool conditions on the go. 

9. Don’t Forget the Family  

Some of my favorite Polaroid images are of my family. Kids love instant photography, so why not hand them the camera too?

10 Share Your Images

Make sure you share your images. Use a flatbed to scan your Polaroids, or if you don't have one, take a photo of them on your smartphone: the Polaroid app has a useful scanning option.  

If you’re on Flickr, be sure to share to the Fall Polaroid Week Group Pool. On Instagram, use the hashtags #PolaroidWeek and #RoidWeek, and don’t forget to follow @PolaroidWeek and my instant photography account @mattlovesinstant.  

If you're passionate about taking your photography to the next level but aren't sure where to dive in, check out the Well-Rounded Photographer tutorial where you can learn eight different genres of photography in one place. If you purchase it now, or any of our other tutorials, you can save a 15% by using "ARTICLE" at checkout. 

Matt Murray's picture

Matt Murray is a travel, portrait and stock photographer from Brisbane, Australia.

Matt is an avid film photographer and hosts an analogue photography podcast 'Matt Loves Cameras' featuring reviews of classic film and instant cameras.

Matt also hosts a new photography YouTube channel Matt Loves Cameras.

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