Scanning Polaroids by Trial and Error

Don’t you hate having money in your bank account? If you’re like me and shoot copious amounts of Polaroid, you understand. Funny thing is back in the day, the top photographers of the day would shoot Polaroids before they shot their medium format shots. Idea being they could get a somewhat accurate preview of what the final shot would look like when they got back to the lab. Where I find myself doing the opposite, shooting digital until a frame presents itself, and then the Polaroid comes out. Both processes make sense, they wanted to make sure when they got back to the darkroom the shot was as they expected. I want to make sure when I’m spending ~$2 per photo, I’m getting it on the first attempt, not blowing three exposures on the same shot attempting to get it right.

But, ultimately, in order to get these pricey shots online, you have to scan them. Which is easy enough right? Just buy a scanner, scan them, boom, online Polaroids.

O, what a learning process this has been.

On a recent shoot in Mallorca, Spain, I went a little apeshit and stowed away ten packs of Spectra film in my carry-on across the Atlantic. While shooting around the pool of the beautiful house we rented in Fornalutx, whipping through mountain roads on 300cc Vespa scooters, chauffeuring German and Latvian women around in a BMW M4 drop-top convertible, and slicing my foot open while cliff-jumping in Banyalbufar I mercilessly destroyed my wallet shooting all ten packs. I blew out multiple shots in full sunlight even with pushing the exposure compensation down. Apparently the 600 series cameras have some ND filters that sit on top of your film cartridge that would help with that. Pretty sure they were made for shooting SX-70 film on 600s. I’ve also read that if you fire the flash while in full sun with your subject out of reach of the flash, it also compensates downwards. Neither experiment I’ve been able to put into action nor find an film-pack ND filter for Spectra, yet (holler at your boy if you see one around).

At the end of every day while in Fornalutx, I’d drop the shots on a tray at the house, kind of piling them up like little trophies as the days wound on. The models and friends would handle them, geeking out at the shots, reliving the days over copious amounts of Tinto Verano. At the end of the trip, I slid all ten boxes worth of shots into three empty Spectra boxes, taped them up, and put them back in my suitcase. Got home, sliced the packages open carefully, and loaded them onto my little Epson scanner… This is where the fun begins.

Fingerprints. Dust. Hair. Random fluids (who knows), dust, particles, damn. All that instant reminiscing each evening made it a biiiitch to scan these in. Compressed air, gentle brushes, on and on, both applied to the photos and to the scanner. For every. Fucking. Image. Best part? After scanning seventy or so of these, I started noticing some weird circles on some of the scans. Turns out these have a term, called Newton Rings. Named after the guy that invented gravity, and ruined floating around Earth for everyone, Sir Isaac Newton. It’s a phenomenon in which an interference pattern is created by the reflection of light between two surfaces—a spherical surface and an adjacent touching flat surface. So in this case, your Polaroid and your scanner glass. In short, blame Isaac, but how do we stop it?

The surface of your Polaroid photo is touching the glass of the scanner. We want to stop this from happening. The key is to elevate the photo off of the glass, so that they do not touch, but not so far off the glass that you move outside the focus point of the scanner.

A scan adapter (if you can find one) is your easiest option. Impossible Project used to sell a 4x scan plate, but those are pretty hard to come by nowadays. I found an enterprising individual out in Michigan who is 3D printing her own and selling them pretty reasonably. If you happen to have a 3D printer around, she’s also selling the file to produce your own.

  • Create a film adapter from two pieces of cardboard/gator-board stuck together. Cut into one, in the shape of a Polaroid photo, and attach some double sided tape to keep it in place.
  • Remove the cover of an old slim compact disc case, use double sided tape on the inside of the cover and stick your Polaroid on it.
  • Got a personal favorite method that I don’t know about? Write to me and I’ll add it to the list!

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