A Love Letter to Disposable Cameras

I want to talk to you today about disposable cameras. Yes, those 24-shot, zoom-less, little green boxes you remember from family vacations in the early 2000s. Yes, film cameras!

I hear you laughing: They still make those?

You can buy them at any Wal-Mart, or on Amazon (← that’s an affiliate link, FYI). Any Wal-Mart store will develop them for a little more than $10.

So you can keep quiet with your snarky comments.

I hear you again: Ok, so I guess I can buy a disposable camera. But why would I want to? My phone has a great camera, it’s free, I always have it with me, and I can upload my photos to Facebook instantly. How is a disposable camera better than a smartphone?


Disposable cameras are SINCERE

A disposable camera has only 24 exposures. It has no zoom, no filters, nothing. You cannot keep taking pictures over and over again. And when you get it developed, you’ll have prints which you will keep for a long time.

This puts you, as the photographer, in a different mindset about which moments you want to capture.

Let me demonstrate:

Here are the top photos on Instagram taken in Joshua Tree National Park

These photos are beautiful, yes. But they’re all incredibly staged. Even the photo of the couple is professionally done, and captures a moment that’s been engineered to look like it’s from a film. This isn’t real life.

And for better or worse, I think most people taking pictures on their mobile phones shoot for this style of photograph.

Here are a few photos I took using a disposable camera during my last trip to Joshua Tree.

Camping in Hidden Valley
Night climbing. Apple juice in the flask, obvs.
On the summit of Saddle Rocks, the highest formation in Joshua Tree
Looking out over the park from Saddle Rocks

See the difference?

The photos from the disposable aren’t the best quality, they are never perfectly framed or edited — but they’re genuine moments. Moments that are hard to capture in such honesty on a phone.

They’re far more genuine than the photos I posted to MY instagram during the trip.

Same person, same instrument (more or less). And yet, I like the photos I took with the disposable SO MUCH MORE.


I like them for climbing, too, if you couldn’t tell… They do well in cold and wet conditions. And if you happen to drop it off the side of a mountain, it’s not the end of the world.

Another fact that makes disposable cameras so great: you are guaranteed prints.

Yes, I know you CAN print out your digital photos, but let’s be honest, who actually does that? We tend to take such a large volume of digital photos that it becomes overwhelming. They sit on a hard drive, or in the cloud, until storage is full, the drive malfunctions, or you forget about them.

And yes, eventually they’ll end up in a shoebox somewhere. But that shoebox is far more likely to be discovered, years down the line, than your digital archives. (And that shoebox is less likely to have incriminating nudes or indecipherable memes, compared with your digital footprint).

They’re a conversation starter

Just look at how much fun this guy’s having! And the conversation it’s started between his subjects on the left!

You don’t see these things around very often anymore. So, in addition to being sincere, great fun, and creating lasting memories, disposable cameras are a great ice-breaker!

Just be sure you can take a little bit of mockery, because your friends are *definitely* going to make fun of you for having one.

That’s ok, they’ll thank you when you give them a nice print for their fridge.

The only downside

These things are terrible in low light. Make sure you remember to turn on the flash!! I’ve ruined a lot of good photos by forgetting about the flash :(

With Flash
Without flash


I really encourage you to buy one of these and play around with it on your next vacation, girls night out, ski trip — whatever. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how nice the photos turn out, and the moments you capture that you might have otherwise missed.

In our current social-media, perfect-image obsessed world, the disposable camera is a nice reminder of the moments that really matter.

Like these.

All images in this article were captured using Fujifilm disposable cameras I bought and had developed at Wal-Mart. This isn’t sponsored, I just really like disposable cameras.


Always adventurous. Occasionally political. I write creative stories about life, love, climbing and travel. thisisyouth.org

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