The Death of Polaroid

26 February 2010 11:00:00 AM AEDT

Late last year a forgotten product left for dead in the digital era made a late, sizzling dash as a hot item in the photographic industry even as it died: polaroid instant film. 

Teenagers were suddenly walking around with cameras bigger than their netbook computers thinking they had stumbled across the latest retro item to take to school, even if it took up the entire school bag.  They wanted to know where the film was, but unfortunately the story was where it wasn’t, which was in the factories, being produced, because it had been discontinued. 

Stock was hard to source and subject to limited availability, but it was also subject to the laws of supply and demand. The price of the film that was left more than doubled because suddenly everybody want to shoot polaroid.  It was four dollars a shot.  There are bars in Melbourne cheaper than that.   On completing their purchase, customers got some sage advice along with the receipt and change: at that price, make the shot count. 

That, however, is the advice that should always be coming across the counter.  Shooting film placed a cost and a finite number of pictures on the photographer and hence a strong discipline to ensure the pictures that were taken were as strong an image as they could be before the film ran out, or the bank account, or both.  It made us think it through more.

Digital removed the restrictions but we should retain the discipline.  It can be easy to be seduced by how many pictures we can take instead of how many we ultimately find worth keeping.  Identify the point of interest.  Remove elements that don’t add to the image. Get closer. Try different perspectives. Consider the Rule of Thirds, but don’t be afraid to break it.  They key is to see the image before you press the shutter release. Make the shot count. 

Powerful photos are created, not taken, through a sense for thoughtful composition.  Just ask any teenager - when your whole bank balance goes on ten photos, you become very introspective indeed.

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