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Viewfinder: Disposable Snapshots

You may not feel it in the air, but you can see it on the calendar—summer is coming to an end. Last weekend I celebrated the passing season by abandoning my DSLR and returning to the tool of choice for a summer-camp kid from the 90s: the disposable camera.

In terms of technical image quality, the cheap, disposable film cameras you find in drugstores can never compete with DSLRs, and they offer almost no creative control over images. The only variables a photographer can really manipulate are composition and the use of a tiny built-in flash. Everything else is decided by the camera. At the same time, disposable cameras are often as unpredictable as they are authoritarian; they don’t always make the best exposure decisions, and there isn’t much you can do about it.

Of course, none of that mattered to me when I was just a little kid taking pictures of otters at the zoo, but as I grew more involved with photography I started to seek the warm, comfortable embrace of digital control and instant feedback. If only I had better equipment, I would grumble, even after I received my first decent DSLR and some good lenses. Then I could take some really good pictures. However, I now welcome the creativity that arises from the limitations of a $12 camera with 24 shots in a roll. Picking up the prints from the drugstore is like Christmas; red splotches and soft subjects are treasured reminders that these moments will never be duplicated.

Though I might want to, I can’t hold onto summers; every year they come along, get used up, then tossed away with the camera. But instances of heat are stuck in a stack of pictures that are, and always will be, mine.


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