Film photography has made a massive resurgence in the visual industry over the last several years. While it never truly went away, a handful of emerging and young photographers are picking up old school cameras and snapping some killer film shots.
You’ve seen it on Instagram, tutorials on Youtube and in your favorite magazines — shooting film is cool, hip and stronger than ever in the photography community. And, I’m definitely not complaining.
I’ve always loved the film aesthetic. The grain filled images, the truly unique color palette (to this day I still can’t achieve the perfect film-like edit on my digital images) and the intention behind taking a photo that can’t be quickly viewed or deleted. Film photography leaves no room for wasteful abundance. Instead, it forces us to slow down, process and really see the image we want to take before we press the shutter button.
Because I shoot film photography on the regular now, I’ve become somewhat a hoarder of old film cameras (ones that work and ones I merely keep around for nostalgia) — I’ve found myself wanting to share more about the process of shooting film to give newcomers some form of guidance and direction.
I’m in no way a seasoned film professional. There are way better film photographers out there that deserve all the praise and attention for beautiful imagery. But, I like to think I know a thing or two that can get anyone started.
So, without further winded paragraphs, let’s dive into my film photography tips for beginners. Feel free to continue reading or you can watch my video explanation below — both will have the same information to help you get started!
Film Photography Tips For Beginners
How To Buy Film
The first thing I want to cover when you’re starting off with film photography is how to buy film and where you can purchase it for your camera. Film cameras take film stock in order to shoot your images and a film roll for a standard 35mm camera will have 36 frames (pictures) that you can capture.
You can buy film at several places including Amazon, Ebay and your local photography store. I often buy from Amazon when I’m out of New York City, but when I’m in the city — places such as B&H and smaller film labs sell a wide variety of film stock options.
You’ll see that your 35mm film often comes in a small canister. What I tend to do, is keep that canister until I have finished shooting the roll — in order to keep the film secure and safe before I send it off for developing. Many photographers will write notes on the case, such as the film stock, the date they shot it or any specific notes they want to remember about the photoshoot.
Where You Can Buy Film //
Now that you know where to buy film, let’s talk the basics of film speed and the color stock for you photographs.
What Is Film Speed?
Film speed is equal to the ISO of your film. If you’re a photographer, you understand the principle of ISO and that essentially, it relates to the amount of light you are adding to your frame when shooting. Lower ISO means that you have quality lighting conditions, while a higher ISO would be needed if you are shooting in a low light situation.
The same principle applies for ISO / film speed in film photography. Film stocks like Portra 200 would be more useful in a bright situation, while something like Portra 1600 would be needed for a low light, darker atmosphere. Therefore, when buying your film stock — you need to think about where and when you will be shooting your images to purchase the right film speed for your images. Additionally, the higher the film speed — the grainier the image. So, if you love film grain — bump up the film speed.
Different types of film stock — Portra, Ilford, Ektar — have different color profiles. But, they all have the same concept when pertaining to film speed. So, pick the color aesthetic for your film first and follow up with the correct speed for your specific shoot.
Since I usually only shoot Portra for color images and Ilford for black and white, here are 2 references where you can compare and contrast the different film speeds and the colors produced by different brands.
Resources to check out what different film speeds & stock colors look like //
Film Photography Cameras For Beginners
Once you have your film, you’re going to need a camera to capture your images. Below you will find my list of film photography cameras I’d recommend for any new beginner and I personally own and have used all of them.
They range in prices and styles and you can find links to options on Ebay below. At the end of this post, I will show some example photos I took with each camera.
CANON AE-1 PROGRAM
I’d recommend the Canon AE-1 Program for beginners for various reasons. It’s a camera with a great build and has been used by many professionals as their starter camera and even continuing on in their careers — yes, it’s that good!
It has a built in light meter, which is a must-have accessory for anyone who is unaware of how to meter light. If you’re a digital photographer, you most likely will use your camera to take a light test shot. But, on film — you unfortunately don’t have that luxury. Enter the ingenuity of a light meter.
Once you determine your settings, you will press the light meter button to see whether or not your settings are correct for your lighting conditions. There is a scale you will see when looking inside the view finder that will light up red or green. Red means you need adjustments and green tells you that you’re good to go. Play with your settings until you see green and then, you’re ready to shoot.
I was gifted my Canon AE-1 Program by my great uncle who gave it it me when he realized how much I loved photography. I picked it up, read the manual a few times and was ready to start shooting. It really is perfect for any beginner who doesn’t want to get too technical with the film process. And, with the program setting, the camera basically does it all for you. While you’ll eventually want to learn the ins and outs of operating a film camera, this one allows you to dip your toes in and start shooting without too much hassle.
It’s also incredibly affordable. Here are some options to buy on Ebay.
OLYMPUS STYLUS 120
My all time favorite pocket sized film camera is the Olympus Stylus 120. This is a point and shoot camera with a built in flash that captures those true film aesthetic images. You can also turn off the flash easily, so you can shoot with or without it. I’d recommend shooting with it, in order to keep the sharpness of the images. But, you can shoot without in bright lighting situations as long as you keep the camera steady.
This camera is my go-to for on-the-go film photos. It’s compact, you can take it with you anywhere and you don’t have to adjust any settings in order to take your photo. Hit the shutter button and you’re good to go.
I would say this is great for beginners because point and shoot cameras really allow you to frame your setting and focus on the image you want to take. It also allows you to get used to the fact that you can’t look at your image after you take it, like with digital, so you’re paying more attention to the intention of your image rather than playing around with a technically heavy piece of equipment.
You really have to trust your vision, perspective and creative eye — in short, it allows you to take note and pay attention to the world around you.
Here are some options on Ebay for you to check out.
CANON EOS REBEL S
The third film photography camera for beginners is the Canon EOS Rebel S. It’s a traditional SLR style camera that uses interchangeable lenses. Probably the coolest factor of this camera, is your ability to pair your digital lenses with the film body.
For example, I use my Canon 50mm 1.8 lens on this EOS Rebel S film body for when I shoot. It definitely helps with clarity of the images and the final product turns out sharp and in focus.
I’m not 100% sure about other camera brands such as Nikon or Sony, considering that this body is made by Canon. I personally shoot only Canon, so my lenses work — but I’m sure there’s some kind of adapter that can be used for any photographer using brands other than Canon.
Here are some options on Ebay .
Now, this film camera option is going to break the bank a little bit more than the others. But, it’s definitely a worthwhile purchase and a piece of equipment you’ll keep forever.
The Contax G1 is a rangefinder camera. Which essentially means that when you look through the viewfinder, it doesn’t perfectly match up to the attached lens. At first, it can take some time to get used to — but once you get the hang of the viewpoint, it’s easy to shoot with.
When I use this camera, I use it completely on AUTO. That means the camera auto focuses for me and sets the correct settings based on my lighting conditions.
In the video below, I show you how to put a roll of 35mm film in the Contax G1.
Here are some options on Ebay for you to take a look at if you’re interested.
Disposable Film Camera
Before I move on to the scanning and developing portion of this, I want to touch base on one more type of film camera that is great for beginners — a disposable film camera. Yes, I’m taking it back to the good old days of snapping flash pictures at your friend’s party and getting the prints done at Walgreens. Very vintage.
But, in all seriousness, this is a great way to get into film photography for several reasons. One, it has a very small startup cost — you only pay for the camera and to develop the film. And, if you end up disliking the process of film photography — you didn’t end up wasting any cash on buying your own camera.
Two, it’s simple to use because it’s a point and shoot. There are absolutely no settings, which again allows you to solely focus on framing your subject and creating the images you want without any distraction. Understanding how to see an image and be confident in what you are photographing is the biggest component to being successful with film photography.
You can still pick these up at your local drug store or online from Amazon. For developing, you can bring it back to where to bought it — Walgreens, CVS — and they will send the film off to be developed for you.
Here are some disposable camera options on Amazon.
How To Get Your Film Developed, Scanned & Shared Online
The process of having your film developed is still pretty simple these days, with many labs available in larger cities and mail in options if you don’t live within proximity to a photography store.
First, you’re going to place your completed roll of film back into its canister before you drop it off or send it to the lab.
If you don’t have any other options, you could get your film developed at a drug store in your town — but, personally I would choose to go another route. This is because drug stores will often develop your images, but won’t give you back your negatives.
Negatives are the same concept as RAW digital files and as a photographer, you know better than to ever let someone else have your RAW files. I’m not sure why they keep the negatives, I was never able to get a full answer when I inquired about this — yet, it doesn’t sit right with me that I wouldn’t get my work back fully, especially if the shoot was personal or even for someone else. In short, I wouldn’t recommend using any lab that keeps your negatives.
Instead, if you don’t have a lab near you — check out the following places where you can mail in your film to be developed:
https://thedarkroom.com/ — I have personally used them several times and they do a great, quality job.
https://www.richardphotolab.com/ — Recommended by film photographer friends
https://www.indiephotolab.com/ — Recommended by film photographer friends
These mail in labs will ask you to pay online, print the shipping label and send your images to them. Depending on the lab, they will send you your images via a CD or some type of file sharing site such as WeTransfer or Dropbox. And, you will get your negatives back in an envelope usually with a contact sheet.
Tips For Having Film Developed
If you’re going to have your film developed, there are a few things you should know to tell the lab to make sure you get the best scans as possible for sharing your work.
First, is to ask the lab to not color correct the scans. I didn’t learn this right away and I can definitely say it makes a difference in what your digital scans look like. Color correcting can take away the aesthetic you were intending in the first place and can in general, distort the true look of your film stock. All you need to do is say, “no color correction” and the lab knows exactly what to do.
Second, make sure that when you get your scans they are in a file format you can manipulate later. I made a whole video on How I Edit My Film Scans in Lightroom, if you need some idea of how that works and how you can edit your own scans using Adobe Lightroom.
For this, you’ll most likely want to ask for the scans in TIFF format or even a large scale JPEG can work in order to keep its quality as much as possible. Small scans can be good if you’re unsure of how the roll turned out, but I’d recommend any images you want to share online / in your portfolio — to be at least of medium size quality.
Lastly, make sure you ask the lab how they send the final scans to their customers. This should be visible on their website or simply ask in person. Some labs still use CDs to share images, which aren’t always the best option for anyone who has a new computer that lacks a CD-drive. Instead they may use a USB or use a site such as WeTransfer or Dropbox. Just ensure that you know, prior to having your images developed, how they will send the photos to you.
Share Your Photos Online
Once you have your images from the lab in TIFF or JPEG format, they are just like any other image on your digital memory card. You can make edits to them and upload them directly to your website / social media profiles.
It can be a little confusing for many film photographers starting out, since film is a tangible element that we essentially turn into digitized files. Like I said, the labs will do it for you, but if down the line you want to save a bit of money — you can always have the lab only develop the film and you can scan it at home with a photo scanner.
I personally don’t scan at home yet, but am looking into purchasing a scanner since it will be more cost effective over time and I will have full control over how my images are scanned.
Alright, so that’s it! My exhaustive list of tips for anyone who is starting off in film photography — how to buy film, camera options and the process of getting your film developed to share online.
As I mentioned above, I’m going to drop in some images that I have taken with each camera we talked about, so you can get an idea of what type of images they produce. Hope this was a helpful resource. If you have any questions about film photography, feel free to leave me a comment below!
Happy film shooting friends >>>>
Example 35mm Film Photos
CANON AE-1 PROGRAM
OLYMPUS STYLUS 120
CANON EOS REBEL S
~FTC: I may earn a small commission through any products purchased from Amazon~
Originally published at https://www.shannonciricillo.com on July 7, 2020.