Spring Polaroid Week with the Polaroid Big Shot and Instax Wide film, 27 April 2024

Spring Polaroid Week with the Polaroid Big Shot and Instax Wide film, 27 April 2024

It was Spring Polaroid Week last week, a celebration of instant film that has been taking place since 2006. According to the introduction on the Polaroid Week Facebook page the aim of PolaroidWeek is 'to see what new and interesting things we could do with instant film, and to challenge ourselves to produce some really great work.' Over the course of the years Polaroid Week has come to celebrate all kinds of instant film, not just Polaroid films, which is great for me as I'm mainly an Instax film user nowadays. 

It was only by chance that the day before I came across a post about Spring Polaroid Week, 'Spring Polaroid Week starts tomorrow. Who’s ready?' I'm currently taking part in the Frugal Film Project, so I have plenty of Instax Wide film available, and by chance I've recently acquired one of my long desired cameras, the Polaroid Big Shot Camera. The Big Shot is a strange looking camera with a long snout and is designed for one job only, to take portraits, or images of objects about 1m away. It also uses Polaroid pack film, which of course is no longer available. You can still find expired Polaroid pack films online, but nowadays there is no guarantee that it will work and prices are ridiculously expensive. 

Fortunately, I came up with a technique adapted from an article on PetaPixel to make a little plastic mount to hold a single piece of Instax Wide film in the film back of the Big Shot. I need to take a reading and adjust the exposure to account for the difference in film speed between Polaroid pack film (about ISO 160) and Instax Wide film (ISO 800), but the results are often really nice — well for a 50-year-old camera.

Being a rather bulky camera, and with only one film loaded at a time, the Big Shot is hardly portable, so the photographs taken for Spring Polaroid Week were taken in the neighbourhood, probably no more than a few hundred metres from the house. It was great fun, though, and really gave me practise using the Big Shot. 

On the first day I found a rusty old gate with a shiny padlock that really captured what I want to photograph with the Big Shot. Doing the Big Shot Shuffle I could move back and forth until the rangefinder showed me the image was in focus, and the background would be nicely blurred. To get the exposure right, well as best as I could, I used the smartphone app Camera Meter to take a reading at ISO 800 and 1/50s, the shutter speed of the Big Shot. This gave me the aperture that I should use and then I exposed one stop smaller than this. I use this technique with the 1920s Generic folding camera for the Frugal Film Project, and it seems to work.

I took a second image of a metal door, but this time my technique didn't seem to work as well. I've discovered since that objects with lighter backgrounds would benefit from the use of a neutral density filter to lessen the possibility of overexposure. That said, I did nail the focussing and I'm  certainly getting better at the Big Shot Shuffle. 

Day two of Polaroid Week with the Big Shot was a disaster. The intention was to make an image of a lovely little postbox outside my neighbours house,  but I completely misjudged the framing and the dimensions of the postbox. Instead of having a nicely framed postbox surrounded by an out of focus background the box filled the frame and the afternoon light meant that although the side of the box was nicely exposed the front of the box, my subject, was a near featureless blob. I've included it here, but never submitted it to the Polaroid Week pages.

My entry for Day 3 of Spring Polaroid Week was an Instax Wide photograph taken with the Polaroid Big Shot camera of a field of yellow flowers. This was tirst time I had tried a landscape shot, and probably the last. The intention was toget part of the image in focus, with out of focus flowers in the foreground and background. But I wasn't sure how to properly focus the Big Shot  on its side and I was not sure that any of it was properly in focus. I decided that I was going to stick to flat objects in the future. 

On Day 4 of Spring Polaroid Week I abandoned my idea of taking flat objects and returned to a three dimensional subject. Opposite our house the neighbour has a lovely little stone garden filled with shrubs and cacti. I've taken this before, but never given it the Big Shot treatment. I was really happy how this one came out, the red bush in the foreground came out nicely in focus and the green background and wall behind was suitably blurred. I also nailed the focussing, and of all my photos during Polaroid Week this was my favourite. 

The next two days entries were not taken with the Big Shot, one by accident and one by design. Day four of Polaroid Week coincided with the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Portugal from a fascist dictatorship that ruled the country in 1974. It was defeated in a near bloodless revolution and every year on the 24 April the country celebrates the Dia de Liberdade. One of the enduring images is of red carnations that the population pushed into the barrels of the guns of the Portuguese army, and for Day 5 of Polaroid Week I wanted to celebrate this day with a piece of graffiti, a stencil of a phrase, 'Eles têm armas, mas nós temos flores' (they have guns, but we have flowers).

Sadly, my framing and exposure with the Big Shot was completely wrong and instead of a nicely framed image of the quote I was left with a part of 'flores' which was deeply disappointing. So instead I presented an Instax Wide image of a concrete piece of pipe in tall grass, a favourite image of mine from behind our local Lidl supermarket. This was taken with the 1920s generic folding camera that I am using for the Frugal Film Project.

The image for Day six of Polaroid Week was made the same day and was also taken with the generic folding camera. In fact it was taken just a few metres away from the stencilled was of the same abandoned building because I wanted the windows for Fenster Freitag (Window Friday). I was dodging traffic to get this image, not easy with a tripod mounted folding camera, so it's really poorly framed and, if anything, this one was underexposed for a change.

I has not realised that Spring Polaroid Week ran from Sunday to the following Friday, so although I went out and took a frame for Day 7 of Polaroid Week technically it wasn't really counted as part of the celebration. But I had my image for Day 7, and #Caturday, all lined up so finish Polaroid Week here's a final Big Shot portrait of a piece of local street art. It was bittersweet, I don't think I'll ever get as good framing again but the photo was a little overexposed and would have benefitted from an ND filter.

I really enjoyed Spring Polaroid Week with the Big Shot. It was certainly an experience using this 50-year-old behemoth and it fulfilled a long-term ambition to own and use this camera. I'm certainly going out with the Big Shot again, and I have an idea for a long term project that I hope will play to the benefits of this beastie. I'm also looking forward to Autumn Polaroid Week, and wondering even now what my subject, and camera, might be.

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