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Get The Most Out Of Your Instant Film

Instant photography, with its nostalgic charm and tangible results, has made a huge comeback in recent years. Brands like Polaroid and Fujifilm Instax have rekindled the love for this vintage art form. However, to truly capture the essence of instant photography, you should know that it can be a bit picky. Here's some tips to help you get the most out of your instant film:

1. Proper Storage of Undeveloped Film

The longevity and quality of your instant film largely depend on how you store it. Polaroid film, for instance, should be stored in its sealed packaging in a cool, dry environment. Ideally, place it flat inside a fridge at temperatures between 4 – 18°C (41 – 65°F). Avoid freezing the film as it can damage its chemistry. Before use, let the film return to room temperature for at least an hour.

Some of us even have dedicated film fridges to keep all of our film fresh (and to leave room in the main fridge for things like food, which can also be important).

Fujifilm Instax has similar guidelines for storage, but also make sure to keep it away from high humidity and extreme temperatures.

PolaCon NYC attendees dancing on Fujifilm Instax

2. Mind the Expiration Date

For optimal results, use Polaroid film within 12 months of its production date. As the film ages, chemical changes can affect its performance. While proper storage can slow down this aging process, using the film post its expiration date might not yield the desired quality. Although, there are a lot of people in the instant film community that LOVE shooting expired film for the unpredictable results. It just depends on what you’re after.

Instax film isn’t as picky and doesn’t provide much specific guidance for how their film expires. That being said, they do put a date on the package, so just keep an eye on that. It’s there for a reason.

3. Clean Your Rollers!

The rollers inside your camera play a crucial role in spreading the chemistry between the negative and positive parts of the photo. Ensure they are clean to avoid uneven spread, which can lead to undesirable film defects. Clean them with a soft cloth dampened with water or a water/rubbing alcohol mix and check them before inserting each film pack.

This is a bit easier to do with Polaroids, but still monitor your Instax cameras for any weird chemistry spreading, lines in the images, etc.

Phish fan in Mexico, shot on SX-70 Polaroid Film.

4. Does Instant Film Need To Be Refrigerated?

Believe it or not, yes! Both Polaroid and Instax film perform best between 13 – 28°C (55 – 82°F). In colder temperatures (< 13°C or 55°F), photos might appear over-exposed with a blue tint. In such conditions, let the images develop inside your jacket pocket. Sometimes I even put them under my arm. That body heat really helps!

Conversely, in hotter conditions (> 28°C or 82°F), photos might develop a yellow/red tint. Cool your film packs in the fridge before use and process photos in cooler surroundings.

5. Shield Your Polaroids From Light

After ejection, Polaroid film remains sensitive to light for a few seconds. Use the film shield (or “frog tongue”)on your camera to protect it at first. I make sure all of my cameras have one of those installed.

Even after this, keep the photo shielded from strong light sources to ensure deeper saturation and sharper details. Usually the first 5-10 minutes should be fine.

Instax film, however, doesn’t need this shielding due to using different chemistry. It even develops face-up in full light!

6. Storing Developed Film

After shooting, the chemicals in the film continue to have reactions as it dries and sets. Because of that, store your photos away from direct sunlight and at normal temperatures. For the first 30 days, avoid compressing or sealing the photos. After this period, storing them in albums is acceptable. For framing, use frames with UV protection. Polaroid offers special photo storage boxes and albums, or you could shop for your own solution at a store that specialized in containers. I can’t think of their name right now.

American flag waiving on boat as it leave San Francisco Bay

7. Traveling with Instant Film

Finally, when traveling, keep your film packs in hand luggage to avoid X-ray damage during security checks. Keep all of your film together in a big see-through plastic bag. And, ALWAYS ask for a “hand-check” from TSA. Some x-ray machines say film is safe up to 800 speed, but some airports use next-generation machines that WILL hurt all film.

Your best bet is to request a hand-check. I do it all the time when I travel, and I’ve never had an issue. Just be patient and make sure to thank the agent!

In conclusion, instant photography is not just about clicking a button; it's about understanding the medium you're working with. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that every shot you take captures the magic of the moment in its full glory.

Happy Shooting!

- Andy Odom

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