Disposable cameras are super accessible and cheap-o options for keeping a photo diary. You usually can get one at your local drugstore for less than $10, and most drugstores can develop the film, too. To take pictures, all you have to do is point and click. The photos tend to be pretty grainy, but the colors are typically bright and saturated. Because you can’t focus the lens, you might get some blurry pics, but the blurriness can give the images a nice, fleeting feel.
ALLYSSA: This is a photo of my little brother Kaleb, after a long day of swimming in the summer. I took it on a disposable camera that I picked up at a pharmacy. The soft focus and overall fuzzy quality of the photos it took reminded me of my own childhood. It made the images even more precious, no matter how blurred or silly they were.
SHRIYA: One of my first memories of taking photos is from fifth grade, when I went to camp. My folks sent two disposable cameras with me, and I clicked away as my friends and I ran around the woods. Using disposables was an easy way for me to document what I was seeing.
Point-and-shoot or single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras give you a little more control over your images. These cameras also use film, but unlike disposables they allow you to adjust things like shutter speed, aperture, and focus. There are cheap film point-and-shoots, like the Olympus Stylus, which has a good lens for its price, on eBay or in thrift stores. You can buy more expensive, high-quality film cameras, like the Contax G2 in camera shops. Cameras like this one often have high-quality lenses and make sharp, precise images. Film SLRs like a Canon AE-1 allow you to change the camera’s lens, which gives you even more control over the aesthetics of the photos you take.
SHRIYA: When I was 15, I talked about photography nonstop—so much so that my viola teacher’s husband gave me his old film SLR, a bunch of lenses, and a bunch of film, too! I experimented a lot with this equipment—shooting with the zoom lens at concerts, using the 50 mm lens to take portraits of my friends (like the one of my friend Connie getting her first tattoo, above). These days, I also shoot with a variety of point-and-shoot cameras that I’ve found for cheap in thrift stores. It can be a little risky to buy a used camera because you never really know if it’ll take good photos until you get the film developed, but I like that it’s an adventure. Every time I get a roll of film developed, it’s like Christmas morning.
ALLYSSA: I got my first film SLR camera, the Olympus OM-10, by saving up a little bit of money and racing over to my local thrift store. It taught me to work more slowly than I did with the little snapshot cameras I was used to before, because I literally had to FOCUS on what I was looking at.
Digital SLR cameras (known as DSLRs) run about $350 on the lower end of the price range, if you have a bit more money to spend. But using a digital camera doesn’t necessarily mean the photos will be “better”—it’s just a different style to work with. The photos won’t have the dreamy, grainy quality that photos taken on film tend to have. Shooting digitally usually means the images will be clearer and sharper. There are myriad digital cameras out there, and higher-end digital cameras can cost between $1,000 to $3,000. Higher-end cameras tend to make images that have a huge image resolution, which means you could blow up the photos up super big and the quality would not be pixelated or fuzzy. But if you’re just starting out, it’s probably best to not invest in such a high-end camera until you really know what you want from your photos.
SHRIYA: When I was 15, I took this photo of my best friend Clare in her living room on my Nikon D40, the first digital SLR I ever had. Shooting digital photos can be nice because it gives me unlimited tries to make an image. With film, I have a finite number of exposures on the roll of film. With a digital camera, I can keep trying until I feel like I have the photo I’m trying to get. This can be both a blessing and a curse, because having infinite frames can drive me crazy! Sometimes it’s important to set a limit for yourself. ALLYSSA: I’ve never been much into the DSLR realm of picture taking, mostly because the grandma in me stresses out over all the functions! I’ve always resorted to my phone’s camera to digitally document my life. Whether it’s been a flip phone or a more fancy iPhone, I’ve gotten instant satisfaction and photos that come with their own aesthetic charms.
ALLYSSA: I’m a pretty socially anxious person, and photography provides a way for me to try and break out of that. Making myself go to a new place or hang out with a group of people to try and CREATE a romanticized document that I can enjoy later is sometimes more valuable than the time spent in the moment. I can’t tell ya how many times I’ve had a completely shitty experience in a space, or was super nervous hanging out with a new pal, but the photographs I took gave it purpose and made it worthwhile.
This is one of the first photos I took of Elaiza, a good friend. I didn’t know her very well when this was taken. I was staying over at her house up in Purchase, New York, and was feeling really nervous—as I do when I’m first getting to know anyone. Taking this picture helped me feel closer to her. It also gave me the comfort of having the camera as a grounding tool, which kept me in the moment and less stuck in my head.
Not every photo is going to be “great” or “perfect,” but they’re all significant because they are all made by you and are documents of your life. The more you practice and shoot, the more you will grow into your own style and find comfort in the images you’ve made. You might cringe at the photos you take, but that comes along with keeping any kind of diary. We’re all constantly changing and developing, and sometimes you might feel embarrassed when you look back at a photo you took. These images chart your growth. Sometimes an old photo can evoke sad feelings, but a lot of times it will make you feel a certain fondness, and there’s something really beautiful about that.
SHRIYA: Welp, I discovered light painting (taking photos with a long exposure and a light) when I was 15, and I took this picture of my Ron Weasley action figure “casting a spell.” Yikes.
ALLYSSA: A photo diary can seem really self-indulgent, or even sappy or cheesy, but you deserve the space in history that your photos take up. Embrace the sap! Break out the cheese!
ALLYSSA: I am no stranger to the Cheese, and this photo is what I would consider its definition. It’s a picture I couldn’t help but take, no matter how goofy it seemed, because it came from an earnest place. This was my sock and my partner’s sock found snuggled up together on the bed. It makes me turn into a tomato just looking at it.
I’m a real sensitive bug, and in the beginning of my photo-diary-keeping existence, I was entirely too apologetic for that. I’ve learned more about how and why I use photography to express myself—and it’s very much a way for me to spew L-O-V-E into the world. I realized I have nothing to be sorry for! Know that every thing you create/document introduces a blip of beauty and positivity to the universe, and that is one of the most powerful things you can do (all gooeyness aside)!
SHRIYA: I go through highs and lows with my photos. Sometimes an image with capture exactly what I was feeling or experiencing, other times it doesn’t do the situation justice whatsoever. But one thing I always have is the memory of making a photograph: getting at just the right angle, waiting for the sunlight to be in the perfect spot, sneaking up to someone—like a sweet old man holding flowers—and snapping fast. Those added memories make even the imperfect photos special.
You can get your photos printed and throw ’em in a photo album or even paste them in a notebook or journal. There is something intimate in being able to physically hold evidence of your experiences in your own hands, and there’s nothing like flipping through some real-life pages of photos!
ALLYSSA: This is a photo that I keep in the pocket of my journal. I took it on an Instax camera, which is a good tool for taking snaps for a physical photo diary.
ALLYSSA: I’m still a bit wary about putting my photos on a blog, so most of my diary images either remain in organized folders on my computer, or are shared here on Rookie. Keeping my images in little places—groups on my computer, little printed zines, or even just photos stuffed in the pockets of my journal—makes them feel like an even more secret, special thing for myself. Sharing my work is exciting, and nerve racking, but at the end of the day, this a document of MY life. As long as they are special to me, that is what matters most.
SHRIYA: I have a photoblog on Blogspot where I post work (like this picture of discarded furniture on a sidewalk in New York) every few weeks. Between college and freelancing, my life can get pretty hectic, so having a photoblog helps me organize and remember what I’ve been up to. I also am a big Instagram fan; I love posting daily images, like a photo I took on my phone of me skating, or of a great piece of pie. It’s an immediate way to share an image, serious or silly, with all your friends in one step. I do have to remind myself often to not measure my self-worth through Instagram likes, though. It’s nice when people appreciate my work, but it’s important for me to remember that a photo can still be great even if no one else thinks so. ♦