Since their inception, Polaroid cameras have been used to take… how do we put this delicately… ‘private’ pictures. While other film formats depended on you either having your own darkroom (unlikely) or dropping off your film at the 1-hour where multiple people would be seeing and handling your 35mm (awkward), Polaroid was the first time the average person could take photos that they could keep to themselves.
Even decades later, in the digital age of powerful smartphone cameras, the Polaroid remains the perfect format for the perfect dirty picture. Why? First, Polaroids just look better. Smartphone cameras, and really, all digital cameras, don’t take the most flattering pictures without some serious photographic know-how and Photoshop.
Second, as many have learned the hard way, there’s no such thing as real privacy when it comes to the internet – and smartphones are connected to the cloud at all times. Even without somebody working overtime to steal your images, pictures have a habit of showing up in unexpected places at exactly the wrong time. Polaroids remain private until you decide somebody can have one. Obviously, somebody can still steal the pictures, take digital snapshots of them, etc, but it’s a whole heck of a lot safer for those who could be harmed by private information getting out.
So you want to take some sexy photos of yourself, your partner, together, or whatever, with a Polaroid camera – where do you even get started?
Instax and Polaroid
First, you need to get your hands on a camera. I have a lot of guides you can check out if you really want to get into the weeds, but here’s a quick run-down on what’s out there:
Polaroid has started making cameras and film once more, and some of the new film is compatible with vintage Polaroid cameras. Fuji Instax is a separate, but also great film format that is wildly popular right now. You’ll hear a lot of people call Instax ‘Polaroids’ but they’re ever-so-slightly different versions of essentially the same thing: analogue photos that instantly develop on their own. They’re not compatible with each other, so you can’t put Instax film in a Polaroid camera and vise-versa.
If you’re starting out, the Polaroid Originals OneStep+ is a great place to start in the Polaroid world. You can buy it brand new, it has a timer and close-up lens for selfies, can use a smartphone for remote control selfies, and works great. You can currently get it directly from Polaroid. The OneStep+ uses film that features the classic Polaroid square. As I recommend below, you’ll want to purchase I-Type Black and White film for it.
If you want a possibly cheaper, vintage option, the Polaroid OneStep Closeup is a simple 600 type camera that you’ll often stumble across in flea markets, garage sales, and attics. You can buy a refurbished one directly from Polaroid Originals, but they’re also all over eBay. You’ll need new Polaroid 600 type film for this camera.
Fuji Instax can also be a more affordable option, especially the Fuji Instax Mini 11. The Instax Mini 11 has a little built-in mirror and a macro mode that’s good for selfies, and it is commonly available all over the place, including big box, supermarkets, and convenience stores. You can also get one on Amazon, and you’ll want to pick up the monochrome Instax Mini film for this camera. The Fuji Instax SQ6 and older Instax Mini 9 are also both great options if you can get them on sale.
How the Heck Do I Use This Camera Anyway?
I have a whole website (and video channel) dedicated to explaining how to use various Polaroid and Fuji Instax cameras, and you can find guides for the OneStep CloseUp here and the Fuji Instax 9 here (OneStep+ coming soon!). Thankfully, all those cameras are very simple to use, so I recommend just playing around with the camera and getting to know it before getting steamy.
Monochrome Is Your Friend
You can take great dirty pictures with color Polaroid film, but there are a few reasons why black and white is the way to go when starting out.
First, it’s just super flattering. I’ll get into it a bit more below, but sometimes color film will get thrown off by weird lighting conditions, and give people all sorts of bizarre skin tones (vampire blue, sickly green, etc). Black and white also remains flattering if exposure is a bit off, while color looks terrible if not shot juuuust right. You want to have fun, not stress about photographic color theory.
Speaking of weird lighting, black and white film also plays nice with mixed lighting. Indoor lighting often has a yellow cast that can play havoc with color photos. Even digital cameras struggle to make people look good in mixed lighting scenarios. Monochrome, however, does just fine with all kinds of lighting.
The Flash Will do the Job, But You Still Need a Little Light
Your main source of light with a Polaroid or Instax camera will be the flash that is built into the camera itself, but it’s good to give yourself (and the camera) a little light to see by. A lamp or two will do the job just fine. Don’t shoot in pitch-black darkness, but don’t break your neck dragging every light you have into the bedroom.
Film Makes Everyone Look Good
Digital pictures – especially with flash – make people look… not great. The digital eye is relentless when it comes to skin, highlighting every blemish and defect to an insane degree. That’s why professional photographers spend as much time in Photoshop as they do behind the camera. It’s embarrassing when it’s your face, and it’s worse when it is other parts of the body. Both Polaroid and Fuji Instax Monochrome film will put you in the best light possible.
Stay Back 4 Feet From Subject
Polaroid and Fuji Instax cameras often struggle with close focus, so stay four feet (or a little over a meter) back from your subject when possible to keep them sharp. The Instax Mini 11 has a ‘selfie’ macro mode that you’ll need to use for arm’s-length selfies, and the Polaroid OneStep CloseUp and OneStep+ both have a ‘closeup’ mode that you can switch it to. However, in my experience, it’s best to ignore these and get a bit more space between the subject and the camera.
If you’re shooting yourself, many cameras have timers that’ll free you from the tyranny of selfie sticks and trying to hold the camera yourself. Stick your camera on a tripod (or stack of books) and strike a pose. The OneStep+ can even use a smartphone as a remote trigger, which is super helpful.
Extra Steps to Protect Privacy
As I mentioned above, while Polaroids are much less likely to be ‘leaked’ than digital photos (they’re a physical object after all), they still aren’t foolproof. If your photos falling into the wrong hands can ruin your life (for example, if you work in a field where you’re expected to be a sexless angel-like being), it is smart to take some extra precautions. The simplest is one of the most effective – just keep faces and any identifying tattoos out of everything. For most people, that’s enough to protect their identity.
Another step you can take is to physically keep possession of any pictures of yourself. You can choose the time to share your photos with people, always being sure to take them back and lock them away.
Assume that if you take a digital snapshot of a photo with a smartphone there’s a much stronger chance it’ll get out there. If you send it to somebody, the genie is truly out of the bottle, and there’s not much you can do about it. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t matter, but we still live in a dumb universe where people are shamed for dumb stuff.
Once you have all the above, you’re free to get creative. Since the flash is doing most of the work and you can mix lighting with black and white film, you can shoot in pretty much any room. Try out some different spaces you might not otherwise think of.
I leave poses, outfits (or lack thereof), and pretty much every else to you. If you follow my advice above and bring your own inspirations to the process you’ll have a blast. Remember, it’s just as much about the experience as the results, so take your time, play around, and see what happens – although I’m sure you’ll enjoy the photos you end up with.
Big thanks to Ramona Romance for collaborating on the Polaroids for this article! You can check her out over on Instagram.