Creative process

Experiments with… my Polaroid camera

My creative experiment for July has lined up nicely with our post-lockdown adventures in the campervan and I’ve been experimenting with Polaroid photography. Here’s a rundown of how I got on, a look at some of my best shots, a blooper reel of photos that turned out a bit rubbish and what I learned from it all.

Getting started

Back in July 2019 I bought myself a beautiful Stranger Things edition Polaroid camera with my birthday money and a full year later, I still hadn’t taken any photos with it.

My Polaroid x Stranger Things OneStep 2 i‑Type Camera

I’d put off using the camera for a number of reasons, but mainly because the film isn’t exactly cheap and I was worried that my photography skills wouldn’t justify the spend per shot. I was always saving it for best, or waiting for a special occasion. In the end I realised that it wasn’t worth having if I wasn’t going to play with it. And that it was a very expensive paperweight.

In the spirit of embracing new creative experiences, July 2020 was the month that I lifted the camera off the shelf, put some film in it and took it away in the campervan on our post-lockdown adventures.

Using the camera

The camera itself has very limited controls. You can turn the flash on and off, adjust the exposure by +/- 0.5EV and choose between colour or black and white film. That’s it.

The camera feels huge and it took me ages to get the hang of turning the flash off. Also you have to use a viewfinder, which for someone who cannot close one eye at a time is trickier than it sounds.

A look through the viewfinder

It’s nerve-wracking and exciting to wait for the photo to develop before you can look at it. In the age of smartphone cameras and digital photography, it feels so odd to press the shutter button and wait up to 15 minutes to see what the photo looks like.

The photos have an eerie, dreamy quality to them. Everything feels softer and more atmospheric. And the whole process is nostaligic AF.

My favourite shots

Here’s a gallery of some of my favourite shots.

Blooper reel

As promised, here are some of the photos that did not turn out great. But hopefully they have taught me how to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Relinquishing control

The main thing I learned from this creative experiment was to relinquish control, throw my perfectionist tendencies out of the window and give in to serendipity. To be honest, that’s a bit of a metaphor for my experience of 2020 full stop!

At first I didn’t like the idea of not knowing how the photos were going to turn out and now I really enjoy the element of surprise. If a photo turns out great then that’s brilliant, if not I can learn from it and try again.

Some of my shots are awful, some of them are really good – but all of them are a physical record of some amazing places and experiences. It’s been lovely to return from our camping trips with physical photos to display at home, rather than them just living on our phones.

Fancy having a go?

Normally in this section of the blog I’d give my five top tips for people who think they might like to have a go. But as this experiment relies on some pretty specific (and expensive) equipment I’m going to suggest an activity instead. The idea is to replicate the feeling of giving up control that I experienced when using my Polaroid camera.

Take a photo using your smartphone without looking at the screen. You could put a sticky note over the screen so that you can’t see it, or use the selfie camera and turn it round to take the photo. Then put your phone in your pocket and move on with your day. Have a look at your photo later and see how it turned out.

You could also try drawing without looking at the page. Anything to relinquish control, abandon perfectionism and give into serendipity. It’s a lovely thing.

This series of ‘Experiments with…’ blogs is based around one of my goals for 2020 – to experiment more and develop my creative practice. This means trying out new techniques, using new materials and making new products. The hope is that I’ll develop as an artist, learn new skills and have a lot of fun in the process. My aim is to try one new thing each month and blog about the process as well as the results.

You can keep up with my experiments in the creative process section of my blog. If you’ve got any suggestions for experiments that you think I should try, please get in touch.