In an instant... Science

Land demonstrates instant photography

Polaroid Corp. founded by Edwin H. Land produced instant cameras since 1940s.   | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


And the next instant, you are looking at the images. In this digital age, and at a time when almost everyone of us carry a mobile phone with an inbuilt camera, it might be hard to imagine that there was a time, not so long ago, when you had to wait to see your pictures. Ask your parents, or surely your grandparents, and they’ll regale you with tales of how they used cameras that were fitted with rolls. The instant experience was first brought to us by Edwin H. Land.

Know it? Or know it!
V is a picture that gives a three-dimensional effect when viewed through polarising spectacles. V is composed of two superposed images polarised at right angles to each other. V is mentioned in this article and was used in WWII. V? Send your answers to with your details. [subject: Polaroid]
Last week’s answer
Eniac stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer. P. Kevin Ruben of class VI, Army Public School, Bangalore was among those who got it correct. Congratulations!
Right from a very young age, Land was fascinated by light. He was particularly drawn towards the polarisation of light — the property of light according to which the light waves, which originally vibrate vertically, horizontally and in all angles in between, are polarised in order to have vibrations in a single plane.

Exploring polariser

While still in his teenage years, Land started to think about possible applications for synthetic polarisers. Removing glare and ensuring safe night time driving were practical solutions to real-life problems that Land was hoping for.

Months after enrolling at Harvard University in 1926, Land left to New York City to pursue his own research. He studied physical optics on his own at the New York Public Library and tried his hand at secret experiments at Columbia University.

It was here that he developed his first method of producing polarising sheets that were thin, pliable and transparent. Even though he never completed his undergraduate degree (Harvard did, however, award him an honorary doctorate for a lifetime of scientific achievement in 1957), Land started his own company in 1932 that did good business on polarising films.

War technology

If Eniac was built with an aim to crunch numbers for the war effort, Land’s Polaroid Corporation (reorganised in 1937) came up with innumerable applications for military projects during World War II. Vectograph to visualise geographic features of battlegrounds and aerial maps in three dimensions, anti-glare goggles for pilots and soldiers, viewfinders and cameras fitted with polarising lenses were some of the devices delivered by Polaroid.

The Eureka moment

Normal life, however, did go on and during a vacation in 1943, Land had his inspiration for instant photography. Having clicked a picture of his three year old daughter Jennifer, he then had to explain to her why she couldn’t see the photo right away! A long walk and an hour later, Land had thought his idea through.

Land realised that what was needed was a new kind of camera and film that would hold all the components of a conventional darkroom in a single film unit to be processed instantly once ejected from the camera. This was achieved through a system with a film unit that held both the negative film and positive receiving sheet, joined by a reservoir that contained chemical reagents to start and stop film development.

Polaroid invented and mastered the necessary technologies in the next few years. And on February 21, 1947, during a meeting of the Optical Society of America in New York City, the Polaroid camera was demonstrated to the public by Land, to widespread positive reviews.

Over the next decades Polaroid came up with a series of innovations to improve on picture quality and the format in which it was rendered (sepia-toned images to black and white to colour). As for Land, he stayed with his company for 50 years, retiring in 1982 after having amassed over 500 patents and numerous other awards.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 11:51:04 AM |

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