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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
If you watched any of my courses or any of the previous practicing photographers, you know that I proof digitally. Oddly enough, there's like 150 years of photographic technology that comes before that, that we haven't talked to at all. Today on the Practicing Photographer, we're going to look at one tiny little slice of that old technology, and that's Polaroid. I'm here with my friend Troy Word, a fashion photographer that does a lot of work digitally. But Troy we were out shooting today and you had your Polaroid with you. Now, you're a guy who's got everything from a 1DS Mark 3 to a, to a red camera, why are you shooting Polaroid? >> Well, you know, it's interesting because I've, I started obviously shooting film, you know when I was 11 years old you know.
And there's, I, you know, there's an amazing sort of romance I think to film. And Polaroid is kind of, part of that. And I feel like, it's kind of, a way to like, cleanse your visual palate in a way. To sort of, throw away all of the digital, Raw, histograms, and everything that are, is really in my opinion, so unromantic about photography today. And just deal with the Polaroid. It's a really simple process. And it's really gratifying. Like, instantly gratifying. >> Setting aside the, the romance nostalgia bit, what do you feel changes in the way that you're visualizing a shot. When you're working with Polaroid.
>> Well, I feel like it forces you to really think about your composition because the Polaroid is the final you know, version. You know, there's no recropping, no reframing you know. I mean obviously we'll be scanning them and >> Right. >> And making them inkjet prints you know, modern hyper-technology with it, but In the end, you're trying to create this beautiful object. It's there, it's a work of art, it's in your hands. And with the film we we shooting, black and white. It's 15 seconds for it to develop. >> Do you feel like, in, in working that way without that safety net of assured post production and what not.
Are, are you finding your, more methodical or more careful or. >> You have to be. Definitely, you know, because it, it's, it has, it's much less forgiving than you know, a Raw capture is, or even a JPEG capture, you know? We kind of get lazy I think, with the amount of control we have now with digital. And in a way, I mean that's why I love it. It's like, like I said, a visual palette cleanse. You know, you're forced to compose, you're forced to think about exposure. To think about the zone system again, which people don't talk about anymore.
But you know, figuring out exactly where you want your values to be, and using a light meter. You know, which is also something that's kind of disappeared in a way. >> Definitely. Let's back up a minute. I think, nowadays, most people, when they think of Polaroid, they think of the SX-70 Polaroid, and it makes that sound, and the little thing comes out. You are using one of the older Polaroid technologies, which is the peel-apart. Can you explain the kind of taxonomy of the Polaroid family? >> Well yeah, there's, the Peel apart I think was the original process.
I think it was, I you know, I'm not a historian, but I think it's in the late 50s that the process was invented. And that was the original process, was the peel apart. And, the evolution, you know, because you end up with lots of bits of paper and there's chemicals and, you know, it's a little bit of a sloppy thing. You know, you gotta figure out where to put them and. You know, not litter as you're shooting, but you know, the peel apart polaroids just have a magic to them that none of the other films have in my opinion. Particularly that black and white. It's a very high ISO 3,000 ISO, so I had to put a lot of filters because it was so bright and sort of get it into a range of exposure.
>> Right. >> But it, it looks like an, a really beautiful vintage black and white print. And it has a little bit of grain to it. It just has an, you know, an analog structure to it that digital doesn't have. >> Yeah. >> And it's very difficult to explain. It's like listening to music on an LP versus a CD, you know? >> Right. Now polaroid went out of business, and, and the film disappeared, so is it that you have polaroid films. >> Well this is still manufactured by Fuji, they're still manufacturing two films basically. But there is a company called the Impossible Project, which brought the technology and literally rescued the manufacturing facility from being junked.
And they've restarted the whole process, so new films are coming into the market. And they're really doing interesting things with them, dealing with new formulations. I've been experimenting with eight by ten Polaroid. I still have all my eight by ten view camera equipment, which, you know, fortunately I was just lazy enough not to like just get rid of it, you know? And, It, that is truly spectacular. I've also had the opportunity to work with 20 X 24 polaroid camera which is a really specialized camera which shoots a 20 by 24 inch polaroid.
>> Wow. >> those are stunning but it's, it's a real bear to work. You need two technicians and it's, the focusing is, is really difficult. but it's, you know, I just think it goes back to thinking about photography in a different way. Thinking about composition, thinking about exposure. and just the instant gratification. I mean, you know, people are very excited when you pull that Polaroid. There's an anticipation that doesn't happen with just looking at the back of your digital camera. >> It's natural print there.
>> Yeah, and it's a finished work of art. I mean, you know, you can put that in the Museum of Modern Art if you're lucky enough to create something that deems worthy of that. >> Yeah, but. >> And that's the beauty of it I think So if I was to decide, all right, I, I want to try seeing in this way. I'm going to go get myself a Polaroid camera. What am I, well, first of all, what do I look for when I'm going Polaroid camera shopping? I head to eBay, or? >> eBay but impossible project is also buying up vintage Man1: Polaroids, restoring them, and so they're actually a really good source at this point.
the other source is just garage sales, yards sales. I mean, people don't value these anymore. The one I have is really unique because it has full range of shutter speeds and F stops so I can use it like a manual 35 millimeter camera. I can even connect a flash sync to it. >> Wow. >> So I can use a studio strobe or a, you know, an off camera flash. It's a really. But those are very difficult to find. If you find them, buy them, because they are actually going up in value. It's, it's a good investment, Polaroid cameras, actually. >> Is there a Polaroid camera that is too old? One that, that even the impossible project is not making film for? >> Yeah.
Any of the original peel apart, was actually a roll process you can't find that film and, you know, those are nice to put on your shelf but you can't really use them. >> So probably the thing to do is first check out what film formats are available and, and make myself a list of compatible cameras before I go shopping. >> Right. And, you know, and Possible Projects' is a good place to start. Also Holga makes, I believe a polaroid bag in, I think it's the Holga or the Diana camera, so you can actually shoot those as well. Those are available I think at Lomography or various specialists, but it shoots a smaller image, so it's not the full polaroid.
>> Right. Now, as if if I'm a digital shooter and I'm used to working with my digital camera, what's going to be different about working with a polaroid? First you've already mentioned light metering. >> Right. >> you were using an external meter. >> Yeah you know, these cameras have no internal meters. I mean, some of the instant cameras have automatic metering but, but, the peel aparts generally are manual cameras. You know you have to think about exposure and light. And if you're using filters, then it introduces filter factors which is something that is very tricky.
But the great thing about polaroid is you instantly get >> Yeah >> Feedback on what your exposure is >> Yeah. >> So You know, you just do a few frames, get it right and, and you know, it's fantastic. >> Most of us even if we're shooting polaroid, are probably at some point going to scan it and take it in because either we want to make more copies. Or we want to make some adjustments. I am used to a certain amount of editing latitude in my images. I know when I'm shooting digitally that I'm going to be able to brighten the midtones up this much or, or pull detail. Out of shadows or lower highlights or things like that. What can I expect in terms of editing latitude with polaroid? Do I really need to get it right or do I have some room to move around? >> You need to get it right.
I mean, it's, the black and white doesn't have a huge amount of latitude, but I did some pictures today, some landscapes, and I just did a bracketed exposure. So if you're on a tripod there's no reason you can't shoot three exposures and combine them in Photoshop and make an ink jet. You know, the same way that you would sort of combine a high dynamic range raw image. So, you know, you can do it that way if it's something that you're trying to achieve, obviously you can't do that with a portrait so much. But you know, I love that combination of digital and analog.
I think that's the real sweet spot in photography where you can use these classic techniques but then all the advantages of the digital gives you. You said you were using filters. I know you had a neutral density filter on there because the ISO of your film was so high and we were in pretty bright light. You also had a red filter on there. I assume for the typical black and white shooting, red filter reasons. >> Yeah, I mean, you know, we have very dramatic skies here so that instantly gives you a real drama in the sky but it's also a real secret weapon. For portraits because the red filter absorbs any blemishes or pimples or suddenly disappear, you know.
And so it gives a beautiful creamy sort of look, so it's, it's really flattering for your subjects. And gives it just a slight, you know, edge over you know, what it would be without it. You know, just a little bit creamier more beautiful sort of tone to the skin. And that definitely showed in those images. These were three by fives, maybe. Something like that? >> Yeah. Three and a quarter by four and a quarter, I think, or. >> What are you paying per print for those? >> It's basically a buck a shot. >> Okay. you know, it's, it's ten exposures and it's $10 at the current B and H you know, sales price.
>> Yeah. >> So, you know. >> It seems like it's been there for years, it. >> Yeah, it really, it was always, I mean that's what I used to say, because you know, in the film days we shot thousands and thousands of the polaroids. And you know, it was like well, it's Just like pulling dollar bills out of your camera, every time you're pulling you know? >> Right. Oh, I got a picture of George Washington. >> Right, exactly. so, you know. But, but, I, I don't know. I think for the, it's a huge bang for the buck, in my opinion. But you also tend to shoot less. You don't just shoot indiscriminately with it. >> Right. >> And I think there's a value to that. I think there's a value to considering Why I'm pointing this camera? Am I just pointing it because it's digital and it doesn't cost me anything and I have invested in it? Well at least you have a buck a invested in this.
So, you might approach it in a slightly different way, you know? >> That's true. That's true. Well, that's something to consider both because polar idea is in itself a really interesting Thing way to be shooting and as Troy said does deliver an immediate final product that's very compelling. But also because it will change the way you see things, it's going to slow you down. It's like doing any manual film process. Before you had into polaroid, you may want to put your digital camera in the manual mode. And go out and really test your exposure theory and get comfortable with it. And if you think you are interested in this, hit the places Troy mentioned.
Troy thank you very much. This has been very interesting and I look forward to seeing more of your polaroids >> Yeah, thank you.
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