Traveling & Taking Better Photos with a Fujifilm Instax
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These days photography is so intangible and digital. Last year, I started to send framed prints to friends, family and clients. It was surprisingly fun and exciting to see my work out in the real world, not just on a screen. I wanted to capture that for shoots so I scooped up a Fujifilm instax. The fuzzy quality and instant satisfaction also reminded me of the charm I felt with Instagram back in the early days before the algorithm squashed so much of the fun out of it.
While I adored the Instax right away, I didn't love a lot of my early photos. Fuzziness is part of the charm but some of my early shots were almost indiscernible.
It took a bit of trail and error but here's everything I learned from traveling with and shooting on the Fuji instax over the last couple of weeks. Hopefully this will help you save out on a few dud images since buying lots of film eventually adds up.
Pack the battery charger
Before you run off to shoot with your instax, be sure to charge the battery and if you're going on a trip, bring the battery charger! I’m a little unclear on why I didn’t pack the battery charger. Sometimes, once all the lenses, tripods and accessories are packed for a trip, fatigue takes over my decision making process and silliness occurs. I rationalized that I had charged the battery to full and on most of my cameras that’s enough to take me through several days of use. This highly questionable decision became an instant problem. On our first morning of exploring around Hawaii I discovered that during the flight the camera battery somehow drained from 100% to a little less than 25%, even though it was turned off. Gah.
I went into problem solving mode but the hotel didn’t just randomly happen to have extra instax battery chargers around. Amazon Prime was a little squirrely about committing to an exact delivery date to Hawaii over Christmas, though if you’re not off on some island Amazon does have battery charger replacements. My attempts to somehow magically charge the battery using the battery chargers for my Canon and Ricoh batteries didn’t work (don’t judge, I was kind of desperate).
Pack the battery charger. Don’t let your fatigued-out self make the same mistake as me. Just put it on the gear packing list and find a space for it in your bag.
Don’t check the Instax film
The packaging of the instax makes it sound like the film is extremely sensitive. A quick internet search on traveling with film had me falling down a major Internet rabbit hole. Eventually I came to and realized that I was about to buy a lead lined film bag that would probably result in all my stuff being searched by hand. I took a deep breath, calmed down and decided to take a few precautions without going all in on every suggested safety measure. One helpful thing I discovered is that that checked bags experience more radiation than carry on bags.
I packed my film into my book bag in a ziplock bag and I put it in a separate bin when going through security so it would easily pass through. The film didn’t have any cloudiness or other issues when I got to Hawaii. My hope was that I would use up all the film on the trip but that didn’t end up happening with my battery issues. Ultimately I had to go through security twice with some of the film. Since getting home, I’ve shot with the film that went through the security scanners twice with no problems.
Update: I've now traveled with my instax film on 3 additional journeys, so that's 6 trips through the carry on xray machine and I haven't had any issues with it so far!
Words of wisdom
My first 4 or 5 photos were absolutely terrible. While I was sort of figuring things out via trial and error, I was also worried about my dwindling battery and the fact that each messed up shot was costing me 70 cents. I asked on Instagram if folks had any tips or tricks. Isreal helpfully mentioned that the viewfinder didn't lineup exactly with the lens, which helped me understand why the composition of some of the images felt so off. Kristen noted that her photos often turned out darker than she expected, which I was also definitely finding to be true. Feeling a bit bolstered by advice and some sympathies, I jumped back into it.
It took about 6 or 7 photos before I started to get the hang of what would and wouldn't work. The film is a tad expensive so hopefully these tips will save you from making a few of the mistakes I made starting out.
Don’t shoot too close
There’s a little flower button on the instax camera that made me think it could handle close up photos. This is false. Every close up turned out blurry and slightly abstract.
Watch out for wide dynamic ranges
Don’t bother trying to shoot sunsets and forest paths with dappled light, the instax can’t handle it. Shady spots were key I quickly realized. This somewhat reminded me of Eli’s light struggles when he decided to shoot medium format film in New Zealand. He ended up mostly shooting on cloudy days when the light was even.
Here have been the conditions I found to be best for decent photos:
Aim to be 3 - 15 feet away
Close ups never worked, landscapes came out okay but the film is really small and the details get lost, which can be nice but just keep that in mind. Table top shots, interiors and portraits worked really well.
Bright but cloudy days are best
This worked out pretty well in Hawaii but has been tricky in Chicago. Try to arrange things in the shade or indoors if you are shooting objects.
Use the flash selectively
The flash definitely brightens but it can also wash out color. It's particularly not great with food photos. Portraits are kind of nice with the flash.
Skip detail shots
Forget about trying to capture details. Each photo kind of makes me think of a thumbnail image. You can kind of make out what's happening but it's not crystal clear.