in Bikes

Vacation photos with a disposable camera

I took last week off and went on two short outdoorsy trips with friends. Rather than document the trips solely with my phone, as I’ve done lately, I decided to buy a couple of disposable film cameras and see how it went.

Sometime around 2004 I gave up film cameras and went all-digital. Ten years later, it was with a forgotten familiarity that I moved back to film for a few days. Here are a few of my thoughts as well as some of the photos that resulted. The full set is up on Flickr.

A disposable camera’s (lack of) affordances make it more difficult to use. I felt powerless to the camera. The  viewfinder was small and didn’t accurately represent what I was photographing. I couldn’t instantly preview the photo I just took. I had to wind the film after each shot (or, as I learned after taking several accidental shots of the inside of my bike bag: wind it before the next shot). I couldn’t tell if the camera was focusing or not. I couldn’t take close-up photos. I couldn’t tell if I was actually in my one self-portrait or not. I couldn’t shoot in low light reliably without flash, as I was accustomed to with my iPhone. I was just shooting and hoping for the best.

Every photo counts. Literally. There was a counter on the camera. Each picture I took was one in a finite set, to be physically imprinted on film. I took longer to set up the shot, hold still, and press the shutter.

You have to go out of your way to buy and develop film nowadays. When I went in to buy the disposable cameras from CVS, most of the cameras and film in the store had expired in 2012 and 2013. My CVS location also didn’t develop film at all.  It was almost impossible to find information on the CVS website about film developing services. When I walked in with the spent disposable cameras in my hand, the clerk just shook his head at me.

I didn’t care how long it took to develop the photos. The photos weren’t instantly available digitally, so it no longer mattered to me how long I actually waited to get the pictures developed. I dropped my photos off at Walgreen’s on Sunday and picked them up on Thursday. I could’ve gone to a one-hour photo place, but I wanted my photos digitized (more, in fact, than I wanted the prints). And, the one-hour place was across the river while Walgreen’s is only four blocks from my house.

It was expensive. I paid about $12/roll to develop one set of prints for each camera, with a “free” CD included. Compare that to what I’ve paid to print photos from my phone camera recently – 50 photos for $10, less than half the price of film developing.

The pictures are not great. I don’t think any of the roughly 50 photos were actually in focus, which should not be a big shock, given that the cameras I used were about $5.50 apiece. But I naively hoped that at least a few would turn out sharp.

I still feel more invested in these photos. They have a timeless quality about them, and there are a few memorable shots that I want to keep. And, this was a small art project for myself that went pretty well. I created something and learned from it.