An Instant Film Challenge.
Many of you know about my love for instant film. I try to shoot with it whenever possible and it accounts for a lot of my favorite images. Sometimes I get so into it that I consider shooting it 100% of the time. If I was doing only portrait sessions where I controlled everything it's a lot easier which is why I am offering all instant film portrait sessions. Weddings are my primary focus and while instant film and weddings do get along, I can't stop using faster cameras and film for obvious reasons. BUT, when I have awesome friends that let me tag along to awesome weddings and they give me power to do what I want ... well, then I can start messing around. And that's what I did when my buddy Gabe asked me to tag along at a wedding in upstate NY late last summer. My plan was to shoot as much instant film as possible. And while I carried around my AE1 for moments (I still wanted to do a good job), I focused a lot of attention on my Polaroid 195's.
So what I decided to do was load up one 195 with Fuji 100c (color) and have a 2nd one loaded with Fuji 3000b (b&w). This enabled me to be able to shoot in any condition at any time and allowed me more freedom than just shooting 1 camera and getting stuck indoors with 100 speed film in the camera. I knew that wasn't going to fly.
First and foremost, if you are going to try this, I highly recommend using either a Polaroid 180 or 195 model pack film camera. These two (along with the 185 and 190 - way more rare) cameras allow me to fully control what settings I'm using. Most a pack film land cameras don't have that option whereas on mine, I can control the shutter speed AND aperture. This makes a huge difference. Starting off I was indoors so naturally I started using the camera with 3000b loaded in it. Right off the bat I noticed I was waiting a lot longer for the right shot. I did 1 dress shot in b&w indoors and 2 color outdoors. That's it. I was considering not doing that at all however the dress was pretty rad and I wanted test out the cameras and make sure they worked properly before using it on a shot that truly mattered. After those shots were out of the way and I was good I then found myself really trying to concentrate on key moments. Here are some observations from the day:
1. With any pack film you get 10 shots per pack so on my 10th shot I needed to make sure I wasn't going to miss something else while I was changing the pack. This was harder to do then I thought and there were several moments where I pulled up my 35mm just to make sure I was good. Since I was shadowing Gabe a lot and didn't really need to be there I didn't worry. If this was my own wedding this would have been a major issue.
2. Peeling a print after the shot is taken. This was a tough one as well. There were a few moments where I took a shot and then held the image unpeeled in my teeth while I took a 2nd shot. I had my bag with me as well and would drop them in there to let them develop. But I didn't want to leave them developing TOO long as it was extremely hot in the house (no AC) and I knew that would cause an issue with peeling. However, it did help with drying. So whenever I was changing a pack or I felt there was a small lull I would peel the print and let the negative dry.
3. Space. For some reason I didn't think about this one. AFTER I peeled the print it needs to dry. And if you are like me and like to save the negative, well this can take up a lot of space. So what I did was find a non-traffic part of the the house and spread out my negatives and let the prints dry. The prints dried pretty fast so every time I came back I was able to store those in one of the boxes the film comes in freeing up some space. However the negatives took a lot longer and before I knew it I had negatives everywhere.
4. 10 shots per pack. Thats not a lot. Some digital shooters can take 3,000 to 5,000 images at a wedding. Film shooters tend to be between 500 and 1000. 10 shots per pack isn't going to get me far and I can't carry around 50 packs of instant film. So I was VERY selective. But I really tried to focus on moments you wouldn't shoot instant on. Tougher candid moments. At the end I believe I went through 3 packs of color and 3 b&w. So 60 shots.
5. Candid moments. Ever try shooting a candid moment with a land camera? Yeah, its not easy. Its downright scary. Moments happen fast. With a regular camera and autofocus you need to be quick and if you like manual focus you need to be quick and even more ready. When you are shooting with a land camera its much harder. You have to have everything set up and truly wait for the shot to happen right before your eyes. This was a challenge but I forced myself to try it. I even used instant film for the b&g walking down the aisle after the ceremony. This was a big moment and fortunately I nailed it with just one shot.
6. Negatives. Many times I don't save the negatives however in this situation, I wasn't able to meter every single shot so I had a few in there I guessed on. And I wanted to save the negatives in case I was over or under on the shot. Keeping the negatives safe and clean was one of the most challenging aspects. Many of the shots had way more dirt on them than usual because people were walking in and out of the room constantly which kicks up dust and dirt. A lot of images I wasn't even able to use the negative. That, combined with the space, was very frustrating. AND if I was outside, where was I going to put the negative? I had to shoot it, store it in my bag, wait for downtime, run inside, peel and store, grab a new pack, then run back out. This is harder than it sounds and I was exhausted by the end of the night.
7. Cameras are slow. Yeah, its a pack film camera made decades ago. Its not the fastest camera on the market. But man, they are the most fun!
All in all it was a very fun experience and one that I'll never forget. After the wedding we got back to the place we were staying (along with the bridal party) and I laid out all the instant shots on a table in the kitchen area of the house. It was super cool to see (basically) a whole day right there printed out just an hour after we shot it. Not only was it cool for us, the bridal party ate it up. So while I will not be doing 100% instant film for weddings on my own anytime soon, I will definitely be using it more in the future. As noted, I've already decided to offer 100% instant film portrait sessions.
Thanks to my buddy Gabe for letting me tag along. He's a film photographer based out of Alexandria, VA. He's good and he's a good dude. Check out his work! http://gabeaceves.com/
So here are a bunch of my favorite instant film shots from the day: