Shooting Film Photography: A Quick Beginner’s Guide

Interested in shooting film? Heard a lot about film photography from a friend or family member and want to get started yourself?

You’re in the right place. On this page, we’ll be diving into the wonderful world of analog photography and its challenges.

We’ll cover getting your own film camera, setting up your gear, and how to take photos that make a lasting impression. If you’ve only ever shot with digital cameras before, this page should prove useful!

Shooting Film Photography – Our Tips

As a budding film photographer, it’s important to make sure you’ve wrapped your head around the basics before spending any money. Many of the fundamentals that you’ve learned from digital photography still apply here. It’s just important to know what the differences are and why they matter.

film negative

Check out our tips below.

Your Film Camera

It’s a no-brainer, but before you can start shooting film photography, you’ll need to find a half-decent film camera. The equipment needed here is a little different to when you’re working with digital photography. You’ll likely be using the following bits of gear:

  • A film camera body
  • Some film stocks
  • A lens

More modern point-and-shoot style cameras also exist that come with everyday conveniences like advanced automatic settings. The option you should go with will depend on your experience level and access to second-hand options.

If you’ve already got a family member with a film photography setup, this will probably be your best bet. Complete newcomers to the hobby may prefer the ease and convenience of a point-and-shoot, however. These newer cameras are usually easier to use for beginners.

Get a Decent Lens

When first starting out with film photography, it’s best to stick with prime lenses. The static, reliable focus of either a 35mm or 50mm is usually a good way to go. When buying vintage or second-hand equipment, apply an extra level of scrutiny.

It’s easy for lenses and shutters to get jammed up with dust and other gunk over the years.

Film for Film Cameras

Next up on your equipment list is film stock. You’ll almost definitely be using a 24 or 36 exposure pack.

This means that when you shoot film, you’ll usually have either 24 or 26 shots available per roll. You’ll be adopting a more measured, intentional style of shooting to make every last exposure count!

We explore the most common types of film below.

Color Negative Film

This is by far the most commonly used film for beginners. It uses C-41 chemicals for its processing and offers ‘true-to-life’ colors. After processing your color negative film, you’ll get back a darker negative image and your ‘correct’ photograph.

Color Positive Film

Color positive film results in a transparent, positive image that can be mounted to backing paper or used as a slide. For this reason, it’s also referred to as slide film. This kind of stock uses E-6 chemicals for processing. As a newcomer, however, you’ll be best off with color negative stock.

Black and White Film

No points for guessing what this one is for – black and white film is perfect for capturing images with stunning shadows and brilliant highlights. For color film photography, though, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

A Note on Expired Film

If you want to start producing ‘happy film accidents,’ expired film can be a great way to go. The chemicals used for most film stock have a shelf life. This means that after a certain amount of time, they stop being quite as effective for their intended purpose.

However, expired film can produce some really interesting shots if you know what you’re doing. Once you’ve got a bit of experience, it’s well worth experimenting with some old stock

Analog Photography Tips

Many of the fundamentals of photography apply here. If you’re experienced with a digital camera, plenty of your skills are transferrable.

However, film photography offers several unique obstacles that many photographers struggle with when first starting out. We explore a few basics below.

Exposure and Shadows

When shooting digital photos, most photographers like to err on the side of caution when it comes to how much they expose their shots. When shooting film, however, the opposite should be your default.

Capturing shadows accurately can be a bit harder when using a film camera. You’ll probably have to set the exposure higher than you’re used to to give your color negative film the best possible chance of capturing your scene properly.

Lighting

The following is true of basically all types of photography – make sure there’s plenty of soft, diffused light, and your image will probably come out looking at least half-decent. That said, what things do you need to consider when using film-based equipment?

Light Meter

Most modern cameras come with a light meter built in. This probably isn’t true of your friend’s camera from the 80s. Pick up a light meter or download a light meter app when using film cameras.

In short, a light meter tells you how much light you have available in your scene. This knowledge empowers you to choose the right settings for your camera. If you go into this process blind, it can be very easy to under or over-expose your shot.

Unless you’re very experienced, this kind of accessory is basically a must-buy.

Find yourself without the right tools but need to take a shot? If it’s a nice sunny day, use the ‘sunny 16‘ rule. This rule dictates that in a well-lit environment, you should do the following:

  1. Set your aperture to f16
  2. Set your shutter speed to the opposite of your ISO value

This should result in an image that is reasonably well exposed!

ISO Value

This one depends on the film speed of the film stock you’ve bought. In general, it’s best to set your ISO to the advertised speed on your film’s packaging. Once you’ve been shooting film for a long time, you can afford to experiment and ‘push’ the limits of your gear.

Until then, though, it’s best to play it safe.

What is Film Speed?

The speed of a pack of film determines its sensitivity to light. A more sensitive film will react much more quickly when exposed to light. The higher the number you see on your packaging, the faster/ more sensitive your film is.

Remember to Go Slow

Keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day; the learning curve associated with film photography can feel significantly steeper than its digital counterpart. Don’t let this put you off, though. With some patience and perseverance, you’ll be up and running in no time.

The best way to improve as a photographer is to practice. The more often you can get out there and actually use your gear, the better you’ll become. Don’t be afraid to fail – accidents and mistakes are what help us to learn after all!

Getting Your Film Developed

So, you’ve poured hours and hours into taking your photos and shot through a few rolls. It’s now time to process it all and get some lovely developed film. There are two main options here – a photo lab or a DIY method.

Option One – Photo Labs

A photo lab is probably the safest bet if you’re a newbie. You’ll be giving your film to a trained professional who has everything they need to process your work perfectly. They’ll use the right chemicals and equipment. Reliable photo labs deliver very good results at a consistent level.

Just make sure you choose options in your area that are worth the money!

Option Two – DIY

Don’t feel like you have to go the DIY route, but just know that it can be relatively straightforward if you use the right technique.

This video from Willem Verbeeck on YouTube covers the topic well.

In general, you’ll need the following to develop film at home:

  • Some C-41 film that you’ve taken some photos with
  • A completely dark room
  • Alternatively, use a changing bag
  • A film developing kit like this one
  • Some dark chemistry bottles
  • A developing tank
  • A temperature control system (TCS) to maintain a constant temperature for your chemicals (this is an optional extra)

The process involved with developing your film will depend on the chemical kit you’ve bought. In short, however, you’ll be following the instructions provided on your kit. These are usually super easy to follow and walk you through every step of the process.

An oversimplified version of this process might look like this:

  1. Make sure your development chemicals are at the right temperature by using a TCS or by running them under warm water and checking them with a thermometer.
  2. Mix your developing powders using the right amount of water. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for this.
  3. Use filtered water if possible for best results.
  4. Load your film into your developing tank in either a fully dark room or your changing bag.
  5. Follow the instructions on your developing kit to develop your photos!

More: Best way to scan negatives

Shooting Film – Last Word

We hope you’ve found the tips on this page helpful. Remember that working with a film camera can take some getting used to. You’ll likely be working without modern conveniences like everything-auto settings and light meters.

Keep at it, though, and you’ll be taking breathtaking photos before you know it! If you want the easiest possible option, we say go with a modern, good quality point-and-shoot camera and take your film to a photo lab to get it developed.

Whichever option you choose, we hope you have fun using it!

Shabbir
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