How to Get Started with Film Photography – A Guide for Newbies and Digital Photographers Looking to Differentiate
Film photography is a beautiful, timeless medium that has captured memories for over a century. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a complete beginner, there’s something special about the process of capturing light on film and being in full control of the images you capture. In this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started with film photography and tips and tricks for success.
The Magic of Film
I remember taking a roll of film, driving to the photo mat in the middle of the supermarket parking lot, dropping it off, and coming back several days later, bursting with excitement to flip through the memories frantically. It’s a lost art, and it’s become obsolete to the masses, but just like vinyl records have made a comeback due to the warm sound and the experience of genuinely listening, film is following in its footsteps.
If you want to be a great photographer, you not only need to understand the basics of photography but also how and where it all started. Before we were snapping a trillion photos a day on our smartphones and plastering them all across social media without any limitations, there was a time when photography was sacred. When each shot mattered, the mystery of not knowing exactly how your photos looked was part of the surprise and delight of actually holding a physical print in your hand.
Get a Camera That Suits Not Only Your Needs but Also Your Personality
First and foremost, you’ll need a film camera. There are many options available, from vintage rangefinders to modern SLRs. It’s essential to consider the type of photography you want to do before making a decision. For example, a compact rangefinder camera may be the best option if you’re interested in street photography. If you’re more interested in landscape photography, a medium-format camera with a more significant negative may be a better choice. An excellent place to start when choosing a camera is to think about the type of photography you’re interested in and then research the cameras that are best suited for that type of photography.
I have over fifty cameras in my collection, and I’ve tried several hundred over the years. Whether you decide to start with a new film camera or a vintage, you can find excellent choices for pretty much any budget. I’d recommend starting with a budget of one hundred pounds for a body and another fifty or so for a couple of lenses. If you are in London, there’s an amazing shop called Mr Cads near Victoria Station, which is pretty much the coolest vintage camera store I’ve ever seen in my life (they also have an online shop) or just dive in on eBay and be sure to read the detailed descriptions and check buyer ratings and feedback. I’ve bought a ton of stuff over the years from both and never had any major issues.
35mm film cameras – Nikon F (the best film camera I’ve ever owned), Nikon FM2 (fantastic starter semi-pro camera), Nikon F100 (90’s pro camera with autofocus!)
Medium format camera – Bronica SQ (Half the price of a Hasselblad), Fuji GS645 (fantastic for portability)
Just for fun: Lomo LC-A (Get an original on eBay for super cheap), Kodak half frame (you get twice the exposures for the money)
Once you have a camera and a lens or two, it’s time to think about the type of film you want to use. There are many different types of film are available, each with its unique characteristics. For example, color negative film is great for general use, while black and white film is perfect for capturing moody and atmospheric photos. Additionally, there are films available that are specifically designed for certain lighting conditions, such as low-light or bright sunlight. It’s a good idea to experiment with different types of film to find which one you prefer and what type of photos that film is best suited for.
When it comes to shooting with film, it’s important to remember that every shot counts. Unlike digital photography, where you can take hundreds of photos and simply delete the ones you don’t like, film is a finite resource. This means that you’ll need to be more mindful of your composition and exposure when shooting. Take the time to think about the scene in front of you, and ensure you’re capturing the best possible image. Some photographers even recommend taking a few extra minutes to consider the composition of the shot and to carefully frame the scene before taking the photo; this can help you to be more mindful of your composition and to make the most of each shot.
It’s Film, Not a Miracle Worker
Film photography requires more planning and preparation than digital photography. For example, you’ll need to plan ahead and make sure you have enough film to last you through a photo shoot. This means being mindful of the number of frames you have left on your roll of film and making sure you don’t run out in the middle of a shoot.
Another important aspect of film photography is the importance of understanding the limitations of film. Unlike digital cameras, film cameras have a limited number of frames and ISO range. For example, some films can only be shot at ISO 100-400, while others can be shot at ISO 800-1600. It’s essential to understand the limitations of the film you’re using and to work within those parameters to get the best results.
What film to choose
It’s essential to understand the different types of film available and to experiment with different techniques and styles. If you are just getting started with film, my recommendation is to start with Fomopan film. It’s cheap, readily available, and very forgiving in post-processing and development. Once you start to get the hang of it, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of different types of film that you can experiment with. I tend to use Kodak T-max 400 (pushing to 800 or 1600 in post), especially when shooting live music. If I really need to push the limits I’ll switch to Ilform 3200 and go black and white. That’s pretty much the extreme for concert photography needs. I’ve found that Analogue Wonderland is one of the best places to find a wide selection of all types of film, so check them out for sure. Their development pricing is pretty decent as well if you need help with developing your film.
Developing Your Film, Don’t Sit on It
Developing your own film can be intimidating at first, but it gets much easier I promise. The first roll I ever did on my own was nerve-racking and took nearly an hour. Now I can knock out two rolls in under 20 minutes in my kitchen. Even if you don’t intend to develop yourself, it’s critical to understand the basics of film development.
But, if you do decide to develop your own film, it’s essential to understand the process, including the different chemicals used and the timing and temperature requirements. There are many online tutorials, classes, and workshops that can help you learn the basics of film developing. It’s also important to invest in quality equipment for developing film, such as a film reel and developing tanks.
With film photography, it’s critical to understand the development process. Unlike digital photography, where you can see your photos immediately, film must be developed before you can see the final image. This can add an element of surprise and excitement to the process, as you never know exactly what you’re going to get. When it comes to development, there are two main options: you can either develop the film yourself at home, or you can send it off to a lab for professional processing. Developing film yourself can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it does require some equipment and knowledge. If you’re just starting out with film photography, it may be a good idea to start by sending your film to a lab for processing. This will give you a chance to learn more about the process and to see the final results before diving into developing your own film.
Film is a perishable medium, and it’s essential to take the necessary precautions to ensure that your film lasts as long as possible. This means storing your film in a cool, dry place, and avoiding extreme temperatures and humidity. It’s also important to keep your film away from light, as light can cause the film to deteriorate over time. When it comes to loading and unloading film, it’s essential to be careful and to avoid any unnecessary exposure to light. This means that you should always load and unload your film in a dark room or with the use of a film changing bag. Additionally, it’s important to take note of the expiration date of your film, and to use it before it expires. Using expired film can result in poor image quality and inconsistent results.
When it comes to shooting and developing film, it’s important to keep accurate records. This means noting the type of film and the camera settings used for each shot, as well as the date and location where the photo was taken. This information can be incredibly useful for troubleshooting any issues that may arise during the development process, and can also be used to track your progress as a film photographer.
Additionally, it’s essential to keep accurate records of your film and camera settings, as well as the date and location where the photo was taken. With these tips and tricks, you’ll be on your way to capturing stunning images on film in no time.
Another important aspect of film photography is the importance of understanding the different types of film available. Film comes in different formats, such as 35mm, 120mm, and 4×5 inches. Each format has its own unique characteristics, and it’s essential to understand the differences between them. For example, 35mm film is the most common format and is great for general use, while 120mm film is a medium format film that produces larger negatives and is ideal for landscape photography. 4×5 inches film is a large format film that produces even larger negatives and is perfect for fine art photography.
Printing Your Photos, Get That Sh*t up on Your Walls!
Another important aspect of film photography is the printmaking process. Unlike digital photography, where you can create digital copies of your photos, film photos are physical prints. There are a number of different printing methods available, such as traditional darkroom printing or digital printing. It’s a good idea to experiment with different printing methods to find which ones you prefer and what type of photos that method is best suited for.
When it comes to shooting with film, it’s important to remember to be patient. Film photography requires a bit more time and effort than digital photography, but the results can be well worth it. Be patient with yourself, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of film and camera settings. Remember, it’s not about getting the perfect shot every time but about the journey of capturing memories on film.
This Ain’t a Cheap Hobby
Before you dive in too far, it’s important to consider the cost when getting started with film photography because it ain’t cheap. Unlike digital photography, where you can take as many photos as you want without incurring additional costs, film photography has a cost associated with each frame. This means that it’s essential to be mindful of your shooting habits and to make the most of each frame.
In addition to the cost of the film, it’s also important to consider the cost of developing the film. There are two main options for developing film: you can either develop the film yourself at home or send it off to a lab for professional processing. Developing film yourself can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it does require a certain level of knowledge and equipment. On the other hand, sending your film to a lab for professional processing can be more expensive, but it’s a good option for beginners who want to learn more about the process and to see the final results before diving into developing their own film.
Finally, it’s important to remember that film photography is a personal and creative endeavor. It’s important to experiment with different techniques and styles, and to develop your own personal style. With the right equipment, film, and a bit of patience and practice, you’ll be on your way to capturing stunning images on film in no time.
Here are a few additional tips and tricks for success with film photography:
- Take the time to learn about the technical aspects of film photography, such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
- Always carry a light meter with you. This will help you to get accurate exposure readings and can be especially useful in tricky lighting situations.
- Be mindful of the type of light you’re shooting in, and choose your film and camera settings accordingly.
- Take care of your film and camera. This means keeping them clean and protected from the elements, and storing them properly when not in use.
- Experiment with different types of film and camera settings, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
- Learn how to develop film at home. This will give you more control over the final results, and can be a fun and rewarding experience.
- Keep accurate records of your film and camera settings, as well as the date and location where the photo was taken.
Film Isn’t For Everyone; It’s for the Bold, the Creatives, the Experimenters
Film photography requires a level of creativity and experimentation. You can try different lighting setups, compositions, and film stocks to see what works best. You can also develop your own personal style by experimenting with different techniques, such as cross-processing or double exposure.