Instant August – the backstory

Disclaimers: Firstly, I wrote this piece at the end of July – and didn’t  get around to posting it. As a result some things have already come to pass that I mentioned in my first draft as being on the cards, not least the Land Camera 1000, although I have hopefully edited those appropriately within the text (apart from the final Land Camera 1000 reference).  Secondly, this failure to post this piece, which I originally wrote in longhand on a yellow legal pad, was in many ways the catalyst for returning to wordpress.com. But anyway, onwards …

1977

  • Elvis Presley dies and has a posthumous number 1 with “Way Down”
  • Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Silver Jubilee
  • I left school and entered full time work
  • Polaroid launched the Land Camera 1000 in the UK

So, a seminal year.

I remember using a Polaroid camera right at the end of my time in the 6th form. Given it launched in the UK that year there is a fair chance I used one of the first cameras sold here in the UK.

Well, long story short, I’m playing with instant film again. Although you already know that if you’ve read any of my other recent posts.

INSTAX SQ6 (i)
Instax SQ6, one of the prints from the first pack of film

What? Why? Surely Dave you’re a “serious“ enthusiast photographer? Why such frivolous pursuits ?

Well, yes, I am serious about my photography but for me that means being open to experimentation too. I enjoy exploring different photographic mediums and trying other processes and alternative technologies.  Most importantly though I like to have a little fun along the way too and frankly, having been confined to base for several months now the fun has dwindled.  So in a bid to inject some fun back into proceedings I gave into a long term itch recently and purchased a Fuji Instax SQ6 instant camera and four packs of instant film.

Let’s get a couple of things out there to start with – this is not a cheap way to create photos. There I’ve said it.  Cost of film packs varies but so far I’ve averaged at 83p per print. Of course that is not 83p per “keeper”! That is for the Instax film; films for the old Polaroid cameras work out at around £2 per print, success or failure, so not for the faint hearted. But more of that later.

365-2019-216
Perfectly Imperfect. Double exposure using Fuji Instax SQ6.

Secondly, if you are a control freak then these basic, mainly plastic, mostly automatic, cameras with virtually no manual controls are not for you.  The latter point in particular is one I’ve heard mentioned a few times recently as a negative but for me the whole essence of these cameras is the lack of manual controls and the focus (pun intended) on creativity. This seeming drawback is in effect their USP. Strangely enough, the presence of a plastic lens in most of them barely gets a mention.

So, in a bid to give my mojo a kick I decided in late July to haunt a certain online auction site and pick up a few old Polaroid cameras to complement my two new Fuji Instax cameras. Two? Sorry, yes two, didn’t I mention that a Fuji Instax Wide 300 was recently added to the SQ6?  These cameras are not unduly expensive, they are plastic and basic, it’s the film,  that’s where you pay!

Perfectly Imperfect - Dean Clough
An homage to Bill Brandt … with an Instant camera, Instax Wide 300.

In order to give an added frisson to proceedings I decided at the end of July to take at least one instant film image each day throughout August to complement the ongoing 365 Challenge. Sounds easy, but realistically I cannot shoot dozens of images a day until I get “the one”. I have to nail it within three or four exposures otherwise the project will impair my ability to buy food and wine!  But it is this pressure that is proving to be the biggest motivator.

It’s had an unexpected side benefit too. I’ve started to read about the subject and as a result have also taken an interest in photography beyond what was needed for my daily image. This in turn has led me to read more generally and spend less time sat aimlessly with an iPad on my lap. Last week for example I read three classic novels from my “must read” list and started a fourth expanding my repertoire of authors in the process. In short, I’ve more enthusiasm all round.

August #1
August 1st and the first Instant August image

My online research into all things instant photography led to the purchase of two books, both of which I have now read cover to cover. It also led to the discovery that some instant cameras offer a degree of manual control; enter the Lomography Instant that I mentioned in a post a few days ago.

So there you have it. In a bid to rekindle my enthusiasm I have now added instant photography to my kit bag, or should that be bag of tricks, and whilst it’s still the honeymoon period I’ve a feeling that I will still be shooting instant film as we march bravely into 2020 and beyond.

In the meantime, fast forward 42 years from the last time I remember using a Polaroid camera and I’m awaiting delivery of my latest camera purchase … you’ve guessed it … a Polaroid Land Camera 1000!

Instant August – Week 1

As I’ve already mentioned, in order to mark my resurgent interest in instant photography I have set myself an additional daily challenge for August. In addition to the ongoing 365 Challenge I am also making at least one instant photo a day using the instant cameras that I’ve been acquiring from a well-known online auction site over the last few weeks.

So, the first two weeks are now past and it’s certainly been an interesting couple of weeks. The project is not just about the experience of using these cameras, some of which are over forty years old, and whilst the problem solving is something I enjoy the key element has to be the images themselves.

(c) Dave Whenham

Instant Trials

To mark my resurgent interest in instant photography I have set myself an additional daily challenge for August. In addition to the ongoing 365 Challenge I am also making at least one instant photo a day using the instant cameras that I’ve been acquiring from a well-known online auction site. But, it seems that not every day is suitable for instant photography, at least not when you’re still only a tiny way along the learning curve; my SX-70 Sonar for example uses 100 ISO film and needs lots of light or a tripod.

August #16
Instax Wide 210 – slightly more forgiving with 800 ISO film

The Lomo’ Instant uses Instax Mini film which is rated at 800 ISO so I thought I would use it for my daily image on 16th. Now, I am already liking the aesthetic from the Lomo Instant – I am amazed at how differently it renders images than say the Instax when they are using the same film stock. One thing however that is becoming very clear is that setting the correct exposure first time is going to come from experience. My Fuji Instax cameras generally do very well in Automatic mode and do it consistently but results from the first pack of film in the Lomo Instant are certainly not consistent and I am already sensing a tendency to underexpose.

LOMO TEST STRIP
Three test shots – Lomo’ Instant and Fuji Instax Mini film

For my first shot I left the camera on the Automatic everything setting and the result was very under exposed so I then shot another at Automatic but with +2EV of compensation set with much better results. For good measure I also shot a third image at +1EV for comparison. The results are shown above. In the end I used the version from the Instax Wide 210 shown at the top of the page for my Daily Instant but I have to say that the Lomo has the potential for much more atmospheric images once I’ve mastered it’s foibles.

To be fair this was not an easy scene on a dull day when it was actually raining but it’s an exercise I can repeat on a brighter day to see what happens in different conditions. I will also put the camera on a tripod and play with an external light meter to see how well the camera settings relate to light meter readings.

LOMO’ Instant

First impressions count and on removing the box from its brown cardboard packaging this afternoon I was taken aback by the presentation of this instant camera from Lomography. Why oh why didn’t I take a picture of it, pristine and glossy in its box? Well, I didn’t, so you may have to Google it 🙂

Purchasing this instant camera was a spontaneous, you could say instant, decision; I’d previously researched the camera and it’s more recent siblings and decided that the unpredictability of the results was too much of a gamble given the cost of film. But then I saw a 24-hour flash sale which gave me not only the camera but also the three lens attachments for less than half the usual price. I clicked “Buy Now”, paid and only then remembered my earlier decision not to buy this brand. Well, too late to have second thoughts – at least that’s what I told myself.

© Dave Whenham

Of all the Lomo’Instant cameras, this one offers the most manual exposure control and as this aspect was important to me it made it the obvious choice compared to the Lomo’Instant Automat which does it all for you.  The Lomography website explains it in detail.

It effectively has one shutter speed (1/125th second – although it has a Bulb mode too), one ISO setting (Fuji Instax Mini film is rated at 800) and five aperture options (f8, f11, f16, f22 and f32). The built in flash can be set to fire, not fire or fire-when-needed. I have a light meter on my iPhone (Lux App) which enables me to check the light levels and set the camera accordingly. As an enthusiast photographer I also have a set of ND filters I can hold in front of the lens if I need finer control.

© Dave Whenham
The first 5 snaps

I only had time for a few quick snaps today but they were enough to settle my concerns about the potential results. It will take some careful thought and application but I’m sure from even this small test that this camera will enable me to produce some interesting and satisfying work. The Instax film itself is very stable and I’m thinking that my understanding of light and the exposure triangle will stand me in good stead when getting the best out of Lomography’s little box of tricks.

Watch for more over the coming months including a more in-depth review of using the camera. Cameras to me are about results and user experience not technical specifications so don’t hold your breath for those though!

Instant Photography

Stuck at home. Stuck shooting the same things for my 365 Project. Stuck, stuck, stuck.

Stuck in a rut!

No citation needed …

Now, in the past, with a decent salary coming in, I would simply buy some new kit. It works every time … or at least I convince myself it does. But, with just my pension now (yup – I’m getting old) the funds for such indulgences are simply not there. So, what about eBay? A secondhand (has to be, they haven’t been made since the 1980s) Polaroid Land Camera 1000 for under £30 was a temptation too far (why do I browse eBay when I’m low on funds?) and two weeks later I have a desk covered in Polaroids and Instax instant prints. Oh, yes, I found a brand-new Fuji Instax SQ6 half-price too 🙂

© Dave Whenham
First play … Fuji Instax Square SQ6

What a blast!

I am still stuck at home and still stuck with the same subjects BUT I am re-energised! Learning a new discipline, working out the quirks of each camera and film combination, re-learning the joys of shooting with a Polaroid Land Camera 1000. Every day is a school day at present. I had forgotten the pure fun that this type of photography provides. The picture literally develops before your eyes. Now I know that digital is the ultimate in instant photography, on my iPhone a big, clear image is ready to view instantly, but I cannot produce a physical print that I can hold and pass around. The grandchildren’s faces as the print whirrs its way out of the camera is a delight to see. Indeed, Harry, who usually hides his head when you point your phone at him, smiles and says “cheese” whenever I pick up an instant camera.

© Dave Whenham

Zac, Harry and I spent an hour shooting with the Instax on its first outing – priceless!

So, I did succumb to GAS and bought some kit. But, film aside, it was in my defence relatively cheap kit and used at that. The cost of film means that I will need to limit my instant shooting BUT that is part of the joy too. Press the shutter of the Instax and my subconscious thinks “80p” whereas pressing the shutter of the Polaroid it registers nearer £2. Cost never enters my head whenever I press the shutter of my Fuji X-H1 – yet the camera and lenses cost a considerable amount of real, hard cash. When I’ve some time I will work out the relative costs per shutter press – but I’m too busy having fun at the moment!

Perfectly Imperfect #1-13

A one-off project for August 2019 – 31 days of instant film images to kick start the ongoing Perfectly Imperfect project and celebrate the instant cameras in my collection. As a taster here are the first 13 images, all taken with an instant camera and scanned using either my iPhone or a flatbed scanner. I shall write more in coming weeks.

© Dave Whenham
#1