Travel Photography with a Disposable Camera (it’s NOT an oxymoron)

Tammie Dooley from Solo Road Trip.

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.

A whole new world opens up to the holder of a disposable camera.

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 of each 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:

Basic Photography Tips:

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!

About the author:

Tammie Dooley’s preferred mode of travel is on foot or by 4WD. All done solo, of course. Her blog, Solo Road Trip, is an attractively designed invitation to follow along on her journeys.

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Discussion »

  • #1ashley

    this i s great idea and a great post.a dispsoable camera is good because you take natural pictures and dont spend ages seting up shots. also theres little chance of getting mugged for one

  • #2Anonymous

    I don’t think a disposable camera is very “2009ish”. I mean digital photography was a revolution in the way we take travel photos.

    While is is a nice article, i think the idea is a bit old.

  • #3Shannon OD

    Fun tips and always good little reminders there for general photography rules – I love the “if it’s not interesting you’re not close enough” that’s great! :-)

  • #4Milton Wongso

    I like your tips “Shoot with/from your heart.” It shows that photography has some human elements, not just a technical rule. Keep up the good work!

  • #5Tammie Dooley

    Anonymous, since when is losing or dropping and breaking your DIGITAL camera an “old” idea?? This article is about being stuck with NOTHING but a disposable camera option. It’s about making lemonade out of lemons. Not very 2009ish, indeed.

  • #6Jim

    Very Interesting indeed lots to talk about

  • #7Alabama Rock Company

    Thanks so much for the great tips! It seems we all get caught up in the digital world and overlook the simple power of film! I take pictures of Alabama with a Nikon d-80 and may try to use a disposable and see what I can capture!
    Thanks MUch Chandler

  • #8John Batdorff

    Great post…we do think alike..;)

  • #9elaine

    great article, I am seriously considering taking a compact (and maybe even a few disposables) with me instead of my SLR when I go travelling at the end of the year. I’m wondering if the hassle of weight, paraphanalia, being conspicuous, etc out-weighs the benefits.

  • #10Ruth

    Thanks for the photography tips. I will surely try them on my next travel. I found even with digital camera, certain shoots need to be really close to get to the details.

  • #11Melvin

    Is the image above taking with a disposable/single use camera?

  • #12Kitty Miller

    Thanks for the amazing tips! I like your all tips of Basic Photography.
    Thanks for sharing us your nice views. Keep it up.:)

  • #13Johnny

    I was always interested in using the disposable camera for really artistic and almost vintage shots and this helped me very much.

  • #14Steve

    I’m lucky, I get out of date disposables for for free. My employers keep them in company vehicles for insurance claims. When the dates expire it’s my job to replace them.

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