The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners
Venturing into the exciting world of film photography starts off as a hobby for most photographers. Even professional photographers who want to dabble this old fashioned form of art, will usually start off playing with a film camera to see what can be produced. Or you may have been into photography back in the day before digital cameras were invented. In that case you will remember that film photography is a beautiful art form that can bring much joy and surprise once mastered.
Film cameras come in three main formats: 35mm, medium (120 film) and large formats (those big cameras with the bellow using film sheets or plates). Many photographers start with 35mm because its more affordable and you get more shots per roll. 35mm cameras are light and easy to carry too. On the other side the resolution with the bigger formats is better. For photographers who want to incorporate film into their commercial work, such as portraits or weddings, often the medium format is preferred. For the large format you need a tripod and the camera is heavy and film is expensive to develop. If you are doing portraits in a studio you might like this format, but for being out and about it certainly isn't practical.
When it comes down to it, all three film formats can produce gorgeous images. If you are unsure you might like to rent both types to try them out. Also ask around friends and family because its quite likely someone has one hidden away somewhere.
A SLR camera is best for the beginner photographer when it comes to using film. Most are manual so you can practice a variety of photographic techniques (light painting, double exposure, etc.). SLRs are common and therefore affordable. When you buy a film SLR camera, make sure it is in working condition. Secondhand camera stores, thrift stores, auctions, estate sales, Ebay and Facebook marketplace can be good places to start shopping for your new camera. Look for brands like Pentax, Canon, Minolta, Nikon and Olympus. The well-known brands are easier to fix or find replacement parts if your vintage camera does break, but often it's cheaper to buy another one.
When you buy a secondhand camera you don't usually get the camera manual, but there are sites online where your camera model's manual might be online. Digital cameras have far more functions than film cameras but film cameras do have many different controls. So it can take some time to learn how to use a new film camera.
It can be a good idea to get a tripod or monopod. Film cameras don't have image stabilization. For dark, cloudy days, dimly-lit interiors and nighttime photography, you will almost surely need some support from a tripod or monopod.
35mm Film Cameras To Look Out For
- The Holga 135
- The Diana
- The Canon EOS 630
- The Olympus ACE-E
For a great medium format camera we recommend the Mamiya 645. On the other end of the spectrum, of course there are also point and shoot cameras or even disposables if you want to keep things really simple.
Depending on your location you might find film stocks at your local camera shop with Kodak, Ilford and Fujifilm being good options. Otherwise ordering online might be a better option and give you a wider selection.
Choose your ISO to match the kind of photography you are planning on doing. Films usually come in the following ISO ranges: 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200. Use a low ISO if you are shooting outdoors or have plenty of light and move into the higher ISO ranges if you are shooting inside or in low light situations. These ranges will have some grain.
Choose the film type from color positive, color negative or black and white. We love b&w for that true old-school look that is so distinctively gorgeous.
We recommend you start off buying cheap films and as you get better results invest in higher quality films. Always check expiry dates when buying film and make sure it has been stored well. At home store your films in the refrigerator. Always buy plenty of film so you don't run out, especially if you are used to shooting a lot using digital.
Film images can look better if you use a simple UV filter to reduce haze and protect your lens from dust and scratches. If shooting black and white, a yellow or red filter can help the appearance of sky tones.
Developing and Printing
Find a trustworthy processing lab that has a good reputation for developing film. You drop or post your film to the lab and receive prints. You can get your negatives developed only, then choose the ones you want to print to save some money.
Who knows in the future you might make your own darkroom and develop your own film if you are shooting black and white. While you need a suitable space and investment to set it up, a darkroom can be a wonderful hobby to enjoy for many years and can be a source of income. People might hire you to develop their films or you could rent your darkroom to local photographers.
Once you delve into film photography, otherwise known as analog photography, it is easy to fall in love with it. There is something charming and romantic about holding a printed photo that was created using film photography.