A friendly photography student hands me the clunky but light boxy device. There’s barely any buttons on it and the plastic shutter looks fake. Is this a toy? Is she joking? This can’t possibly be capable of taking those hipster vintage shots I’ve seen plastered on apartment walls.
I’m standing in the middle of Vienna’s Museums Quartier, it’s 9am (impossibly early for a Saturday) and the first properly sunny day of summer in Vienna. With me are a young German couple from Nuremberg and some very cool, very late to turn up Italians from Rome. We’ve each been handed a Polaroid camera with the promise of a unique walking tour through ‘Urban’ Vienna.
Our lovely guide, Kady talks us through the steps to manually load the polaroid film and the importance of not letting a newly taken picture see too much light for fear of over-exposure. Juggling my digital camera and phone photography daily, I’m familiar with the digital version of over-exposed pictures, but seeing the physical explanation of a photo being literally exposed to too much light too soon after printing feels like a throwback to 1887 photography!
Was this really how people took photos in the 80’s?
Kady patiently waits as we practice our first attempt at loading film, lining up a shot (the viewfinder is slightly off centre, so you have to adjust) and then removing the Polaroid image with a snap to quickly hide it from the damaging light of this perfectly sunny day.
We’ve all signed up for a 2-hour walk through Vienna with Sophort tours, who specialise in Polaroid walking tours of cities – but after clumsily over exposing my first attempt I have serious doubts about my old-school photography skills. At least I’ll enjoy a walk through the city, right?
After a peppy twenty minute introduction, Kady hands out our precious allocation of film to begin the tour. For the standard tour price of €60 per person, you get the use of a Polaroid camera and eight shots on your film roll.
Can you imagine that for a second?
We’re going to walk through some of Vienna’s most picturesque districts, the Augarten, Museums Quartier, check out some street art and the gorgeous Karmelitermarkt. And we have a limit of just 8 shots.
I’ve taken more shots of a single brunch meal before.
Though I knew about this in advance, it’s not until holding the camera, carefully loading the film and slamming the plastic flash in place that I realise what that actually means. We’re going to have to think, to meter out our photos, to actually treasure the picture we take because each one is precious.
Before we’ve barely begun this tour is teaching me the value of small moments, of tangible souvenirs. I’m in love with Polaroid photography already.
We stroll through the Museums Quartier, into the 7th district and take our time composing shots, sharing tips on the best ramen in Vienna and chatting about photography. There’s a lovely languid pace to this tour, allowing each person to choose their photo stops wisely – but Kady cautions us about hesitating too long.
‘Some people freeze when they only have a few shots, and wait until the last twenty minutes to take a photo, but by then they have missed so much! So I always remind them to use their film, take the photos while they are here, and not wait for something better’
Kady might be a philosopher-photographer.
Is she telling us to treasure the moments and highlights we have while we have them? Or am I just high on coffee, sunshine and a creative energy.? Maybe it’s both.
From the 7th district, we hop onto the Ubahn to get to the green stretch of Augarten, into a secret side garden I’d not noticed before. You can always find new secrets in Vienna and this garden still has blooming blossoms of cherry trees and some abandoned carnival tents and bikes.
Our morning winds its way through the second district to Karmelitermarkt, which on a Saturday is bustling with colour, vegetable stalls and picture perfect stands of local farmers.
I’m down to my last 4 shots, but this square is too gorgeous to miss an opportunity. The bright buildings and timeless Austrian faces are begging for a photo. Pushing down on the shutter button, the camera makes a satisfying jolt, and the Saturday morning market is captured, for just this moment.
Our final stop is along the Donaukanal – one of my favourite places in the city, perfect for ogling street art, strolling along or sitting with a spritzer, showing an edgy side to the otherwise ‘classical’ Vienna.
We take our time here, crossing from one side to the other to capture the graffiti, perspective on the stations and try to work with the light and shade of the bridges.
I’m down to my last shot, after a morning of carefully choosing each moment, taking our time to really see what is around us, not just mindlessly taking selfies and rushed landscape shots – it’s been such a calming approach to seeing the city.
I ask Kady to capture my very last moment.
The Sophort walking tour is a brilliant way to see a city from a new angle – whether you’re a tourist or a local, having a Polaroid camera in your hand is not only retro cool and fun to play with, but it makes you appreciate the moment you are in.
More than that – it’s a walk through the city that leaves you with a tangible souvenir – those über cool polaroids you saw on your hipster friends apartment wall? Now you can have your very own.
I loved our urban stroll through Vienna, and am seriously keen to check out the tours these guys offer in Rome, Graz and Salzburg. Even though I’ve been to each of those cities, there’s something charming about having Polaroid pictures, pretending you’re from the 1980’s and really experiencing the precious moments – beyond Instagram, Snapchat and the 10000’s of photos saved to your phone.
These ones we’ll remember, because we earned them.
Would you take a Polaroid Photo tour of a city? Let me know what you think in the comments!
- Sophort Polaroid Tours operate in Vienna, Graz, Rome and Warsaw
- The small company was founded in Vienna in 2013, by Thomas Peyer
- You can book private group walks – so cool for birthdays or Hen Do’s!
- I took the ‘Urban’ route through Vienna, but they also have a classical route for the famous sights
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