The last time I took a photo on film was when I was about 10 and I had a little compact camera that I would take on holiday. I took terrible, blurry photos, often with my finger in front of the lens and quite a lot of the dog’s nose! This was probably the last time I really bothered to take photos until the advent of the mobile phone camera, and since my real love of photography has grown I have of course learnt digital photography. I know nothing of dark rooms and film cameras, and I’ve never used a Polaroid camera before. The tools of my trade are Lightroom and my DSLR.
Earlier this year I was contacted by a very nice man called Jared Lichtenberger, a film photographer from Texas and owner of Austin Film Camera. The wonders of Instagram and how that app brings people together! Jared had developed a passion for instant film after finding a Polaroid in a thrift store. As he explains on his website he has continued to buy and repair Polaroids “with the hope of putting these iconic cameras back in the hands of a new generation of photographers”. He very kindly offered to send me a classic 1960s Polaroid to try, the Sun 600, and the whole idea immediately caught my imagination.
Of course one of the beauties of digital photography is the ability to take loads of pictures. It costs nothing to experiment and delete mistakes, and my temptation is always to take 10 where I could have taken one. There’s those moments when everything is just right, a child is happily absorbed in a simple task, looking at a flower or picking stalks of grass, the light is amazing and everything is aglow, and I will be crouched in the grass taking dozens and dozens of images of this perfect scene! It’s impossible not to isn’t it? You don’t want to disturb the moment, and it looks so great through the lens. This does however mean that I might end up with 50 or more images that I will eventually whittle down to 5 favourites and delete the rest.
I feel like this “throw away” mentality is common through our busy modern lives. Inexpensive furniture shipped from the far east has largely replaced locally made, hand crafted items. Clothing has become cheaper and cheaper over the last 20 years – and of course this is reflected in the quality, but you can just bin it and buy a new one. Even down to the way some of my friends date these days! An endless supply of potential partners lined up on Internet dating apps, and you simply swipe away the ones who don’t appeal.
However I am beginning to notice trends that seem to be trying to redress this balance. Perhaps it’s because the Instagram community tends to be full of crafty, creative, artistic types that I am seeing terms like “sustainable”, “slow living” and “capsule wardrobe” more frequently these days, but it also seems to be something that comes up a lot in the press too. Vintage, second hand, and locally sourced are becoming where it’s at. Quality is more important than quantity once again.
I have been feeling for a while now that film photography is an area I would really like to explore. I love the concept of slowing down, taking more time to compose and expose, and taking one instead of ten images. When my Polaroid arrived all the way from Texas, lovingly wrapped up and with a roll of film ready to go, I was going to make this a portraiture project. I had a grand plan in my mind, of all the cool vintage looking portraits of my kids and husband I was going to take. The first thing I did was load up the film, stand the boys out in the garden and take a hasty shot. Unfortunately it was dusk, the kids were wriggling and out popped a terribly dark and blurry shot! Haha this was not as easy as I thought!
Each film has 8 shots, so with only 7 left, I got a little nervous to take my second and held off for ages. I carried the camera around with me for weeks and finally I snapped the magnolia in full bloom. It was a bright sunny day, and Jared had assured me that the camera worked well with lots and lots of light. I like the composition I got here, and the characteristic muted colours work well with the timeless beauty of the magnolia.
The next two pictures I took were in the bluebell woods. These weren’t as successful as I’d hoped, with blown out highlights and deep contrasts where the sun hit the bluebells in the background. It’s actually quite a cool effect though, and I think if I was more experienced I’d have lightened the shot a little to bring out the foreground colours more and embraced the blown out highlights. The Polaroids actually take around half an hour to develop fully, and you need to protect them from sunlight during this time. Each time I took one I immediately dropped it into my camera bag, so I often didn’t know what I’d got until I got home, hence no second chances or retakes.
The next one I took was of a jug of lilacs on a chair. The light was good, again the scene feels quite timeless and I love the way this one came out. The best place to stand to get the sharpest image possible is 4-5 foot away, so you are best composing the shot based on that distance and thinking through what else will fall into the frame. I love those little light leaks in this image.
The next image is my favourite of all. I was determined to get back to my idea of portraits, so after photographing Max with a big bunch of tulips with my DSLR, I pulled out the Polaroid and took one with that too. The light was even and there was plenty of it, and I love the colourful backdrop and composition. Again the little light leaks really add to the vintage character. This shot feels like what I really wanted to achieve with this camera, I love having this picture of my boy on real film!
With one shot left on the camera, I waited until I had the chance to take both boys out together, buoyed up by my previous portrait success! We were driving along and I saw a gorgeous hawthorn blossom, Oscar and Max were perfect and stood beautifully still. Sadly though, I didn’t have my camera bag out of the car so after the picture popped out I shoved it up my jumper, and I was gutted when I looked at it later it was completely ruined.
This project has really challenged me as a photographer. I’ve had to let go of my tendency to want to control every part of the image and edit. I shoot in manual, I don’t allow my camera to throw focus points around, I like to choose exactly which area of a scene or face I am focusing on. Right down to the edit where Lightroom allows me complete control over each detail. It has also really got me thinking, about how to try and get the most successful images out of this camera. I’ve had varying success but I’ve really loved trying and actually I’m going to order my second pack of film soon – I would still really love to get that series of Polaroid portraits. There is something quite thrilling about that picture popping out, and waiting with eager anticipation to see what you will get! I love the feel of the pictures in my hands too, and the fact that I have prints. Instantly!
This little project has really ignited my fire for film photography all round. I know nothing about it at all, but it’s definitely something that one day I would love to experiment with further. Jared sells reconditioned film and Polaroid cameras through his company Austin Film Camera – you can see their Instagram here and their shop here. He is very knowledgeable and friendly so if you fancy giving this try, then I’m sure he’d be happy to offer advise!
You can also get a 10% discount with the code HANNAHARGYLE if you spend $40 or more. My Polaroid Sun 600 was generously gifted to me from Austin Film Camera for the purpose of this project.
Hi Hannah, I love your polaroids! I have a film slr camera sitting in my cupboard. I MUST get it out. The last film I put in it was in Paris in 2006! You’re right about it being such a great way to really concentrate on nailing exactly what you want because you can’t just delete it an take another (50). Great post xx
Hi Em, thank you so much! ooh you must put some film in that camera, I’d love to see the results!
You always are such a great inspiration to those who love photography! I really really like your eye and the colors and light you use!
O, and Polaroids <3
Thank you so much Aria, that’s very kind of you! x
Film photography is really hard work isn’t it? I used to shoot in black and white film when I was at University, as digital cameras weren’t around then. My Dad had a darkroom as home, so I used to play around in the holidays. I used to think my photos were so cool – now I’m not quite so impressed! I got a Diana lomography camera quite a few years back, but it felt like such a hassle (and expense!) to get all the photos developed and scanned – and then realise they were all crap! I definitely love digital! But, yes, I take WAY too many photos and then have to spend AGES sorting and deleting. Need to get better at taking less and getting it right first time – but the light’s always changing isn’t it – and the next one might be better….. Your polaroids look lovely, though – and so much excitement to see what pops out 🙂
It’s a complete different way of thinking and working! I really enjoyed it as an exercise, but yes I agree I think I’d always want to grab my digital camera too to be sure!! How interesting that your Dad had a dark room, so photography is in your genes! xx