Our 2nd installment of ONE INSTANT Pro Tips is going to be a two-part series, diving into topics that at first glance seem almost too trivial to be worthy of discussion, but as with many things in life... the devil is in the details!
We're talking about pulling (2.1) and peeling (2.2). That is, pulling the film through the rollers to begin processing, and peeling the negative & positive apart, as well as peeling off all the sticky bits afterwards. Both steps sound simple, but a little extra knowledge will really increase your odds of getting a perfect print in the end.
PRO TIP #2.1 - PULLING
After you've loaded your film and taken a picture, it's time to process it, and this is done by pulling the 'photographic insert' through the rollers, which breaks open the pod and spreads the goo between negative and positive, beginning the ~3 minute processing phase.
There are two important factors to consider here; pulling speed and pulling angle & orientation.
From slow, thoughtful pulls of surgical precision, to fast, YOLO rips out of the camera, everyone seems to have their own style when it comes to processing.
An interesting rule of thumb that we learned from the 20x24 Studio is that a fast pull yields a tighter gap, and a slow pull yields a fatter gap.
So what does that mean? Well by 'gap' we're referring to the distance between the negative and positive and the resulting thickness of the goo coating between them during processing. In packfilm, this is overwhelmingly determined by the thickness of the 'rails', but changes in pulling speed do still have an influence.
In theory this rule would imply that a faster pull/tigther gap increases the odds that the whole print surface is coated with goo, producing better coverage (a thinner coating means more goo can spread farther). It also should reduce the chance of 'goo stick', which is the nasty phenomenon of too much ugly yellow goo sticking to the print surface after peeling (caused by a too fat gap).
All of that being said, in actual practice we've not seen a huge effect from pulling speed changes. It's generally on us to choose the right rail thickness to begin with, but since our product can be finicky and a bit experimental at times, I figure it doesn't hurt to share as much information as possible; maybe you can use it to your advantage somehow.
In summary, it's probably best to just find a speed that feels comfortable and in control.
Pulling Angle & Orientation
Now... way more important than pulling speed is the angle & orientation at which you pull your ONE INSTANT. This makes a big difference.
Pulling even a little bit off-axis or off-center can result in several bad things happening; crumpled & misaligned print components, ripped-off positive sheets, uneven & incomplete coverage, and general photographic carnage.
Polaroid knew this well, and thanks to those brilliant product engineers of yore, we can glean some very interesting clues about the right way to pull our Polaroi... errrrr ... ONE INSTANTs.
Many of the consumer oriented Land cameras from the late 60's/early 70's had this rather unique-looking 'T-handle', and in the instructions came the following notice...
PLEASE USE THIS HANDLE to hold the camera when pulling tabs to develop your pictures. DO NOT hold onto the camera body when pulling tabs; if you do, you may spoil your pictures.
The first time I read this I was intrigued, but also puzzled. After a bit of a think though, it became clear which problem they were trying to solve with this funny looking handle.
The goal of a good pull is for the chemical pod to go through the rollers perfectly parallel with them, so that it bursts evenly across the opening, spilling goo across the whole length of the pod and not favoring one side or the other. To achieve this, the axis of pull should be perfectly perpendicular to the rollers and pod.
The biggest obstacle to this, you ask? Your own unwitting death grip on the camera.
So the T-handle decouples your hand from the camera body, which ensures that when you pull on the processing tab, the photographic insert and the camera automatically align themselves along the axis of pull. It eliminates the influence that your grip can have on the alignment of the camera, and thus greatly increases the likelihood that the pod will meet parallel with the rollers.
The Polaroid product designers understood this phenomenon well, and the T-handle was their very clever solution to help the consumer do everything right automatically.
Now the obvious problem is that most people aren't using cameras with T-handles! Well fear not... we can still apply these insights to optimize our pulling technique.
Basically your goal should be to maintain a loose grip, centered opposite from the roller side, ideally in an orientation that allows you to judge to some degree whether or not everything is aligned nicely (i.e. flat on a table or the ground).
What is not recommended is gripping the camera too tightly, or pulling the film insert out when the camera is still around your neck.
With a bit of experience and attention you can even start to feel the moment when the pod hits the rollers, because it will act like a little speed bump. This is the point where if you've done everything right, the camera will automatically align itself, keeping the pod and the rollers parallel. Hopefully, that means your print is going to come out with nice coverage and no carnage.
(if you happen to like photographic carnage, we won't judge, and now you know how to increase your odds of getting it!)
That's all for now. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in ONE INSTANT Pro Tip #2.2 - Peeling, and as always, we'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with whatever's on your mind (preferably regarding instant photography...)
Ciao for now,
ONE INSTANT Production Manager