The Beginner's Guide to Disposable Cameras

After being forgotten for almost a decade, single-use or disposable cameras have recently captivated a new audience of Instagram royalty. From Gigi Hadid to Selena Gomez, many people are forgoing digital photos in favor of something more nostalgic: film. However, many college students do not want to commit to spending 200-plus on an analogue camera just for Instagram. This is where disposable cameras are the most economical option. Moreover, disposable cameras are compact and are great for beginner photographers that are learning the ropes of film photography.  

Where to buy one: 

Disposable cameras are more available than one would assume. They can be acquired at a local Walgreens, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Etsy, and everyone’s favorite, Amazon Prime. 

Which brand to buy: 

There are several options when it comes to disposable cameras. The majority have an allowance of twenty-seven photos, so feel free to try several different types of cameras in order to find your favorite. Recently, waterproof cameras have become increasingly popular. These are disposables that come in a water resistant case. Personally, I find these to be bulky and rather frustrating to use due to the fact the film tends to get stuck in one place. 

Moreover, there are several different brands to choose from. I frequently use Fuji cameras because they give off a greenish tint that is aesthetically pleasing. Lomography has a great disposable camera that comes with gel flash filters. These filters will add a colorful tint to your photos, and are great for someone who wants to give their photos an extra pizazz. However, I have achieved the same effect by using a regular disposable camera and putting a colored tupperware lid over the lens. 

Generally, two ISO speeds are available for disposable cameras: 800 and 400. An ISO 800 speed is great for taking pictures in low lighting and for things that move quickly, whereas an ISO 400 speed is great for outdoors or daytime photograpy. 

How to use a disposable camera: 

Disposable cameras come with film already loaded inside, so simply spin the winding gear at the top of the camera and click the button. Remember that the film must be wound after every photo. Personally, I wind my camera after every photo so I’m ready for the next shot as soon as it plays out. Most cameras come with a built-in flash, some of which will work right away, but others may need to be charged. To charge the flash, hold down the button for a few seconds. Disposable cameras are one-shoot cameras, meaning that they have a standardized focus. For the best results, capture a subject about four feet away. 

Where to get film developed: 

Disposable cameras can be developed at any photo printing lab. I prefer to go to local film labs such as Nichols Photo Lab, because they are high quality and develop photos within two days. Walgreens, Walmart, and Costco also have the ability to process film; however, they don’t do it in-house and will often outsource your film to a different lab. As a result, the film will take about a week to process, and frames may be lost.  

Now that you have the gist of film photography, here is a list of fun things you can try! 

1. Color the lens with nail polish or a marker.

This can give your photos a unique tint. 


2. Buy an expired disposable camera.

These can be purchased from Ebay or Etsy. Expired film is unpredictable and can produce a myriad of fun colors and textures. 

Photo by the author

3. Sun damage your film.

I have left my disposable camera on my dashboard on a hot day. The result is sun damaged film that gives photos a vintage look. 


4. Drop your camera in water.

This will make the colors of your photo bleed together, producing photos with a tie-dyed look. 


5. Put your camera in a zip-lock bag and freeze it.

This will bring out the blue-ish hues in the photos.


The fun thing about disposable cameras is that you can be as creative as you want!