Polaroid Abandons Instant Photography

Friday, January 16, 2009

Are you a Poloroid photographer? Well practicing your art has just become more difficult. Poloroid has announced it is out of the film making business. According to a New York Times article this week, Poloroid
“…which stopped making instant cameras for consumers a year ago and for commercial use a year before that, said today that as soon as it had enough instant film manufactured to last it through 2009, it would stop making that, too.
The instantaneous of Polaroid prints apparently lost its uniqueness some time ago. Not so long ago I can remember it being magic to push a button and seconds later get a print to hold in your hand. It seems now digital photography has replaced the once revolutionary instant Poloroid camera and film.

I will miss the Polaroid. Don’t get me wrong, I love digital. I perhaps love the instant feed back I get with digital most of all. Digital in many ways is more efficient than the Poloroid. However, digital does not leave me with anything physical that I can hold in my hand. At least not instantaneously.

Carrying a Poloroid camera was once a great tool for me as a travel photographer. What a thrill it was to snap a photo of children in Nepal and let them see themselves in a photo I just made. Yes, you can turn your digital camera around and let them look at themselves on the tiny LCD screen. But with digital there is nothing tophysically leave with them. A Poloroid print was a gift from me to them. A “thank you” for letting me take make a picture of them: It’s better to give than to take.

Perhaps the biggest loss with the discontinuation of Poloroid films is the loss of Poloroid Art. Polaroid film is an important tool in many alternative photographic processes. Although I never really got into it, there are many really cool photos and effects that are made using Poloroid film. Poloroid transfer, Poloroid emulsion manipulations, etching and hand coloring on Poloroids are just a few techniques that will probably be lost forever.

See some examples of Polaroid art here in particular look at the Creative Processes section.

Read the full New York Times article here

Please post your comments about what the loss of polaroid cameras and film means to you below. I would love to hear how this does or does not effect you and your photography.

Winter Photography Tips Part 1

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Do not let the cold weather keep you and your camera indoors. In this two part post I offer a series of tips that I hope will inspire you to get out and enjoy photographing in the winter. Winter offers unique opportunities for photography. Snow, ice, and winter sports are all great photographic subjects that you can only capture if you get out and embrace the season.

Part one focuses on equipment tips to help you deal with some challenges of shooting in the cold of winter. In part two I will concentrate on creative and technical hurdles to making photos in and of the winter environment.

Dress for the Weather

For many, the daunting aspect of winter photography is the cold, and often this keeps people from getting out and enjoying winter’s photographic opportunities. With proper clothing, this should not be an issue. I will not bother to detail how to dress here other than to say wear a hat and dress in layers of synthetics or wool. Layers will keep you dry and allow you to regulate your temperature for your activity level.


As a photographer, having the right gloves is very important. You need to keep your hands warm while maintaining your finger dexterity. This is important for operating your camera, which is often very cold and has many small buttons. When the weather is chilly, I like a pair of thin synthetic glove liners or gloves like the Lowe Pro Photo Gloves (available here on Amazon). When it is very cold however, I prefer a layered system using thin synthetic liner gloves under a pair of heavy winter gloves. This provides maximum warmth and when I need dexterity, I pull off the bulky winter gloves and the liners protect my hands and fingers from the cold of my camera equipment.

Hand Warmers

Inevitably, your hands may still get cold. You may still need to take your hands out of your gloves and expose them to the elements. Sometimes you just cannot change film or memory cards or push that little button with gloves. Once your hands get cold, re-warming them can be very difficult. Chemical hand warmers are great for re-warming your hands. There are several brands available at outdoor stores or sometimes your local hardware or drug store. Once you open the package and expose them to air, they begin a chemical reaction and start to give off heat. Keep them in your pocket or stuff them in your gloves.

Batteries and the Cold

Keep your batteries warm. Digital photography in particular is very dependant on battery power. Your camera will work fine in very cold temperatures as long as it has functioning batteries. Some batteries do better in cold than others. The best cold performance batteries are Lithium cells followed by NiCd, NiMH, and then Li-ion rechargeable batteries. As a battery gets cold, it will loose its power and stop performing. I recommend carrying at least one spare set of batteries and keeping them in an internal coat pocket close to the warmth of your body. When the working set in your camera or flash becomes cold and is not performing well, change them out with the warm spare set and place the cold ones in your pocket to warm them. As your batteries warm, they will re-gain their power and become usable again. If you keep a chemical hand warmer like I mentioned above in your pocket it will speed up the warming process.

Protect Your Camera from the Elements

Keep your camera as dry as possible; protect it from snow, sleet or rain. Camera bags like those in the Lowe Pro AW (All Weather) line come with a cover that adds an additional layer of protection to your equipment. I do not advocate keeping your camera inside your jacket. If you use the battery warming techniques mentioned above there is no need to try to warm your camera. It is better to keep your camera cold, and your batteries warm. If your camera is cold, snow is easily dusted off in contrast to a warm camera which will melt snow and thus be difficult to clean. Keeping your camera in your coat will expose it to moisture from your warm body will create many condensation problems for your camera.

Condensation is a Photographer’s Nightmare

As a pair of eyeglasses will fog up when you come inside from the cold, a camera and its lens (and the inside of the camera) will also fog up with condensation. Condensation is the formation of water on surfaces that are significantly colder or warmer than the surrounding air. As your cold camera enters an area where the air is warm (like your house or the inside of your jacket), condensation will form if the camera is colder than the dew point. The opposite is also true: and if your warm camera goes into cold air, and is warmer than the dew point, condensation will form. Beyond the moisture not agreeing with any electronic parts, moisture can freeze in very cold conditions and completely ruin your camera.

To avoid condensation, give your camera time to acclimate. Bring your camera through these extreme temperature changes gradually. A good technique is to seal your camera inside a plastic freezer bag containing air the same temperature as the camera. Condensation forms on the outside of the bag instead of the camera as the air and camera in the bag gradually equalize to the new temperature. I find leaving my camera in my sealed camera bag for a few hours until it warms up when I come inside works well. Just don’t open it until it has had time to equalize to room temperature. Remove film or memory cards from your camera before you bring it in so you won’t be tempted to open your bag prematurely.

Another source of condensation is you the photographer. If you breathe on your camera, you risk fogging it. Don’t try to blow snow off with your breath. Be careful not to breathe on your viewfinder or LCD screen causing condensation that prevents you from seeing anything. This is usually only an inconvenience that will not affect the rest of the camera and you can wipe it off with a soft absorbent lens cloth.

Keep your car cold. Bringing your cold camera equipment into a warm car is an opportunity for condensation to build up on your camera equipment. You are already dressed for the cold so why waste time taking off and putting on your warm clothes every time you get out to take a photo.

Insulate Your Tripod Legs

The metal legs of a tripod will quickly suck the heat from hands. Insulating your tripods legs will protect you from this. You can buy commercially made pads for your tripod, but I find pipe insulation from the hardware store works great. I used an old foam sleeping-pad which I cut into pieces, wrapped around the legs of the tripod and secured with duct tape. I keep this padding on my tripod year around as it also provides impact protection when I am traveling.

Keep Your Tripod Legs Together In Snow

If you push your tripod into the snow with the legs fully splayed, you can easily damage them. Start with the legs slightly apart, and push the tripod into the snow slowly spreading the legs as the tripod sinks further into the snow. Spreading the legs as the tripod sinks helps keep it a little more stable as well.

LCDs Displays In Cold

Low temperatures affect LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays). They may lose contrast (grey out) and work slower and therefore display information more slowly. They also become quite sensitive to touch (if you press on them they may change color). This is reversible once they warm up, and they should be fine.

Static Electricity

For the dedicated users of film cameras, you should be aware of static electricity. Static electricity is a problem when the humidity is low. Cold weather means low humidity because cold air cannot hold much moisture. Therefore, when you use your camera in the cold, you risk creating a buildup of static electricity as you advance the film. When the buildup of static is sufficient, a spark may flash inside your camera. This can cause fogging of the film. While this is rare, it does happen. To minimize the chances of this with a manual film-advancing camera, advance the film slowly. With an auto wind camera, shoot in single frame mode.

In Winter Photography Tips, Part 2, I will discuss how to achieve proper exposures in the winter environment and provide other tips for improving your winter photos.

A Look Back, 2008 in Photos

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year!

I know at New Years you are supposed to be looking ahead, making resolutions and so forth. Well I am, but I thought it also might be fun to look back over the last year. For me 2008 started off very slow as I was injured. It kept me from traveling very far and certainly kept me from engaging in many of the activities I normally would have. Never the less, I had some great adventures, was able to focus on a lot of non-work related photography and create some fun photos. I put together a small slide show on my Flickr page with some of my favorite photos created in 2008. You can see that slideshow here below.