The Polaroid SX-70 technique is both easy and fun – once you’ve figured out what equipment to use and where to find it. Renata Ratajczyk shares her experience.
I have worked with the SX-70 process for several years. It all started when I noticed a few Polaroids SX-70 photographs in one of the photography magazines. I instantly found the effect and technique impressive and started searching for more information on this subject.
Soon I have discovered a beautiful book Painterly Photography by Elizabeth Murray. It is full of very nice Polaroids SX-70 landscapes, still life and people.
Painterly Photography inspired me and I decided to give Polaroid SX-70 a try myself. I bought my Polaroid SX-70 camera (see picture below) in the used camera store for only about 20 dollars. Now they cost much more. The camera looked cool – with a light leather finish. I liked the design of it. When it’s closed it flattens to a quite small box. My camera has a manual focus. I don’t really like to use autofocus cameras. They tend to focus on the wrong spot.
The SX-70 Alpha is a rather simple camera to use. The exposure can be made lighter or darker by turning the exposure knob. There is also a socket for attaching it to a tripod (at least my model has it). and, it has a place to attach flash bulbs, but they might not be easy to find.
When I use it, I rely on natural light and reflectors. Occasionally I also add tungsten lights and use longer exposures. One has to experiment to find the right exposure and it might take a few shots to get it right.
Unfortunately experimenting with this camera can get quite expensive. The films cost a lot. I use the Polaroid Time Zero film for the camera.
Beside exposure problems, things can go wrong with the film or camera. The film might change the colour or get stuck in the camera. Vertical lines sometimes appear on the photographs too, this problem may come from dirty rollers, but even after cleaning them, occasionally they might show up.
How to apply the effect
How do I paint on my pictures? It is best to work with the film immediately, when the emulsion is still very soft. However it is also possible to store it in a freezer for the later use for up to 2 months. You have to keep the films in the freezer bags immediately when they finish developing and then transfer them to the freezer.
I use a variety of tools to enhance my pictures. I like to utilize toothpicks and other small wooden sticks, as well as a variety of metal tools (some dental tools work quite well). You can use almost about anything, as long as it is not too sharp since this would ruin the plastic holding the emulsion together.
Be careful not to push the tools too strongly, or you can remove too much of the emulsion. I like not only to enhance the picture by tracing some contours, but also to add special effects painting patters in the background. I draw lines of movement, which make my photographs more expressive and bring out the life to them.
Once I am happy with the results, I usually scan the picture. If necessary, I retouch it using PhotoShop. When I am finished with it, I print the final picture as fine art archival prints and make it available as a stock photo illustration.
My last piece of advice for you is to experiment a lot and don’t get easily discouraged. The learning process might be quite expensive, but I think it is worth the final so painterly effect one can get. Good luck.
Renata Ratajczyk’s Polaroid SX-70 images
Polaroid Manipulations: A Complete Visual Guide to Creating SX-70, Transfer and Digital Prints
Detailed hands-on instructions and step-by-step procedures.
Photographer’s Guide to Polaroid Transfer: Step-By-Step
Tutorials from the winner of the Nikon Certificate of Excellence.