There is something magical about instant cameras. Press the shutter button and an image slowly appears in front of your eyes. These cameras have practical and artistic applications. Professional photographer Megan Kennedy explains how using instant cameras can improve overall photography. What are they like? Everything in order.
About instant cameras
Typically, the term “instant camera” refers to a camera that uses self-developing material to acquire an image within minutes / seconds after the shutter button is pressed.
When you capture an image, a small batch of chemicals are opened to start the process, or specialized rollers pull the image out of the camera while the developing chemicals are added. These cameras are popular due to their immediacy and unique, somewhat classic effect of a ready-made picture.
A bit of history
The first commercially viable camera system was introduced in 1947 by Polaroid founder Edwin Land.
A year later, his Land 95 camera and related film went on sale at a department store in Boston. Cameras dramatically changed the accessibility and creativity of photography, and eventually sold out in minutes.
Land and Polaroid continued to develop instant camera systems. Originally producing images in sepia tones, instant film moved to black and white and then to color in 1963.
However, up until 1972, the use of such cameras was much easier than the current process. The exposed Polaroid film required the photographer to peel back the negative material after 60 seconds to reveal the image. From this, chemical residues often remained on the hands.
Some earlier processes also required that the developed film be coated with a mixture of stabilizing chemicals when using the camera.
The introduction of the Polaroid SX-70 in 1972 marked a turning point in instant camera technology. The removed SX-70 film, with no negative material or chemical residues, forms the trajectory of these camera models and realizes Land’s dream of a camera system that delivers completely instant images. It is a single lens reflex camera and therefore offers much higher quality and control.
Instant cameras today may have been largely replaced by digital technology. However, the distinctive aesthetics and physicality of such photography have been revived in recent years. Companies such as Polaroid, Fuji and Leica offer modern incarnations of instant cameras and related photographic materials.
There are many ways that instant cameras can improve your shooting experience. Perhaps the most obvious impact of modern photography with them is hands-on knowledge.
Since their invention, instant cameras have presented an interesting alternative to standard photographic practice.
Andy Warhol made extensive use of such cameras, as did Luigi Ghirri, the pioneer of color photography. Using both familiar and unique photographic techniques, these photographers (and many others) have pushed the boundaries of what was considered the mainstream approach to photographing.
Most of today’s photography is created and distributed digitally. But deviating from the norm to understand what is in and out of working with instant cameras opens up new perspectives and challenges. And this is about expanding artistic experience and opening up creative possibilities.
The benefits of a new photographic experience are not exclusive to such cameras. However, the process, special associations and distinctive aesthetics of photography with such a camera can make a significant contribution to the many layers of visual language that a photographer relies on in this area.
Film can be expensive. This means getting the most out of every shot. While the price can be a disadvantage with these cameras, maximizing the success of each shot contributes to more effective photographic practice in general.
By measuring exposure with a limited number of frames, instant cameras slow down the photographic process by inviting the photographer to carefully and consciously consider the creative and technical aspects before pressing the shutter button.
Although photography with such a camera often deviates from the technical standards of digital and film photography, the “slow” approach to the process inevitably translates into other aspects of the photographer’s practice, honing visual awareness and technical skills.
The most control over the camera itself may have its focus, but you still need to perform other functions correctly. You should be able to hold the camera still when you press the shutter button.
Ansel Adams, an early proponent of instant camera technology, argued that pre-rendering is a critical component for producing quality images. As we said, instant film for cameras isn’t cheap, but pre-rendering is a valuable way to minimize bad shots.
Pre-rendering involves mentally unraveling the many components that go into the process of a photograph prior to its creation.
The claim for the loss of expensive film makes the need for pre-imaging especially significant. The more attention is paid to the pre-exposure of the image, the better the chances of success.
Instant photography was designed for fun, so it’s no surprise that simple, unique cameras help fight creative fatigue.
These cameras generally have fewer built-in settings than their digital counterparts. This simplicity can stimulate creativity in composition and choice of the main subject.
In addition, the unique aesthetic of instant photography is seen as a marker of a distinctive and whimsical artistic process, so some mistakes that can spoil the digital image are perfectly acceptable in instant camera photography. This relaxation of technical limitations means that such cameras can help recharge photographers’ creative batteries.
Also, the white background around the Polaroid photo can be used to create great negative spaces. And you will find that many polaroid cameras have their own unique characteristics.
With their unique aesthetics and limited film capacity, instant cameras provide an attractive alternative to mainstream photography, as well as perhaps a touch of nostalgia or vintage.
However, this is obviously not the type of camera that is suitable for beginner photographers if they intend to train exclusively on it. Better still, at this stage, use a digital or conventional film camera.