Film photography is exciting. It allows you to prove to others that you have what it takes to become a professional photographer. It allows you to put quality over immediacy. And to be perfectly honest, it’s downright retro and cool. If you want to get started and immerse yourself in the world of film photography, we have created this guide that will provide tips, tricks, and information that can help you achieve your full potential.
Film Photography Tips For Beginners
From breathing deeply and slowing down to dominating manual focus, the following tips are sure to set you up for film photography success.
1. Slow Down & Observe
One of the primary advantages of digital photography is the ability to take a nearly endless amount of photos. You have as much space as your SD card can provide. And if you run out of space, you can always go back, delete a few photos, and take more pictures.
With film photography, things are different. While you can certainly shoot as many rolls of film as your budget allows, film photography is more about being present in the moment and observing your surroundings. To do this, it is key that you slow down. Appreciate your environment, look at things from different angles, but don’t shoot just yet. Press the shutter only when you are sure that you’ve found something extra special. Trust us - this patience and observance will be reflected in your photos, which can make them positively masterful.
There are only 36 exposures on your 35mm roll, or less if you shoot with 120 films. So taking your time for each shot will allow you to rethink your capture and be more intentional with your framing. Not only will you be more thoughtful about what you shoot, but you’ll also have a greater appreciation of your images. When it comes to film photography, the old adage certainly rings true: less is more.
2. Shoot One Roll At A Time
When first starting out, most of us tend to get a little overexcited. Shooting up a storm can be fun, but it can also leave you with no time to learn and adjust. When you first start using a new film camera, finish your initial roll of film and have it developed as soon as possible. You will have a fresher memory as to when you took your photos, what you were thinking at the time, the light settings you used, etc. This will allow you to make adjustments in case you need to - perhaps you underexposed several photos, or your focus was off. Maybe you didn’t achieve the desired effect and you need to try again. Or perhaps you really like your photographs, and now you know you can continue shooting away!
In any case, the point of only developing one at a time - especially at the beginning - can help you improve your technique without wasting your money. Imagine shooting 10 rolls of film only to discover all your photos are blurry!
3. Shoot One Color Film Stock When Starting Out
This step applies both of the previous tips. Slowing down, observing, adapting, and understanding your shots after you’ve developed them.
So choose one color film stock and stick to it - albeit not forever! Perhaps maybe just for your first 5 to 10 rolls of film. Shooting one particular color film will give you an idea of how the colors come out in a variety of scenes. You’ll become accustomed to how your color film of choice reacts to bright sunny days, portraits, or situations where you need to lower your shutter speed to let in as much light as possible.
Over time, your color film stock of choice becomes like a close friend you know very well. You know how it will react to certain situations and will be able to adapt to master your shots. Once this happens, it will be time to meet new people, or in this case, new film stocks. You’ll now have a better eye for seeing how different color films react to the same situations you find yourself regularly shooting in. Subtle color, tone, and contrast differences will be easier to spot and thus will ultimately help you land on a color film you would want to shoot for any given situation. Is this scene perfect for Kodak Ektar or Kodak Portra? Try one for 5-10 rolls and then the other. You’ll thank us later!
4. Err on the side of Overexposing your film
The most common problem we encounter at the lab for developed film is underexposure. Underexposure happens when your film does not receive enough light when you capture the photograph, meaning that your image is not adequately exposed. This results in an image that is often dark, lacking in color, and extra grainy. To help solve this, we recommend overexposing your film or giving your film more light than needed at the time of capture. Unlike digital photography, film can be overexposed up to 3 stops over the recommended ISO. For more information on this, check out our favorite article on the benefits of metering for your shadows, written by Johnny Patience.
5. Keep Notes On Your Film
Remember how we said that film photography is all about slowing down and understanding your shots? And how we mentioned that using 1 roll of film at a time would allow you to improve your technique? Well, one of the best ways to ensure that you get better is by keeping notes when you shoot! A small journal of your camera settings, information on the scenes you’ve captured, and what film you used can be a sure way of identifying any changes you need to make in the future. At the lab, we’ll often receive emails asking why a particular shot, or an entire roll of film, didn’t come out well. Without information on the camera or settings used at the point of capture, it’s hard to help out in those situations. If you keep a journal as you start out, you’ll have more information to work with to better improve your film photography as you go along.
The notes should include your camera shutter speed, aperture, and film speed at the point of capture. Also, make sure to write down what the scene looks like. Knowing if it’s a sunny landscape or a low-light portrait can help you perfect your technique for those situations in the future. When you receive your film back from the lab, you can compare your notes with your results to make any changes if necessary.
6. Focus Manually
Relying heavily on autofocus can work when you shoot digital. Not so much when you’re working on film cameras. The reason why is that film cameras normally don’t have the same autofocus speed as digital ones, so you can miss the focus or worse - miss the moment you wanted to shoot due to a slow autofocus feature.
Using manual focus is also a great way to hone your photography skills. Even though it can be scary at first, you will start to trust your own eye and will gain a new perspective when it comes to capturing moments. Begin by focusing on still life subjects like plants, flowers, buildings, or random objects. This will provide you with an unmoving subject on which you can practice!
Reach Out To The Lab
Reformed Film Lab was opened to be more than just a place to get your film developed. The goal of the lab is to be a support center for film photographers in developing, selling film and gear, and being here to answer your questions. Whether you need advice on what film to buy, information on exposing film, or just general questions about film photography as you start out, we are here to help! Reach out to us on our contact page or on any of our social media profiles. If there was one thing I learned as a mental health counselor prior to opening the lab, it’s that communication is key! So please - don’t be afraid to reach out if you need help or need additional feedback on your film scans. We’re here for you!
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