It’s no secret that vintage style is in right now. With so many filters and effects added into our photo apps, we are used to looking at the world through a vintage lens. Because of this, the vintage look of Polaroid instant cameras is making a comeback.
Once considered obsolete, the unique characteristics of Polaroid cameras are more relevant than ever. Here are 15 reasons polaroids are making a comeback, but first a little history.
History of Polaroid Instant Film
Edwin Land invented the earliest version of the Polaroid camera in 1948. The idea struck him when his 3-year old daughter asked him why she couldn’t see a photograph he had just taken. This got him thinking about the possibilities, and he set to work on the first instant camera.
The idea of instant photos was essentially a small darkroom within the film pack. Land compacted all the chemicals and equipment into a small package, which let the whole process happen instantly as soon as the photo was taken. This technology was unheard of and led to the cameras being a massive success.
Throughout the 20th century, Polaroid instant cameras remained popular. Until the advent of digital photography, they were a go-to piece of equipment for party-goers and event photographers.
Now, with the ubiquitous nature of digital imaging, the vintage look and feel of Polaroid photos is coming back. The washed-out, soft light response makes them great tools for capturing movement and motion. Not to mention, their vintage feel rivals any Instagram filter.
1. They Have an Organic Feel
In today’s world, one of the things we are missing the most is an organic experience. With so many things making the move to digital, artists and creators are craving a more tactile experience. Unfortunately, most of the time, this means that you are going to have to make a bigger investment.
In the case of Polaroids, though, the barrier to entry is not very big. Artists can get into creating in the organic realm for a lower cost and higher return. This could be very attractive for someone who is on a budget but doesn’t want to be limited to digital tools.
One of the benefits of working in an organic medium like film is authenticity. You are not capturing a digital representation of an image with film. You are capturing the actual light in the moment. This authenticity will come through in the photos. This is why Polaroids have such a distinct, humanistic feel to them. They are made up of actual particles of light from when they were taken.
2. There is a Distinct Style
It doesn’t take much to recognize a Polaroid picture when you see it. The washed-out colors, bright flash, and deep shadows are instantly identifiable. Because of this, artists looking for that style can easily access it. It is not often that a tool will offer such consistent results over a period of so many years.
The style of Polaroid photos is marked by the white mattes that encase the photo. These are iconic in their own right and are highly sought after. The look is often reproduced in photo filters and editing apps. Instead of adding it later, why not use the real thing?
The other distinct attribute of Polaroid photos is their colors. Warm, muted colors come through beautifully on the glossy prints. Again, this look is often copied digitally through changing vibrancy and hue, but the film’s natural characteristics are the most authentic and organic feeling.
3. The Look Varies With Each Photo
Even though you can expect a certain kind of photo from a Polaroid instant camera, the specific results are always going to be different. One of the best things about the medium is its unpredictability. You could take three different photos of the exact same subject, and each one will have its own unique combination of exposure and colors.
This effect can be especially useful if you are shooting something in a series. It will give you a great deal of variety within your shots. The film adjusts for each little particle of light that comes into the lens, so even the slightest change will affect the way the camera reacts. This intricate interplay is what makes the final product so surprising and exciting.
The look can also vary depending on the film you are using. Instant film will age differently from pack to pack. This means that your photos will be different depending on the individual processes in the film pack. There is no end to the combinations of brightness, contrast, and other parameters that will be affected by the film’s chemical reactions.
4. Good For Portraits and Group Shots
Perhaps the best thing about a Polaroid camera is that it is point and shoot. There are no complicated focus or exposure settings to worry about. No matter what you are pointing the camera at, it is ready to take the picture. This makes it ideal for wild parties or club nights, where the photographer might not be the most aware of things like lighting and exposure.
The adaptability transfers over to subjects as well. Because there is no focus or f-stop, the camera is able to work in both single and multiple subject shots. There are no settings that need to be changed between portraits or group shots. This makes a Polaroid a great choice for vacations and outings.
Because of this simple operation, Polaroids are also good for someone getting into photography. By producing usable photos no matter the situation, a photographer can start to see which angles work best and get into the composition aspect of photography. This can prove to be much more effective in learning than being bogged down by technical settings.
5. Self-Contained Darkroom
The most appealing aspect of the Polaroid camera is that it is an entry into the world of analog photography without all the expensive equipment. If you are interested in developing your own photos, there are many things to buy and keep in stock. Enlargers, chemicals, developing tanks, storage bottles, safelights, and more all cost money. In the case of Polaroid instant film, all of those things are self-contained into the film itself.
About 5,000 chemical reactions happen every time you take and develop a Polaroid photograph. There are layers of emulsion and fixer on each photo that feed into each other when you open the shutter and embed the image on the paper. In a regular darkroom, you have to manage all of these chemical reactions yourself through the developing process.
The other benefit to having this self-contained darkroom is the small amount of space it takes up. Unfortunately, in today’s world the appeal of digital photography is its lack of footprint on space and chemicals. In order to have and maintain a darkroom, you need to have access to enough room (or even an extra bathroom). A Polaroid camera and pack of film can be stored on the corner of your desk.
6. There Are Different Types of Film
Depending on the kind of Polaroid camera you have, there are many different options for the type of film it will take. There are different colors and patterns, black and white varieties, and other variations. Not all cameras are going to be compatible with the different types of film, though.
The most common type of Polaroid camera is the SX-70. This is the model that was the most popular when the cameras were common. Now, there are new models that are currently in production under the name of the i-Type. i-Type Polaroid cameras can accept a wide variety of film types and open up more options for you in that area.
With the production of the new i-Type camera, the i-Type film has gotten more colorful. Film can be purchased with matte paper in different color schemes or in black, both of which were previously unavailable in the ’80s and ’90s.
7. Easy to Manipulate
If you are still interested in doing some post-production type editing on your photos, you are in luck. There are all kinds of techniques you can use to manipulate your pictures, and some of them can be really unique. This is just one more benefit of using Polaroids for artsier photos.
One of the techniques you can use to customize your photos is pushing around the chemicals underneath the photo paper before they have fully developed. When the image appears on the paper, the fixer is still working so the chemicals can be moved around with a cotton swab or a pencil. This can create some incredibly unique effects.
Another technique you can use is exposing the photo to more light before the fixer has finished working. By shining a flashlight or other light source onto the image, you will double expose the film and create elements that would not have otherwise been in the picture.
8. The Company Was Recently Revamped
One of the problems that Polaroid faced at the dawn of the digital age was a lack of understanding of the market. Because of that, they produced less and eventually the film and cameras became expensive and difficult to find. This led to a decrease in the popularity of instant film in general.
However, in recent years, The Impossible Project has revamped the entire industry. A group of avid Polaroid enthusiasts, The Impossible Project purchased the last Polaroid film factory in 2018 and upped production to start putting new film on the market. Under the name Polaroid Originals, a lot of the film can be used in both new and vintage cameras.
Because of their efforts, Polaroid photos are becoming accessible and relatively inexpensive again. Gone are the days of buying overpriced old-stock film from eBay. Now, Polaroid photographers can get fresh film that helps support the company and keep it going for a new generation.
9. They Are Relatively Inexpensive
Even if you are going to get the most basic digital SLR camera, you are going to be spending a lot of money up front. Some of the more affordable digital cameras don’t produce high quality images and this can be disappointing if you are wanting to get into photography. In order to get professional looking digital images you will need to spend at least triple digits. Even if you use your cell phone, you may still want to get them printed and it will cost more money to do so.
It is also expensive if you are looking to get into analog film photography. As mentioned previously, the chemicals and equipment that are needed to develop your own film and print images can be very expensive initially and continue to add up over time. However, the cost to just develop your own film is not that high but you will need to either scan your images digitally, send them out to be scanned digitally, or print them or pay to have them printed by someone else in a darkroom.
Instead of buying a sub-par digital camera or spending a lot of money on an entire darkroom, a Polaroid is a great option. It is perfect for beginners and won’t break the bank if you decide photography isn’t for you.
10. Stand Out From the Crowd
In a digital landscape that is so over saturated, it can be hard to stand out from everyone else. By working in a medium like instant photography, you are making a statement right away. Your work will immediately be set apart from the rest of the glossy, over-edited digital works.
As a photographer at events, you can also benefit from using a Polaroid. The novelty and excitement that come with the instant photograph attract people in any party situation. By taking instant photos and charging for each one, you are creating a memorable souvenir and a fun moment that will keep guests talking.
11. Everything Old is New Again
The saying is true. Everything that was once cool will always come back around to being cool again. Polaroids were once a novelty and a fun addition to a photographer’s toolkit. Due to their inaccessibility and scarcity, though they eventually fell out of fashion.
As with all things, they have come back with a vengeance. As is evidenced in the filters and effects on photo apps, the Polaroid look is highly sought after again. Getting back into it while it is hot is a solid choice.
12. Exercise in Basics
The best thing about using an instant camera like a Polaroid is that it forces you to use your artistic eye. Because there are no settings to be fooled with or effects to be added in-camera, you are left with only your imagination. In today’s digital world, where there are endless possibilities and options to change looks and filters, limitations can be incredibly liberating.
By using the limited options of a Polaroid, you will become well versed in things like composition. These elements become more important the starker a photograph is, and you can get some amazing effects depending on how you arrange your subjects.
13. The Element of Surprise
One thing that has been missing since the advent of digital photography is the element of surprise. There is a certain magic that happens when you are not quite sure how a photo turned out right away. When the image finally appears, the effect can be breathtaking.
Even though instant film develops quickly, it is not nearly as fast as the image on a digital camera’s screen. This means that there is still a magic moment that happens when the photo appears on the paper. It is a fun aspect of analog photography that is not often talked about but can be very effective.
14. Softer Images
Because the settings on a Polaroid are not usually adjustable, the focus tends to be on the softer side. This is a very distinct look that the cameras have become known for over the years. The image of a Polaroid photo is crisp, but with soft, feathered edges. This effect can be difficult to achieve even with digital editing, making it distinct and unique to this type of film.
The deep shadows and dark blacks that the film captures can also have a beautiful effect. These elements are highly desirable in photography and happen automatically in instant film due to the heavy processes that need to happen to develop the image.
15. Classic Flash Look
Perhaps the signature element of Polaroid photography is its flash. Because the film needs a lot of light in order to capture the image, the flash on a Polaroid camera is very powerful. This creates an incredibly distinct, washed-out exposure that has become synonymous with vintage photography.
While the flash is considered undesirable in most digital photography, on a Polaroid, it is the icing on the cake. Without a powerful flash, the image would be too dark. In this case, what started out as a solution to a problem became the camera’s most recognizable characteristic.
In a world that relies so heavily on digital media, it is nice to get out of the box every now and then. Photography is all about capturing the world around us in a way that represents how we see it. With the revitalization of Polaroid cameras and film, there are more tools than ever at your disposal to create and convey your unique vision.