Lockdown self-portraits on instax and 4×5 film

During the lockdown photography was really difficult for me here, because most of my photography happens outdoors, street photography, documentary photography, that sort of thing. In Spain the lockdown was really strict though, so going outside wasn’t an option at all. If you want to know more about how the lockdown went for us, then I’ll tell you all about it in my last video.

For quite a while I didn’t really take any pictures at all, but then I kept seeing that some friends on Twitter were doing a glorious community project, the Quarantine Zine. The Zine is open to all sorts of photography, not just film or digital and I thought it was a really great project to keep people from going nuts in lockdown. Since I’m more of an outdoor photographer I was a bit stuck though until I got in touch with the people involved in the project and suddenly had an idea for a complex self-portrait that I wanted to try.

Last year I took my Rollei and a mirror into the woods for another community project of the Film Shooters Collective to take a self-portrait. A year later I wanted to try to repeat that self-portrait in the woods, but in quarantine!

© Lilly Schwartz 2019

Rolleicord V, Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 75mm f/3.5, HP5+, HC-110 | © Lilly Schwartz 2019

I pulled out my Leitz projector, found a negative from the same forest to project onto a wall and played around with some lighting options. Finally I ran into the first snag. I actually wanted to take the picture in my Rollei again, but the only film I had for the Rollei was instax film. I have shot instax in the Rollei before by taping it into the camera, but that would have been very annoying for a self-portrait, because it would have meant taking the camera off the tripod after every shot. So this time I decided to shoot the instax in the sheet film back that I bought a while ago for exactly this purpose. The instax by itself is just a touch too small though to fit a 2×3 back, so I had to 3D print a little adapter to make it hold in place better.

This experiment was a lot of fun, but I ran into more problems right away. My Rollei is in desperate need of a shutter CLA, so the long times were plain guesswork. I got a couple of decent exposures in the end, but they weren’t really useable since the instax simply didn’t have enough latitude for the scene. On one of the sheets my face was correctly exposed but the forest too bright and on the other picture my face was too dark but the forest was recognisable. The projector was too bright, the room too dark and adding more light wasn’t really an option since that would have interfered with the projected image of the forest. Of course I could have stitched the two decent exposures digitally, since the camera was on a tripod, but I wanted to do it on film only. Ah, purism is such a drag sometimes!

© Lilly Schwartz 2020

Rolleicord V, Schneider Kreuznach Xenar 75mm f/3.5, instax bw | © Lilly Schwartz 2020

After rummaging through my film drawer the only film I could find that fit the ISO requirements for this scene was 4×5 film for my Speed Graphic, not exactly the greatest camera for the purpose! It needed a bit of assistance from my husband to double-check my prefocus and also to press the shutter since my long bulb cable release that I had used for the attempt with the Rollei just wouldn’t fit on the Speed Graphic. It was to thick to screw into the lens and didn’t have enough power to push down the back shutter. The only solution to press the shutter myself would have been a self-timer for cable releases, but of course the one I ordered didn’t arrive in time for this project. So, in the end, my husband pressed the shutter for me after I set it all up and put in the film holder already. I think it turned out really great and exactly how I had planned. The 4×5 shot was in the end published in the Quarantine Zine issue 3.

© Lilly Schwartz 2020

Speed Graphic, Graflex Optar 135mm f/4.7, RPX 400 @1600, HC-110 stand | © Lilly Schwartz 2020

I’ve been interested in self-portraits for many years and have taken many different ones, with different cameras, in different situations, while travelling, at home, mirror selfies, elaborate staged stuff like this, on cameras where it was easy, on cameras where it was hard or even next to impossible like with the Speed Graphic. This one was probably my most elaborate self-portrait yet and it felt like proper “photography” again, which is something I desperately missed during the lockdown.

Things are tough for all of us at the moment, but the Quarantine Zine and everyone involved with it show that there is hope still. If we help each other out we can get through this together! I thank everyone involved with this wonderful project!

And of course I also thank my excellent assistant!

If you’re interested in the Zine, you can get pdfs of the previous issues of the Quarantine Zine or submit to the next issue if you’re part of the equally wonderful and supportive Twitter #believeinfilm community.


  • I’m sure I’d subscribed to your site in the past but it seems not. Gives me the opportunity to say ‘hello’ again…

    • Aww thanks! Glad you subscribed (again)! How is it going over there? 🙂

  • Mark

    the last portrait hit the soul

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