For a while, things looked pretty bleak for the instant-film-loving community. Films that were once mainstays of the film shooter's arsenal (like Fuji FP-3000B) were discontinued and instant camera equipment production slowed to a crawl. Fortunately for us though, like other formats and kinds of film, instant film photography is seeing an unprecedented resurgence (both in niche, hard core film communities and popular culture). This guide is for you, the digital film guy, who's been sitting on the fence and wants to see what all the buzz is about. In this article I teamed up with two of the coolest instant-film-shooting photographers today, Robert Timko and Sandy Phimester.
Sandy is a prolific Alberta, Canada based portrait photographer who primarily shoots 135 format black n' white film. Meanwhile Robert is a digital junkie based in Boulder, Colorado whose work has been featured in Runner's World Magazine and Le Petite Voyeur, and always makes a spash in the Fstoppers Facebook group. Both of whom incorporate instant film in almost every shoot. The two were kind enough to sit down for a brief chat to explore what instant film resonated for them and how they've worked it into their individual workflows.
What do you use instant film for?
I think in the past instant photography was perhaps more for testing light or testing a concept, visually, and in a sense maybe that's what I like to use it for as well, although I honestly feel like instant film IS the perfect compliment to 35mm and 120 film.
No matter what shoot I'm doing, I always have a pack or two of instant film with me, it has been quite enjoyable and I couldn't see myself without it in my bag. I have used polaroid stuff exclusively for a shoot, but once twice, normally it is something I mix into the rest.
Most of the time, I use Instax as a fun value-add. On portrait sessions, clients love to go home with an Instax. In about 10 minutes post-session they always post a photo of the Instax to Instagram [NSFW]. I've begun stamping the bottom of them with my contact info!
For example, I recently shot 22 Olympic athletes for a shoe company. After each portrait I took an Instax shot of them doing a goofy face. More than half posted the photo to social media immediately after the shoot.
I also take it out with me when going out with friends. Most of the bars/breweries in town have a bunch of my Instax on their walls from goofing around with friends. It's a great conversation starter!
What's special about instant film?
When you hit the right exposure, and get that one shot... it's something magical. I can't really describe it better than that, but as a photographer I feel like printing work, even just daily life shooting, is really a wonderful thing.
The instant film captures often feel lifelike and have this quality to them that cannot be replicated, it is truly special stuff. I often romanticize film and instant film, but for me maybe it really is that wonderful, I'm not speaking about nostalgia, I'm just expressing how I honestly feel when working with this stuff.
I like it because it is what it is. There is no fussing about settings and you get what you get. Less to worry about.
What instant equipment do you use?
I have a Polaroid 180 Land Camera and a SX-70, I mostly focus on shooting with the Polaroid 180 Land Camera though, as it has a larger aperture, fully manual shutter and aperture controls, and requires no battery. The SX-70 does get some love, but I rarely seem to shoot it.
Instax mini and wide. I also have a few Polaroids that I put some Impossible Project film though, but I was disappointed with the quality.
What recommendations do you have for people new to instant film photography?
Just go for it. Seriously. I know someone who is just learning photography, only a few months into the experience - and she is making some wonderful images - and some of them are with instant film. She has just a basic (and inexpensive) Polaroid Land Camera, fully automatic, plastic, etc. But with the right vision and creativity it can help make amazing photographs. Just start, start small with a cheap thrift store find, or do some research and land yourself a more manual control camera or a back for an existing film camera. It's really simple. I know it can feel somewhat intimidating or strange as first, but the truth is that all photography is wonderful and instant will hopefully be a part of that for lifetimes to come, there is something special and romantic about being a part of a scene, in life, capturing it and having a print seconds later. A memory, to hold in your hands, to share, to enjoy. It's fantastic! Film, digital, new, old — whatever. Instant film is worth a shot for everyone.
Get a cheap instax and bring it on a night out with friends. You'll instantly fall in love.
To keep up with the dudes featured in this article be sure to check out their work via the links below: