Polaroid In The Digital Age
As a favorite film of many photographers is discontinued, learn how to keep the creative look alive in the digital darkroom
STEP 1: SELECTING THE SUBJECT
Kato carefully selects her subject matter in a variety of locations, ranging from flower shops to neighbors’ gardens.
STEP 2: LIGHTING THE SUBJECT
If she has discovered a flower in either the wild or a nearby garden, Kato will use direct ambient light or will diffuse the ambient light with a handheld silk. When photographing flowers, wind can be a serious issue, and she’s acutely aware of what shutter speed she needs to use in order to freeze a subject perfectly.
Kato prefers the total control of a studio, where she can work in a windless environment. She often uses Japanese rice papers for her background and lights them from the side to emphasize their unique textures. When artificial light is necessary, she prefers strobes or Kino Flos because hot lights could “wilt my flowers,” she says. Originally developed for the video and film industry, the flicker-free, color-stable fluorescent Kino Flos can be directed with the use of barn doors.
Kato discovered this lighting system several years ago when assisting a food photographer who wanted a continuous light source, but couldn’t work with hot lights because of the negative effect the heat from the lights had on the subject matter.
STEP 3: PHOTOGRAPHING THE SUBJECT
Kato has replaced her Polaroid camera with a Canon EOS 40D. To keep the 4x5 feel, she often attaches a Horseman/Rodenstock darkroom enlarger lens with bellows on a Canon mount. She has found that using this setup produces an aesthetically pleasing selective focus for close-up shots.
Both Canon and Nikon make lenses with perspective control that can work for the “4x5” shifted bellows look. For extreme close-ups, magnifying filters are an inexpensive way to create tight close-ups with limited effort.
Regardless of whether she envisions her final piece to be in color or black-and-white, Kato will capture the initial image in color RAW, giving her greater exposure adjustment flexibility and the option to revisit a black-and-white image in color.
STEP 4: WORKING WITH THE IMAGE
When Kato began her flower series, she’d scan the Polaroid print on a flatbed scanner, bring the file into Photoshop, enlarge the image to 16x20 and manipulate the image. Digital capture has eliminated the need for the scanning phase.
In order to emulate the Polaroid look, Kato usually desaturates colors. She digitally stores a file made from a scanned black-and-white Polaroid negative to help reproduce the texture of classic Polaroids. If she wants a grainy image, she adds a layer she created from frames of ISO 3200 black-and-white film she shot of fog.
Kato finds it important for her aesthetic to make the blends look as natural or “organic” as possible. She achieves the look by working in blending modes and manipulating opacity. This stage takes longer than when she worked with Polaroids, says Kato, “because the Polaroid is inherently softer, so I didn’t have to do as much work.”
To keep a consistency in her series, she combines her digitally captured images with scans of Polaroid “frames,” allowing her to match the look of her previous work with authentic Polaroid edges.
STEP 5: PRINTING THE IMAGE
Kato prints on Epson Enhanced Matte paper using Epson Stylus Pro 4000 and 4800 printers. She exhibits her images in off-white beveled window mattes and simple black-and-white wooden frames. When clients have desired a more modern look, she has presented her images sandwiched in Plexiglas. With either mode of framing, Kato says she uses wide margins to give her flowers “plenty of room to breathe.”
See more of Sachi Kato’s work at www.sachikato.com.