Photo Tip Tuesday: Instant Film by Amber Mahoney

This week's photo tip is for everyone aspiring to use their father's old Polaroid camera but a little afraid of wasting their money on film when they don't know what they're doing. As I'm hardly an expert in this area I asked a guest writer to share their wisdom with us. Thankfully Amber Byrne Mahoney (whose work I've admired for awhile now) has broken-down everything you could possibly need to know to start shooting with instant film into simple steps and helpful tips.

I love love love instant film. Waiting for that little square to make sense of itself...itʼs like scratching the cherries off a lottery ticket or when there were still toys in cereal boxes. It gets me Christmas-excited every time.
Unless you were lucky enough to hoard a lifetime of film before Polaroid closed their factory doors, youʼre probably working with IMPOSSIBLE instant film which is beautiful but can be a bit tricky. Here are a few things Iʼve learned through trial and error over the past few years (I shoot primarily with an SX-70 but these tips will help no matter what camera you use.)
For starters, hereʼs a quick run down of the three different cameras I use:
600 Cameras - great starter camera! Usually shaped like a box; affordable and very sturdy. Has a built-in flash as well as the capability to override this flash and shoot using only natural light. Awesome for landscapes, full-body and other at-a-distance photos. (Note: as this is a viewfinder camera, what you see in the viewfinder is not exactly what will be captured. For instance when using my 600 camera, all of my images are slightly left of center even though theyʼve been perfectly centered in the viewfinder.)
Example: Pete for Present Company, IMPOSSIBLE B&W 600 film 
Spectra Cameras - Also affordable and sturdy with flash/non-flash capability. Produces rectangular images (vs. the more well-known square-format-film used by the 600 and SLR cameras.) Also (my favorite feature) if you have the little timer button on your model, you can create double-exposures!
Example: Taja for Present Company, Double Exposure, IMPOSSIBLE B&W Spectra film 
SLR Cameras (Folding SX-70* / Polaroid SLR 680) - lovely, lovely collapsable cameras but quite expensive. Both of these models have auto-focus capability, glass lenses (wawaweewa) and are SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras, which means what you see through the lens is exactly what will be captured on film. Theyʼre wonderful for portraits and you can get quite close to your subject without creating a blurry image. The 680 has a built-in flash; the SX-70 requires a flashbar. Both cameras have a lot of intricate moving parts that can be rather fragile, but the photos are oh so beautiful and, in my opinion, well worth it!
*Note: Not to be confused with the OneStep SX-70.
Example: Celeste for Present Company, SX-70 Camera, IMPOSSIBLE SX-70 film 
Tip: After spending years (and far too much money) scouring eBay for a competitively-priced Polaroid cameras that, in the end, didnʼt work properly, I would definitely recommend buying through a reputable company, like IMPOSSIBLE or Urban Outfitters, that understands all the quirks of these wonderful cameras and carefully refurbishes them accordingly.
Ok, now for some shooting and film tidbits:
Batteries - The battery is in the film pack. If your camera is old and wonʼt turn on, this could be a simple fix of popping in a new pack of film.
Light - If youʼre working with natural light make sure you have enough of it, and if you donʼt, be sure to use a flash. When there isnʼt enough ambient light available, the shutter will drag (to allow for more light) and any small movement (either from the subject or the person holding the camera) will become a blur in the image. If youʼd like to work in a low-light situation without using a flash, try a tripod to stabilize your camera and ensure the long shutter speed doesnʼt create a blurred image (unless, of course, thatʼs what youʼre going for!)
Example: Taylor LaShae for Tomorrow is Forever, expired Polaroid Spectra film, low-light, slow shutter, slight blur 
I prefer natural light so I generally try to shoot around the golden hour (shortly after sunrise or the hour before sunset) when shadows are less dramatic and the light is a little softer. (Tip: When shooting with an SX-70, I usually adjust the light meter two notches to the dark side as the film is a bit sensitive.)
Developing - IMPOSSIBLE film should be shielded from light after itʼs ejected from the camera. I usually keep mine in a fanny pack (you heard me) or a pocket while it develops. Each image will come out a deep blue and takes about 20-30 minutes to develop. (Tip: Outkast was wrong! Donʼt shake it like a Polaroid picture.)
Temperature - The warmer the environment in which your photo is developing, the warmer the image tones will be (oranges, pinks.) The same goes for the other end of the spectrum: the cooler the environment, the cooler your images will be (blues, purples.) The optimal temperature for ideal contrast/ image tone is around 76o F.
Example: Garrison for Present Company, IMPOSSIBLE SX-70 film, around 90o F 
Example: Samantha Pleet for Present Company, IMPOSSIBLE SX-70 film, below freezing 
Example: Hannah Metz for Jane Sews, IMPOSSIBLE SX-70 film, around 76o F 
Tip: All of this means you can control your image tones! If you prefer warmer image tones, try exposing your image to mild heat (a.k.a. keeping it in a pocket or against your body in colder weather) while it develops. On the other hand, if you like cooler tones, try keeping your image in temperatures below 70o as it develops.
Film Care - Keep unopened film refrigerated (this helps it to last longer.)
Divots - Those metallic waterfall-looking divots dripping through your images are spots where the emulsion didnʼt spread properly. This could be a problem with your cameraʼs rollers (most of these cameras are a few decades old and may just need an adjustment or a good clean) or you might be dealing with an aging film pack. If itʼs the later, popping your unopened film in the fridge will help slow the aging process.

Example: Jen for Present Company, expired IMPOSSIBLE B&W 600 film 
A few final thoughts:
1) Each camera has its own sweet spot. Donʼt be afraid to play around with different lighting situations and change up your light meter until you get an exposure youʼre happy with.
2) Donʼt give up! Like anything, instant film photography just takes practice as you get to know your camera and the way it talks to your film.
3) And most importantly, itʼs easy to get lost in the pursuit of that perfect image. Try to remind yourself that, for the most part, itʼs the imperfections and unpredictability that make instant film so beautiful!
Example: Chelsea and Sierra for Present Company, IMPOSSIBLE SX-70 film
Happy shooting! xo Amber

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