Grainy looks and dreamy exposures: the allure of the Polaroid snap

Black Honey

Black Honey by Hazel Jane

Photographing gigs on Polaroid? Getintothis’ Rick Leach hears from a Liverpool photographer who uses the 1970’s technology to shoot gigs.

Unexpected things sometimes make a comeback.

Who would have thought that in 2017 for example, vinyl records would be filling the shelves of record shops up and down the land and commanding rdiculously hgh prices?

There’s even a misty-eyed nostalgia for the return of cassette tapes.

And that’s before we get into photography.

As a major exhibition of rare Polaroids taken by film director Wim Wenders (Paris,Texas, The American Friend and more) opens in London, we caught up with a Liverpool-based photographer who’s using the unique and instant technology of the Polaroid camera to take live photos.

Hazel Jane explains the appeal of a system that seemed to have its heyday in the 1970’s and what it can now bring to a digital age.

Polaroid photography- or any kind of film as opposed to digital-is rather rare in 2017.

It’s not really viewed as professional and not a lot of people use this form for picture taking due to the things that can go wrong and the expenses outweighing the final outcome.

Polaroid happens to be my favourite medium for photographs yet it’s not something everyone sees so it’s instantly something everyone is intrigued by. They’re instant and after being scanned there has never been a need to edit them.

I started shooting Polaroids in early 2016 and at this point I didn’t really know anything about angles, lighting or anything to do with photography. I became friends with a local band and went to one of their early shows, the typical gig at Zanzibar– where barely anyone turns up unless you’re quite well known.

At that point, I wasn’t even aware of the viewfinder on the camera so it was kind of just a ‘I’m going to point the camera in that direction and click the red button, let’s hope for the best’. Eventually, I figured out the camera and taking Polaroids became quite the hobby.

I’d go to around 3 gigs a month and take pictures- I began experimenting with the exposure control on the camera to improve lighting and figured out when to use the flash and when to not. Despite finding out how to use the camera for the best results, with Polaroids there’s always quite a few problems that you might encounter.

When shooting gigs and if there is really good and bright lighting e.g. in red, if you want to capture that you have to not use flash as when not using flash the camera picks up every tiny movement that occurs as you press the button. This can lead to double exposures, the object you’re trying to capture being blurry or worst case scenario- the image not developing at all. With flash, you don’t pick up the lights and you’re more likely to get little exposure/light leaks.

Not everyone is personally a fan of these but I’ve become quite accustomed to them and think the patterns they form can often be really pretty adding to the overall image.

In the Pit: Getintothis’ monthly lowdown with gig photography

Personally, I prefer using flash as your image is more likely to develop. At gigs you sometimes only get one chance to get a picture of the artist looking a certain way- so an image not developing because you didn’t use flash is definitely something you don’t want to happen! But when shooting Polaroids you have to always check that it’s okay to use flash in the specific venue you’re shooting at.

Shooting Polaroids has become a second nature.I’ve had to adapt to the fixed focus and the proximities you have to have for a good photo. I’ve experimented for so long I can even differentiate between different types and ages of film (new film will have a grainy 90s look and expired film a rusty and yellow toned 60s look).

Despite my personal experience and preference of shooting film over digital, I am completely in awe at how other photographers I’ve met manage to shoot such elegant photos at concerts.

Although you may initially think that shooting Polaroids or any type of film that has to develop is cheaper than shooting digital, there are excessive costs that eventually add up.

With digital it’s more down to what camera you have and how you shoot with it that determines the cost, however with film you have to own the camera (they’re not usually expensive) followed by the constant need to stock up on film packs and then the price of getting the film developed.

I suppose it’s easier to shoot Polaroids compared to other types of film, it’s just instantly out of the camera and then you can scan it if you want it digital. However with Polaroids averaging £2 each, in less than a year you can find yourself spending £400 and crying over your slight addiction.

Despite this, I find that the grainy look and the dreamy light exposures make it all the worthwhile. Shooting Polaroids has even opened new doors for me with being offered photo passes to gigs, taking photo shoots for local bands and in general improving my own photography skills.

Most of the photos I’ve taken have been at small local venues and of local bands. If you’re not working for a music magazine, haven’t contacted the manager of an artist, or don’t know the band, it’s really rare that you’d be offered a photo pass.

I’ve been to dozens of gigs- in September I was averaging 4 gigs a week- despite this I was still shooting for myself and not for anyone else. I’d like to say that a lot of people have come to recognise my Polaroids in Liverpool and despite that I’m not the most optimistic in regard the photos I take and don’t really see it ever becoming more than a hobby.

I usually scan the photos after gigs and send them to the bands via social media, that’s really the only way to get them out there and the artists are always really thankful for them. A lot of them go on to post them on their own facebooks/instagrams/twitters which is really nice.

The best thing to come out of taking Polaroids has definitely got to be the photo passes.

Although it’s rare, having previously sent photos to the bands- sometimes they do recontact you and ask you if you could shoot for them at a gig if they sorted out a photo pass for you. I’ve actually managed to get a photo pass to take pictures of a local band called Arno, who opened for Black Honey and White Lies at the Invisible Wind Factory. I saw them in September with a friend and got a few shots which they happened to really like, they contacted me on Instagram and asked if I’d be free to come and take photos at the gig with them giving me a photo pass.

I hadn’t actually been to the Invisible Wind Factory before and was surprised how huge it was! I arrived at 5pm when the doors opened and the place was relatively empty compared to 9pm when the main bands started performing.

Liverpool Music Week teams up with Getintothis for Invisible Wind Factory Closing Party

The venue had no barrier so I and a few other photographers initially had an easy time moving around and getting photos from different angles, with it becoming a little harder by the end when the venue got busier.

I’d  half-expected the venue to be smaller and for there to be some form of a barrier (as well as the stage to be lower)-something like the O2 Academy but this just shows you’ve got to quickly adapt to different venues- even if they don’t live up to your expectations.

Personally, I thought it was an amazing gig and a really good venue to shoot at but something to note with big venues is that you have to show up on time to get close for good photos. A lesson learned!.

Images by Getintothis’ Hazel Jane


  • Instant Stories: Wim Wenders’ Polaroids is at the Photographers’ Gallery in London until February 11 2018