A Polaroid instant photograph is part magic, part science, a dash of luck and a lot of chemistry. (Make that a whole heck of a lot of chemistry.) So how do you do take one? Scratch that: how do you take a good one? Here are some tips to get you started.

You might not see Polaroid film on the menu anywhere, but it’s full of refined, fancy ingredients. For that reason, it’s important to store your film properly when you’re not using it. We recommend keeping film packs flat in the fridge with the front side facing up. When you’re ready to shoot, take the pack out of the fridge and allow some time for it to return to room temperature before use.

Learn more about storing film

Bright light and beautiful colors are your best friends when shooting with Polaroid film, so we recommend shooting in well-lit environments and using the flash. Pro-tip: Portraits and group photos will always look great when you shoot in front of a bright, colorful background.

Remember that thing we said about Polaroid film loving light? We really mean it. Whether you’re using natural sunlight or a studio setup, try to always shoot with the light behind you or to your side. If you shoot directly into the light, your photos can end up blown out.

Most Polaroid cameras use a very simple light measurement to allow the right amount of light in for each shot. If it’s bright and sunny, the shutter will open for a short amount of time. If it’s dark, the shutter will open for longer. This means it’s really important to hold your camera steady to make sure photos don’t come out blurry – especially in late-night and dark settings.

We know – nobody wants to be blinded by the lights. But in 99% of situations, you’ll get better results with your Polaroid camera by using the flash. So unless you’re in broad daylight on a bright, sunny day, we recommend using the flash for the best results possible.

One of the most beautiful things about Polaroid pictures is how unpredictable they are. Every single photograph will have its own unique tones, textures and qualities. So embrace the beauty of creating a one-of-a-kind picture every time you press the shutter, and save the perfectionism for your smartphone selfies (besides, you’ll always be beautiful to us).

Roughly 5000 chemical reactions take place every time you make a Polaroid picture, so it’s no surprise they need a moment to make the magic happen. Black & white photos take 5-10 minutes to emerge, while color photos take 10-15 minutes. While you’re waiting, keep the photo somewhere warm, shielded from light. The more chance you give the photo to develop undisturbed, the more beautiful it will be in the end. Patience: It’s a virtue.

Learn more about Polaroid film and temperature

New Polaroid pictures are completely blue when they first emerge from the camera, and that’s caused by the developing paste that spreads over the image to help it develop. This paste is still sensitive to light for the first few minutes, so keep new photos away from direct light until the image has fully appeared. Put it in your pocket, or face down on a clean, dry surface. And definitely don’t shake it, please. That will mess with the magic.

Learn more about shielding your images from light

Even after a Polaroid picture has fully developed, it will still be sensitive to light. To avoid fading and discoloration, avoid displaying your pictures in direct sunlight, and keep them stored away in a cool, dark place when you’re not showing them off to the world.

Learn more about how to keep your Polaroid pictures safe

Polaroid instant cameras use two metal rollers to spread developing paste over new photos as they emerge from the camera. Sometimes excess paste can leak onto the rollers, or other things like dust can build up over time. So make sure to check your rollers between each new pack of film, and use a damp cloth to clean off any dirt that may have collected on them. They’ll be eternally grateful.

Got all that? Then you’re ready. Now grab some film and get out there. May the force be with you.