Polaroid shooting Tips ‘n Tricks Part Two: Capturing the moment

Welcome back to another iteration of Polaroid shooting Tips ‘n Tricks!
This is a series full of tips for getting the most out of your Polaroid camera! Part one was about choosing the right camera and film for yourself to use.
Part two is about pre- and mid-shooting techniques. It also features some of the lastest Polaroids that I took during the past two weeks! Part three is about “Preserving the moment”.
Enjoy! 🙂

Choosing the subject – without remorse

Pigeon Double Exposure
Can you spot the pigeon? Yep, that’s 2,5€ down the drain.

Taking Polaroids these days would be less of a hassle if the images weren’t so expensive. The average Polaroid photo on Impossible film costs about 2,5€ for normal and 1,25€ for Factory Seconds packs (excl. shipping and discounts). This is why getting the shot right seems to be more important than ever. However, don’t let that ruin the experience of instant photography! If you see something worth capturing, go for it! (See Impossible’s #nowornever campaign)

Not everything looks good on Polaroid, though. The following kinds of images are probably not going to come out right using instant cameras:

  • Scenes with very bright and dark areas
    Most Polaroid cameras have relatively basic optics in them. Unless you’re shooting with an SLR 680, don’t expect the images to look perfect. Especially light / dark contrasts in images are a challenge for single-element fixed-focus plastic lenses, take this image as an example. More examples below!
  • Moving subjects
    If you want to capture something in motion, your best option is to attempt and follow the subject with the camera, taking the image somewhere during the sweep. This can yield a reasonably sharp subject with blurred background (but might also give a completely shaky / blurry image). You’re probably better off taking the image with your smartphone or digital camera and using an Instant Lab to capture it on Polaroid.
  • Close-Ups (esp. AF cameras)
    If you’re using a CL (close lens) equipped camera, those are just fine for closeups. However, with an autofocus or fixed-focus camera, closeups won’t be a lot of fun. I’ve had extremely mixed results ranging from great to terribly out of focus when shooting with my AF 660.  🙁
    See the gallery right below:

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Framing the shot

Unlike most of today’s analog and digital pictures, Polaroid 600 and SX-70 images are (obviously) square. In addition, because classic Polaroid cameras were made mainly for portrait photography, focus is sharpest in the center of the image and autofocus cameras will always attempt to focus on the center of the image.  This means that most photographic rules of thumb that you might know don’t necessarily apply on Polaroid format.
However, the following two basic framing techniques can be applied to Polaroid photography:

  • Rule of Thirds

The bend of the path was consciously placed exactly at the interseciton of the left and bottom thirds in this image:

Hiking was fun, but these ghostly images make you feel more like turning around and running downhill again.
“Hiking was fun, but these ghostly images make you feel more like turning around and running downhill again.”
  • Center the subject

This one might seem like no technique at all because it’s so basic, but placing the subject of your Polaroid image in the center is actually a good idea for many reasons:
– The center of the image will always be the sharpest spot.
– There is a slight vignette effect at the edge of many Polaroids.
– Classic Polaroid cameras were made for Portrait photography with the subject in the middle.
– AF cameras will always focus on the center of the image.

Things to note when framing the shot:
– Polaroid photos are quitte narrow in comparison to standard 4×3 images. Take care while framing the shot in order not to position things at the very edge of the photo, they’ll seem unimportant and be slightly out of focus! (remember, AF cameras focus in the middle)
– Be careful not to cut anything off by incorrect framing! On all non-SLR Polaroid cameras, the actual image the camera will capture is slightly to the right of what you see in the viewfinder!!

Setting things up

Depending on when and where you’re taking the photo, different settings should be used on your camera. Impossible has some good support documents detailing what settings to use in which situations and with which model of camera:
“Explanation of dark & light settings”
– How to use the flash: “My photo are over or under-exposed with the flash”

When you’re arranging the subject(s), take some extra time and take some quick digital test images (LOL! Back in the 70s, Polaroids were used for test images!) to check wether the scene looks right. This will also help you with remembering when and where you took the Polaroid image. It’s no shame to rearrange chairs and people for your image since the print will cost an instant 2,5€ (no pun intended).
The following shot took about five minutes of preparation and involved lots of sticky tape to keep everything in place!

How to press the shutter

With everything set up and ready to go, it’s time to press that shutter button! On 600 cameras, use the small black tab under the red button to take the image without flash.

That’s it for this part of “Polaroid shooting Tips ‘n Tricks”! To read the third and last part, click here.

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