Should You Shake Polaroids? 5 Surprising Facts

By Mark Plummer •  Updated: 11/03/22 •  5 min read
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Click! You’ve just taken a polaroid, but now the waiting game begins. Let’s speed it up by shaking it. We’ve seen many people do it, but should you shake your Polaroids?

Polaroids should not be shaken. The film consists of integral film, two pieces of plastic sandwiched together, and the picture develops between the plastic sheets. The dye and chemicals will never come into contact with air, so shaking Polaroids will not speed up the development process but will increase the chances of damaging the photo.

Should You Shake Polaroids
Should You Shake Polaroids?

But when we see how many people are still shaking Polaroids, it makes us think; how did this trend start? Read on to learn more.

Why Do You Shake Polaroids?

Besides the song “Hey Ya!” by Outkast telling us to “shake it like a Polaroid picture,” it seems like it’s just been a subconscious thing in everyone’s mind to shake the Polaroid to make it develop faster.

When Polaroids were first released, remember this was in 1937, and technology has developed quite a lot since then. The Polaroid film, also known as pack film, peeled apart so it would be exposed to air.

Why Do You Shake Polaroids
Why Do You Shake Polaroids?

It took even more time for the photo to develop, and the chemicals and dyes used in the Polaroid pictures were very different from today.

The chemicals took longer to dry, so naturally, coming into contact with air would help them dry, and shaking them around would help them dry faster. Shaking the Polaroid doesn’t help the picture develop, but it helps the already-developed picture dye to dry faster.

Even in the past, people were still unnecessarily shaking their Polaroids.

The proper way to handle your film is to leave it on a flat surface immediately after printing. But of course, it’s more fun and requires less patience to fan the Polaroid in the air.

In the 1970s, Polaroid released their third generation of instant cameras, like the Polaroid SX-70, which printed pictures onto square integral film, which meant that the film was now sealed in plastic and didn’t need to be exposed to air to dry.

And so not only was shaking your Polaroid even more pointless, but it could damage or distort the picture.

Even though instant cameras were a revolutionary part of photography, this type of photography died out when the digital camera age started in the late 1970s. This meant that you could now see your photos on the screen before waiting to get them developed, and in 2001 Polaroid went bankrupt.

How Did Shaking Polaroids Become So Popular
How Did Shaking Polaroids Become So Popular?

But in 2001, Outkast released the banger “Hey ya!” It was the first song to sell more than a million paid downloads.

It’s hard to get the catchy “shake it” part out of your head, and this gives massive exposure to Polaroid, especially when you see a whole group of attractive ladies enjoying shaking their polaroids so enthusiastically.

Since the song came out, Polaroid had a massive revival, and they made sure to cash in on the marketing by giving Outkast some Polaroid cameras to take on stage at Saturday Night Live and, even better, the Grammys.

But that wasn’t enough because they started handing out Polaroid cameras to many celebrities, making Polaroid’s popularity skyrocket again.

It didn’t take long before almost every second person had their hands on a Polaroid camera and was again shaking their Polaroid pictures.

But now that everyone had their instant cameras, Polaroid had to ask the public not to do what made them so famous in the first place; not shake the Polaroids.

Why Shouldn’t You Shake Polaroids?

It would help if you didn’t shake a Polaroid because the instant film in modern instant cameras is covered in plastic, which prevents the film from being exposed to air contact even if you shake it to reduce drying time.

So all that shaking, although fun, is useless unless you’re trying to damage your picture.

Why Shouldn't You Shake Polaroids
Why Shouldn’t You Shake Polaroids? Because it can damage your picture.

Yes, you read right!

Shaking the modern Polaroid film we have today can damage your precious photo. When you shake the image, the rapid fanning movements could cause the different parts of the film to distort by separating prematurely before the picture has had time to set.

So if you start to see unwanted blobs in your picture-perfect memories, you now know why.

For more obvious reasons not to shake your Polaroids, this can cause physical damage to the film because you’re more likely to bend or crumple the picture when you move it back and forwards fast to create the fanning motion.

Essential Things You Should Know About Polaroids

Essential Things You Should Know About Polaroids
Essential Things You Should Know About Polaroids

Now that you understand why you shouldn’t shake a Polaroid, you need to know some other essential things to best look after your photos.

  1. Polaroids Fade – to keep the Polaroid picture in the best condition for as long as possible, it’s best to keep it away from direct sunlight to avoid early discoloration.
  2. Polaroids Expire – Polaroids should be used within 12 months of the manufacturer’s expiry date, stamped at the bottom of the film package because a sour film affects the performance of the chemicals in the film.

Final Thoughts

Shaking your Polaroids was a way to speed up the process of getting pictures developed and looking fabulous in the 60s.

But today, if you want the best result from your Polaroids, it’s best to be patient and let the film do its job and develop in its own time.

If you still want that nostalgic feeling of shaking the Polaroid, wait a little before to make sure you don’t ruin the picture to feel fantastic.

Mark Plummer

Mark Plummer is a co-founder and blogger on Instant Cameras. Together with his wife, Susana, and daughter Scarlett he loves capturing special family moments with his Instax Mini 11. He is passionate about sharing knowledge and tips on Instax and Polaroid cameras through the Instant Camera Blog.

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