Your camera equipment was stolen in Portugal. A clumsy bauble above the Seine left the river owning the digital SLR. You own no camera equipment, but there’s something you really want to photograph on your upcoming trip. Lots of scenarios could result in a disposable/single use film camera landing in your hands. The good news is great photos (even artistic photos) can be achieved with the simple equipment.

view from the upper saddle


My personal experience has shown there to be an advantage to carrying a disposable camera (my secret weapon is out!) – everyone thinks you’re a tourist with no serious photographic intent. This translates to an ability to capture moments that wielding more serious camera equipment can make difficult. A whole new world opens up to the holder of a disposable camera.

Disposable film cameras come in several ISO choices – 100 to 800, but at most convenience type stores (and even vending machines in Japan), you’ll be hard pressed to find anything other than 400 and 800, with 800 being prevalent. A flash is optional (and recommended). Various manufacturers make them today in a few “versions” – wedding, sport (waterproof up to 50 ft.), panoramic, and one with a zoom function, albeit a weak zoom function. Chances are if you’re purchasing one on the road, your choices will be limited to the most basic.

Despite the simplicity a point and shoot, fixed focus camera connotes, to get photographs you’ll be proud of, MORE work and creative thought is required – not less. Understand the camera’s limitations. They typically focus anywhere from 4-5 feet to infinity, and for the flash to be of use, you’ll need to be within 10-12 feet of the subject. Work within these restrictions though and magic can happen. And remember, the camera has nothing to do with how you see the world. Look for new perspectives and the single use camera will become your photographic friend.

Before we get into the tips, here’s something else to consider where disposables are concerned: kids LOVE them. Put one into the hands a child and prepare to be amazed!

While ALL the basic photography rules apply, there are a few things in addition to the basics that will give your photos from a disposable camera some WOW power.

Disposable Camera Pointers:

* Search for reflection. Reflection can be created from water, mirror or glass, the cone of an airplane, a pair of reflective sunglasses, or a rear view/side mirror. Use it for an artistic slant on common scenes.
* Panning the disposable camera can yield photographs with a bit of movement to them. It takes practice to know how quickly to bring the camera from side to side while you click the shutter, but it’s worth experimenting.
* Try using the headlights of a vehicle, or a flashlight to light your subject matter.
* Tilt the camera to capture scenes with a twist to the perspective.
* Take a picture of part/half of something. It’s a technique I’ve experimented with on occasion, and while it works best with close subject matters, it can yield a very interesting photograph.
* Assuming you sprung for the flash, use it! Backlit photographs, especially of people, benefit greatly from using the flash. Overall, don’t be afraid of using the flash. Unexpected effects will often be the result.
* Don’t be afraid of haze, fog, steam, or any condition that to the bare eye seems out of focus. Tack sharp is overrated.

view from the top #3

Basic Photography Tips: (several of these tips are from Doug Henderson, 7 Tips from a Photography Pro)

* LIGHT….is the only thing you are photographing, so make it your prime consideration. Where is the light? How is it falling on your subject? What color is it? How hard is the light?
* Everyone sees the world at eye level. For your photos to stand out, find ways to shoot at anything but eye level. Stand on something, or get lower, even to the point of lying on the ground.
* Get off the beaten path, like the star ship Enterprise; BOLDLY GO WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE.
* Don’t be afraid. Don’t be timid. Never fear to ask anyone to do anything that will make a better picture; the worst they can do is say no, or maybe HELL NO.
* Tune in to the time and place. In the same sense that you can never swim in the same river twice, you can never shoot the same photo twice; the river of light is at a continuous ebb and flow. Let that moment speak to you, and then use your camera to take that message to the rest of the world.
* Shoot from your heart.
* If it’s not interesting, you’re not close enough.
* Don’t put the object of interest in the middle, a rule commonly called the Rule of Thirds. Offset the focal point.
* Look for symmetry of objects or a repeating theme.
* Walk all the way around something (if you can) to check out the various perspectives. You’ll be surprised at how the “backside” of things appears.

If you’re still convinced travel photography can’t be pursued with a disposable camera, shoot with one for 2-3 weeks at home. Sometimes it’s the simple exercise of carrying the camera around and tripping the shutter that overcomes our hang-ups.

P.S. It’s photography – have FUN!