Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Polaroid Pack Film: Field Experience

I got the idea for this post from a friend on Facebook, Zebrio, who asked about how I handle my Polaroid prints while out in the field. I actually get this question pretty regularly, and I see it as a frequent forum question, as well. So I thought it might be interesting to some to share a couple of my tips for shooting and carrying/handling Polaroid prints in the field. And it may give some insight into how I shoot, which is something I honestly don't think about very much as a lot of it is just a result of experience and repetition, eventually leading to some level of intuition. I don't pretend to be some kind of Ansel Adams that knows everything about photography technique, but maybe some of this will help others with personal shooting methods.
Speaking of repetition and experience, there really is no substitution for just shooting a lot. It's no joke that since 2004 or so, I have shot over 5,000 peel-apart Polaroids, which looks something like this:
Seems like it would take up more space than that. And, yes, my storage system sucks...rubber banded in cardboard boxes. The last couple years are at least bunched by shoot, but before that they seem to be all shuffled up. I would love to find some kind of indexing system to organize and store them, but Polaroids are an odd size and I haven't really spotted anything. And I have waaay too many to put in traditional binders. Someday I hope to find some kind of old card catalog type thing from a library for organizing them. Anyway, so how I shoot really comes from doing it a LOT. And that certainly doesn't mean that I am a great photographer or still don't have much to learn, but I mostly have the process down...future improvement is more aesthetic in nature, I hope. So, basically, this post will just be tips to help you with your Polaroid pack film cameras and shooting with them.
The very first thing I can recommend is to very rarely close your folding cameras. The only time I close my cameras is for air travel...they always remain open otherwise.
This is because closing and extending the bellows leads to light leaks. If you have good bellows on your camera, it's easier to take care of it than replace or fix it. In fact, replacing the bellows is such a hassle that it is easier to replace most of the camera, or just buy a new camera if it is a cheaper model. So it's easier to just keep the cameras open and dust them off every so often. Protecting the lens isn't really an issue when the camera isn't in a bag or something. This doesn't apply at all if you use a hard case camera, like the Big Swinger 3000 or Colorpack III, of course. though I suggest keeping your plastic cameras out of the sun for storage, as they tend to become brittle and shatter with age. If you do have leaks in your bellows, they will almost always be along the folding edges, specifically the points. All of that opening and closing causes these points to become weak and thin, and little pinpoint holes form.
 If you ever see anything that looks like this on your photos, you have leaks:
Checking for leaks is as simple as going into a darkroom and shining a flashlight inside the camera. You may have to move the flashlight around at different angles and even press against the bellows. They will show up as tiny pinpoints of light in the dark. They may looks small, but it doesn't take much to put streaks on your film.
I have tried a few different methods to repair light leaks, including small pieces of  tape, black paint, black sealant, glue, etc. The best fix aside from replacing the entire bellows is to run electrical tape along each edge of the bellows. Anything you paint on there is eventually going to crack and fall off, and using small squares of tape on each individual leak is difficult and they tend to unpeel and fall off. I did this for the first time in a motel in Kiryu, Japan when I discovered that my bellows were super leaky. It was after 8pm and there was one single department store open, and all they had was red tape. It worked, and it is good visual representation of what you need to do.
You need sticky, stretchy electrical tape. Some tape is very stiff and fabric-like and some will peel off while you are putting it on. So you want the kind of tape that you can stretch a bit. Cheaper tape seems to work best...the stuff I use was 100 yen. I bought more rolls of it last time I was in Japan. To put it on and make sure you have complete coverage, you need to cut a strip long enough to go in and out of those folds, and you press outward from the inside with your fingers as you apply the tape. You will be pushing so that the edge is actually straight with no folds. Apply the tape down the line and then pinch it into the folds and creases. One nice thing about doing this is that you can close your camera if you want. I recommend opening and closing it a few times after tape application to encourage sticking. Obviously, black tape makes more sense if you have it...
I've never had to replace tape once it is on. Relatively easy fix if you don't want to hassle with replacing the bellows, and it can be done in the field.
Also, those plastic front masks:
On the 180/190/195, they can become very brittle as well, and crack. So if you want to save yours, don't use it! I know, it kind of defeats the purpose of protecting your camera when it is not on the camera, but what do you really have to protect your camera from when it is on a shelf? Dust will get on and in your camera regardless of this cover, and once gone it is really difficult to find an original replacement.The auto folders are pretty common, and the plastic is thinner and more flexible, so using them isn't really a problem, though I find that the camera is less awkward to use without the cover on.
Other than that, there isn't much to caring for your actual camera.
If you have shutter problems, first check that the cable is connecting. When you push the red button, it just pushes a wire into the back of the shutter mechanism, pushing up on a plastic piece that fires the shutter. Sometimes the little silver plate is loose and isn't holding the cable in place. Easy check before you start worrying about the actual shutter.
If it is a mechanical problem inside the camera, it is really difficult for an amateur to fix on the manual cameras. I know, I have tried without success.
It's a bit of a nightmare, though I do have a pretty good understanding of how the lens works now after messing around with one for six hours. But really difficult to fix. I'm sure there is someone out there who will repair them, but at what cost? If you are using an automatic folder, they are for the most part easier to replace than repair. And cheap plastic hard body cameras should only cost $5 to $10 so just throw one away and buy another. The are mostly impossible to fix.
So, be nice to your camera. That's the best daily care advice I can give. Sure, you can always buy another for most cameras, but you will probably learn to love the one you have and not want to give it up.
As for your Polaroid film, try to store the unused packs in a dry, cool place. I put mine in ziplock bags and keep them in the fridge. The ziplocks are used because there is a lot of moisture in the fridge and your packs will rust if given the chance. But open dry air will probably make the developed dry out, as well. So you want to try to maintain them "as is".
Nothing is sure fire in keeping Polaroids from expiring, but they will last much longer if stored in a cold place. I have Type 669 from 1989 that works beautifully...
...and I have Type 669 from 1998 that is developed totally blue and mottled.
So all you can really do is try and hope for the best. I have film that I have in the fridge that is most definitely getting worse, and other film that still shoots like new. It's a bit of a crap shoot. It will all be old soon, and eventually there won't be any working peel-apart film (and Fuji won't be making the stuff much longer, I'm guessing). Protect what you have!
Okay, so some tips for shooting on the field. One of the main questions I get about peel-apart film is how to carry them, particularly after they have been peeled. It's a moot point with integral as they are self-contained, though the Impossible films are very quirky in their own ways, and plenty of shooting tips can be found on the Impossible Project website. Peel-apart, or pack film, is a bit messier. First thing, get yourself a couple plastic bento boxes.
I got this idea from Skorj, who used them to keep his Type 665 in water in the field. I find that they are good for all pack film Polaroids. Polaroids fit in them perfectly, and they are mostly airtight (though I see water bubbling from that little plastic circle on top if I am storing 665).
Where do you get these bento boxes? I bought mine at Tokyu Hands in Shibuya, and then found the exact same boxes a mile from my home in Phoenix at an Asian grocery store. Easy. Stickers are not included, but make them a little bit cooler.
For the most part, you do NOT need to peel your prints at the recommended times of 30 to 90 seconds. Most peel-apart films are self terminating (meaning they stop developing after a couple minutes), and can be peeled hours after shooting. They will dry out if you leave them in open air, making backwards peeling virtually impossible, though the prints will be fine. But if you keep them in a bento box, they will stay moist for six to eight hours after you shoot. Depending on what I am doing or where I am, I will often carry unpeeled prints around for half a day and then peel them when I get home or at least to my car. I actually like to leave them for at least an hour because the developer along the paper edges is much lighter and dry when you backwards peel. It will be super dark if you peel right away and smear if you touch it.
So I say most peel-apart films will last a long time unpeeled in a bento box. There are a couple films that have to be peeled sooner. Type 689 keeps developing and gets darker and darker if you don't peel it (and actually develops more until it is dry). Type 667, 672 and 664 need to be peeled within 10 minutes or so, or the negative dries to the print and is tough to peel off, and you will get mottling on your print. Fortunately, these films dry very quickly, so carrying one around for a couple minutes usually isn't a problem. Then I still use a bento box to protect them until I get home. Other than that, I don't think I've ever had a problem with any other film. Type 669, ID-UV, 690, Viva, etc., all can be peeled hours later. Fuji films, FP-100B, 100B and 3000B, last a long time as well, and you will often find that the print has separated from the negative side on its own with Fuji films.
The downside to peeling much later is if you don't trust your exposure, you might have 10 poor shots instead of one. I think of it as kind of the same as shooting with film...try to do it right the first time because you don't know what you are going to get until later. Sometimes I will peel my first print to see how I've done in a peculiar light. A baseline print is sometime needed, particularly with expired Polaroid film, as one pack can have a very different ISO than another.
Also, you want to save a bit of the extras with some films. Type 87, 667 and Fuji FP-3000B all have goop side negatives that can be scanned.
Sometimes these can be difficult to carry around until they dry, particularly in humid environments. Fuji goops seem to stay damp a long time and are much more delicate than 87 and 667. If you don't have a back seat handy to lay these out to dry, you basically have to carry them around in your hand until they dry, though I'm sure if you want to get all fancy, you could make a little holder of some kind that keeps them separate. I've heard of some people using plastic wrap, but anything that touches the goop will leave some kind of mark, and FP-3000B might even peel right off and stick to the plastic wrap. So some patience is required. I have stacks of goop side prints, so it's completely doable.
The other part you might want to save is the negative for Fuji FP-100B and FP-100C (and the 45 versions as well), which can be cleared with bleach for scanning.
These aren't particular delicate and I usually just throw them on the floor of my car until they dry (wet side up, of course). Though you can usually wait to peel them until later, as mentioned above.
Those are my basic shooting tips. I don't use a light meter, but with expired films you may find it to be useless anyway. Sometimes the ISO is super slow with older films. Experimentation and experience help exposure. I have for a long time used an ND filter on my 190 and 195. These were made by Polaroid and can be found on eBay. I paid 11 bucks for one of them, so don't pay $150 like some are asking. There are also Polaroid made UV and orange filters, as well as a hood, for the 180/190/195. There are also some filters out there for the auto folders, though I don't have much experience with them. The cheaper plastic cameras shoot as is.
More recently, someone has made a filter adaptor for the 180/190/195, allowing you to use 46mm filters on your manual cameras, which opens up a new world of filtering for your peel-aparts. I've done a bit of messing around with warming filters, but more on that in another post.
That's all I can really think of right now. If you have any specific questions that haven't been answered here or in other posts, ask below and I will try to answer or provide links. Here are some links to previous Polaroid posts that I have done that may help:

Polaroid peel-apart examples
Polaroid peel-apart guide
Polaroid peel-apart guide part 2
Polaroid integral guide
Polaroid manual camera guide

Hope this was useful! Until next time...


  1. dude, you are so awesome. this is a great post! i checked my bellows, and they do indeed have light leaks (i can see them without the flashlight, le sigh). the good news is this is inspiring me to (finally) get the battery i need for my 440 and start using it! (any ideas on where you can find a cheap 3 volt?)

  2. ebay is the best place to get odd batteries for old Polarodi cameras. usually $7 to $10 each...

  3. .. wow! The tip about leaving type 100 film unpeeled for hours is amazing, I always believed that developing times for these were crucial.
    Last year I went to a trip, 34 days away from home, backpacking. Dealing with the pictures was ok (I think), but trying to save the goops was a huge mess.

    Thank you!

  4. Great tips, I've gotta bookmark this!

  5. Great great post. Agree with fl00de about the leaving type 100 film unpeeled: it will make life a lot less messy... Thank you!

  6. M_scott_deserti1:11 PM

    Yet another great post!
    I use similar little plastic KLIP IT boxes from Sistema available at Container Store. The 1 and 2 liter are the perfect size for 100 film packs and prints. The 2 liter has a divider down the center too but I don't see that option anymore.

  7. So, in your bento box for fuji, do you put water in there, or just seal it without extra water so that it doesn't dry out? It can get a bit hot here in So. Cal and I've had some problems with them drying out before I can get back to the car to peel.

  8. no water, just the box, except for 665 negs which soak until i can get them rinsed off. i shoot in arizona (where I am) and socal all the time, hasn't really been an issue for me. i stuff them in my pocket usually if i'm walking around, until i get back to my car. but fuji dries so fast that peeling and carrying them for a couple minutes usually isn't a problem, though i never do. i don't shoot tons of fuji, but i've never had them stick together while trying to peel...usually they just fall apart as they are already close to being dry, like you say...but doesn't effect the image at all.

  9. We need to keep buying LOTS of Fuji peel apart film so that Fuji keeps making it - at least for another 50 years.

  10. very nice post.
    I have started to shoot Polaroid films ( FP100C / 3000B ), your posts really help me a lot.
    There seems to be tons of information which I should learn about the post processing from the negative image from those.

  11. .. hi! do you have any advice for Polaroid Blue, Chocolate and Sepia films? Can I leave them unpeeled as well?

  12. Chocolate and Sepia need to be peeled within 10 minutes or so because they dry out and stick together. Makes them tougher to peel and you can damage the surface of the print. But they dry very quickly, typically. Not sure about Blue, haven't shot it for awhile. Probably more similar to Fuji Silk, so should be fine left unpeeled for awhile.

  13. .. thank you! as soon as I shot some Blue I'll post something about it.

  14. hiya

    great post and blog in general! thanks for the tips.

    Just wanted to clarify one thing - when using Type 87 film do you peel it within 30 secs and let the goop dry out? According to Polaroid guide to the film processing for more than 3 minutes affects image contrast/density, and I'll be shooting at over 75°F(24°C), which apparently shouldn't be processed for more than 1 minute.



  15. I haven't found any adverse effects to waiting longer to peel 87 and 667. Too long and they dry out and are harder to peel. It's all expired now and i've found that letting it develop longer helps reduce grain and that faded look. But i've shot tons of polaroid and waiting more than the recommended times for most polaroid films doesn't hurt the image.

  16. ..

    hi! polaroid blue film can also wait longer. comparing to fuji fp100c (not silk) it seems that after a few hours, blue film will be a little more stick but a had no problems unpeeling it

  17. I wanted to sell my camera. But after reading this i keep it :)

  18. Allison1:33 PM

    Hello! Im going to try your electric tape light-proofing trick tonight for my 100E special. Question though - this is my first pack film experience. When I take out the pack I have in there out (didnt know about the leaks until I took my first shots) is there anything special I would have to do to put the same pack back in? Im assuming that I have to be careful that the white tab is accessible. Anything else? Thanks!

  19. yes that is all you really have to worry about, extending the white tab past the opening when you latch it. if you don't want to lose the top shot, you can pull out the pack in the dark and keep it in a drawer or something, and reload in the dark. i switch packs midway through sometimes if i'm not getting the results i want from a certain film type because of lighting, expiration, or whatever.

  20. very nice polaroid blog! I just got a 100 camera and cant wait to go out and start shooting with it!

  21. Your suggestion to use Electrical Tape to seal the edge of the bellow is super easy and clean. I can put it on and peel it off for the perfection of sticking : D

    And the most important is - IT WORKS! Clean, tidy and looks neat.

    My 350 was bought in a second hand store and ISO3200 film in daylight exposed the light leaking problem. The problem is solved now.

    When I can find a grey colour electrical tape (or any colour that will match the grey bellow on my other #240), I will seal the edge of the bellow as a preventive measure.

  22. I just stumbled upon this blog entry. Very, very helpful!!