Scanning Polaroid negatives: The Practicing Photographer

Published by | Thursday, February 6th, 2014

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A couple of months ago on The Practicing Photographer, fashion and portrait photographer Troy Word joined Ben Long for a discussion of the joys of instant photography—specifically, using a Polaroid camera along with beautiful black-and-white film manufactured by Fuji.

Fuji’s film works in what are called “pack-film” Polaroids. After you shoot a photo with these cameras, you pull the exposed film out, wait a specified amount of time, and then peel the print away from its backing. It’s that process that earns this format its other name: peel-apart.
And it’s that peel that holds such appeal to Ben Long in this week’s The Practicing Photographer. When you separate a sheet of peel-apart film, you end up with your photo (obviously) and a negative.

What isn’t obvious is that you can scan that negative and then fine-tune it in Adobe Photoshop to get a photo with a rich, grungy texture and a unique personality. After Ben scans the negative, he uses Photoshop’s Invert command to turn the scanned image into a positive. Next, he adds a Levels adjustment layer to fine-tune the image’s tonality, using a layer mask for further refinement. When he’s done, he has a one-of-a-kind image that he actually prefers to the instant print.

A processed Polaroid negative

I’ve loved Polaroid photography for years. I love the unpredictable qualities of the film, but I also love the shooting discipline that comes with having just 10 exposures in your camera instead of, say, a 32GB memory card. Each snap of the shutter is something to be planned and contemplated—none of that 10 frames-per-second burst mode stuff.

Old Polaroid pack film cameras are plentiful and inexpensive on online auction sites. If you’ve never tried one, you owe it yourself to do so. But don’t wait too long: Fuji will soon stop making its beautiful FP-3000B black-and-white film, and supplies are expected to dwindle by springtime.

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