One-Step Photography

I believe that it’s often better to spend money on experiences rather than new gear. Sometimes a book can be just as good as an experience; perhaps it can be an experience in and of itself. For Christmas my family gifted me three photography books, each one featuring the legendary photographer Ansel Adams. One of the three books was especially surprising: Polaroid Land Photography by Ansel Adams.

Did you know that Ansel Adams, the renown black-and-white landscape photographer who invented the Zone System and who was celebrated for his darkroom mastery, loved Polaroid photography? I didn’t. I was surprised to learn that one of his well-known Yosemite pictures was a Polaroid (Type 55), and this picture was found in one of the other two books I was gifted. Adams’ Polaroid book is a thorough and highly technical look at instant film. It’s the ultimate guide to Polaroid, at least from 1978 when this second edition was published. I want to share a few quotes from the book, then circle it back to this blog and Fujifilm.

“It is unfortunate that so many photographers have thought of the Land camera as a ‘toy,’ a casual device for ‘fun’ pictures, or, at best, a gadget to make record pictures! The process has revolutionized the art and craft of photography….”

—Ansel Adams

It’s clear right from the beginning of the book that Adams considered the Polaroid camera a serious photographic tool. He felt it was under-appreciated and underutilized by the photographic community at large.

“By making it possible for the photographer to observe his work and his subject simultaneously, and by removing most of the manipulative barriers between the photographer and the photograph, it is hoped that many of the satisfactions of working in the early arts can be brought to a new group of photographers. The process must be concealed from—non-existent for—the photographer, who by definition need think of the art in taking and not in making photographs. In short, all that should be necessary to get a good picture is to take a good picture, and our task is to make that possible.”

—Edwin H Land, co-founder of Polaroid

Adams included that Edward Land quote in Chapter 13, Principles of One-Step Photography, and he immediately followed it with this:

“The effect of one-step processing on both amateur and professional creative photography has been revolutionary.”

—Ansel Adams

Polaroid Land Photography is an extensive user’s manual—Adams referred to it as such many times—yet it is full of inspiration, both in written words and great photography. There is so much that I could quote, but I will refrain myself and add just one more.

“As with all art forms, we must accept the limitations of the medium as well as revel in the advantages.”

—Ansel Adams

I was reading all this as I was simultaneously celebrating the fact that I had so easily finished the pictures of my kids opening their Christmas presents. By finished, I mean finished. I captured the pictures, and in the time it takes most people to load their RAW files onto their PC or Mac, I had already uploaded them to my phone, put them into storage, and shared them to loved ones. Done. It occurred to me that this is the modern equivalent of one-step processing.

Over the last several months I have been pondering why my different film simulation recipes are so popular. Tens of thousands of photographers across the globe, from newbies to experienced pros, are using these camera settings on their Fujifilm cameras. I get feedback daily from people telling me how these recipes have changed their photographic lives. There’s been a very real impact that this blog has had on the photography continuum. Yet the why has been illusive to me, until today.

Polaroid changed photography 50, 60, 70 years ago. The biggest name in photography not only embraced it but called it revolutionary. There are a few parallels to Polaroid cameras and film simulation recipes on Fujifilm X cameras, but the biggest is perhaps one-step processing. Yes, if you shoot RAW+JPEG, you can always reprocess the RAW, but there is fun in not having to do so if you don’t want to. There’s a certain satisfaction, not to mention time saved, in having a completed picture right out of camera that needs no editing, or maybe only some small, quick adjustments. I wonder if Ansel Adams were still around today, if he would embrace the film simulation recipe the same as he did the Polaroid. Honestly, the answer isn’t important, because so many photographers are embracing it, and it’s revolutionizing photography.

Here is a small sampling of those pictures that I captured on Christmas morning. I used my Fujifilm X100V camera loaded with my Superia Premium 400 film simulation recipe.

Little Angel – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Christmas Joy – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Sister & Brother – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Girl, Christmas Morning – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Learn To Draw – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Time to Open Gifts – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Pokemon – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Small Gifts – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
The Big Box – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Girls Love Horses – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Christmas Brothers – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V – Photo by Amanda Roesch
How-To Draw Book – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Santa Was Here – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V
Josh Playing Christmas Songs – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100V


  1. Peter Edwards · December 27, 2020

    Great and interesting post Ritchie

  2. Khürt Williams · December 27, 2020

    I think the smartphone is more akin to the Polaroid Land camera that a Fuji X camera. A Fuji X camera still requires consideration of film simulation (recipe), aperture, ISO and shutter speed. A Fuji X camera may produce a finished JPEG but so can every digital camera on the planet.

    • Ritchie Roesch · December 27, 2020

      I think, when the book was published, many Polaroid cameras had manual controls, and Ansel talked a lot about exposure, the zone system, etc. I don’t think he was referring to point-and-shoot, but removing the necessity of the darkroom. Think about that: the master of the darkroom was celebrating that the darkroom was no longer required. I think there’s the parallel to the film simulation recipe, except exchange darkroom for Lightroom (or RAW software of choice).

      • Khürt Williams · December 28, 2020

        I think you’re trying to hard to make this analogy work. No darkroom is necessary to produce any finished JPEG image from a 1990s era DSLR.

      • Ritchie Roesch · December 28, 2020

        I might be, in fact, trying too hard. I have had many different brands of digital cameras over the years: Pentax, Nikon, Sony, Sigma and others (never Canon, though, although in the film era, yes). Not one created a JPEG that I was personally satisfied with sooc (mostly I shot RAW), until Fujifilm. That’s my own personal opinion, though, and others might have a different opinion.

    • Dai Nguyen · December 28, 2020

      but even if you don’t use film stimulation from Ritchie, Fuji camera already shipped with some recipes already and so his analogy is still valid. What is your point?

      • Khürt Williams · January 2, 2021

        The analogy only works if we agree that all digital cameras do this. My Sony DSC-S70 from 1999 had film simulation modes and produced only JPEGs.

  3. veijom · December 27, 2020

    I guess Fujifilm Instax cameras are nearest to the concept. Jpegs from for example smartphones can still be processed with “filters”, and many do. From my experiences having made available some Capture One -styles and many people having asked how to dial in the same look as a recipe, I conclude that people want shortcuts. And easiness. And finished look out of the box. And here is the purpose of recipes. Even I, using a lot my own made styles for Capture One, use some dialled in settings to offer directly the photos to the ones photographed. BTW, the look of the used recipe here looks nice for the purpose.

    • Khürt Williams · December 27, 2020

      I think you are correct. The Instax, not the smartphone, would be the closest. Of course, neither RAW nor JPEG must be processed. SOOC RAW can be considered finished.

      • Ritchie Roesch · December 27, 2020

        Except RAW is nothing until it’s been processed by some software, right?

      • Khürt Williams · December 28, 2020

        No rule says anything has to be done to RAW. My Nikon produced SOC JPEGs with no film simulation. So did my 1999 Sony DSC-S70.

      • Ritchie Roesch · December 28, 2020

        I have a few thousand RAW files unedited sitting on a laptop in a closet somewhere. I have a few undeveloped rolls of film in the refrigerator. I suppose they are all photographs, in a similar situation.
        Yes, JPEGs have been around since the beginning of the digital camera, but I think there’s a difference between a “typical” sooc JPEG and one that actually looks good sooc. That’s my opinion and experience, anyway. Different people have different opinions and experiences, and that’s ok. This is art and there’s no right or wrong way.

      • Khürt Williams · December 28, 2020

        The SOOC images from my Fuji are never really ever done because I can still manipulate the JPEG, although less so than I can the RAF.

        The images from the Instax are physically fixed in time.

        But if we’re using the analogy that a film simulation recipe is like using a darkroom then as Apple’s press release for the iPhone puts it: “Deep Fusion … is a new image processing system enabled by the Neural Engine of A13 Bionic. Deep Fusion uses advanced machine learning to do pixel-by-pixel processing of photos, optimizing for texture, details and noise in every part of the photo.

        iPhone 11 Pro with the software algorithms A13 cpu replace the darkroom.

        I don’t know what Ansel would say. He’s dead and we weren’t best friends, but I think he might be impressed by modern smartphones.

      • Ritchie Roesch · December 28, 2020

        I think he absolutely would be, too! Although, like you said, we were never best friends or anything. I would like to see some of this “deep fusion” technology applied to interchangeable lens cameras.

    • Ritchie Roesch · December 27, 2020

      Instax is definitely a continuation of the instant film legacy. My daughter has an Instax camera and loves it. Ansel in the book talked a lot about exposure and the zone system, etc., and I believe some (most?) Polaroid cameras during that time had manual controls. I don’t believe he was celebrating the point-and-shoot, but that the darkroom was no longer required. (Think about that, the master of the darkroom was celebrating that the darkroom was no longer required). The parallel with the film simulation recipe is that the modern darkroom equivalent, Lightroom (or the RAW software of choice), is no longer required.

  4. anzio2 · December 27, 2020

    Thanks a lot Ritchie for all your work! I completely agree with you, and thanks to your film simulation recipes, me too are able to shot SOOC, in a one-step process as you write!

    And, by the way, I loved my old Polaroid, and also for this reason I set the square (1×1) format in my jpef right out my Fuji X-Pro 3!

    Happy holidays!


    • Ritchie Roesch · December 27, 2020

      Thanks so much! Happy holidays to you, too!

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