By Bill Dobbins
Noways it is comparatively easy to judge exposure and lighting balance shooting in the studio. You just look at the image display and histogram on the back of the camera or your computer screen shooting tethered. And these things are somewhat less critical because there is more leeway in terms of exposure shooting digital compared to film, plus lots of chances for adjustment in post-production.
But when we shot film in the “old days,” this was not the case. Transparency film had very little latitude so you had to be pretty close when it came to exposure and lighting. Any adjustments later had to be done later by an art director – who wouldn’t be very happy about receiving images that required too much correction.
The original Polaroid camera became available in 1948
So we relied on polaroids when it came to fine-tuning studio shots. A polaroid gave you a version of the photo you could use to determine whether your exposure or lighting set up was what you were looking for.
But only a version.
The thing is, there were different types of Polaroid films but none of them produced photos that looked exactly what you would get with whatever film emulsion you were using. So you had to learn by trial and error to interpret what a polaroid should look like in order produce the film result you were looking for. It took a lot of experience to look at a polaroid and imagine what the image on film was likely to look like.
Shooting polaroids were time-consuming as well. Depending type of Polaroid film, it took 60 or 90 seconds for it to develop. If needed to shoot a number of polaroids you could end up spending a lot of time before you were ready to go to film. This was downtime during which you, the model, the stylist and the art director or client simply had to stand around.
You also needed to make extensive use of a light meter to set up and adjust the lighting. With digital, if you need a brighter background or more or less contrast in the shot a meter is useful but not always necessary. This is especially true when shooting tethered when you can view your shot on a computer – and make adjustments with Capture One or Lightroom.
But in the age of electronic imaging, the use of polaroids is no longer required. In fact, the original Polaroid Corporation was declared bankrupt in 2001 and its brand and assets were sold off. The “new” Polaroid formed as a result but it also declared bankruptcy in 2008. The pros didn’t need polaroids and instant photos were no longer required for everyone else who were now shooting digital.
There is a company called Polaroid Originals which is offering a Polaroid camera called the OneStep 2 for anyone who wants to shoot a photo and get a print almost immediately. But this kind of camera would not satisfy the needs of pro photographers – and in fac,t those “needs” that used to exist have been made almost totally obsolete by technology.
Personally, I don’t miss the “good old days’ at all. In fact, I’m very happy that on those occasions when I need to make use of my light meter I sometimes have to look at the manual to refresh my memory on how it works.
Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books: