Film photography might seem to be a thing in the past, but it has become a popular medium in the last decade. More and more photographers are starting out with analog photography and are looking into how to shoot on film. Indeed, it looks now like film is timeless, after many companies roll out with new analog tools trying to preserve the feeling of analog photography.
Why I shoot on film
Whenever photographers ask me how they can better their work, I always push them toward film. With film, you can’t lean on automatic modes or Photoshop, so you have to choose your shots wisely. You have to think everything through and learn from your mistakes.
Film also changes the way you archive. Right now, there are literally thousands of digital images sitting on my hard drive, and it’s likely that I’ll never look at the majority of them.
But film offers something simpler, something tangible that you can physically hold onto and cherish, and you will not end up with hundreds of the same photos. There’s more of a permanence with film for this very reason.
You never know which way your film images will turn out. But this element of surprise adds to the overall experience and creates a suspense while you wait for your negatives to be developed. You certainly don’t get that kind of feeling when using digital.
When a budding photographer, your choice of camera will also determine your style of photography. Analog photography will require more patience and knowledge of the camera before hand, unlike using digital cameras will let you experiment without any extra cost.
Experiment with different kinds of film
When it comes to choosing your film, there are several things to take into consideration. First, you have to think about the speed of your film. With digital, you can change your ISO on the spot to suit an environment, but with film, you have to choose the speed when you buy a roll. Your decision will impact an entire roll of photos.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to the color and tone of the film as well. You can go bold, with a completely orange image created from Lomography film, or you can stay subtle with a more professional film like Portra. It completely depends on what you want your photos to look like.
You can also experiment with expired film, but the result will either be brutal or amazing. I personally love the unique imperfection it brings to my images, with increased grain, color shifts, and light leaks.
Once you are accustomed to film for the first time, it feels like there are endless options and no knowledge on what to choose for your camera.
The films differ in the final colour, brightness and the amount of grain in the images bringing a mixture of elements to the images. Determining which one should you be using it truly just through trial and error and seeing which images you’ll like the best.
Three years ago, six legendary photographers were interviewed by TIME and they compiled a shortlist of the best analog films out there, from 35mm monochrome options like Kodak Tri-X 400 to large-format film like Kodak Portra 160.
Study how the film works in different conditions but also in different cameras; only this way you can make the most of it.
What is ISO?
In very basic terms, ISO is a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow progressively brighter.
Cheap film cameras to start off with
Starting off analog photography shouldn’t cost you a fortune. You can find cheap cameras from flea markets and second hand, or even start off with a disposable one (though their lenses are not the best).
Finding an affordable 35mm or 120mm camera is easy now that there are multiple options in online stores.
Even if you’re drawn to start with an expensive investment on analog camera, it’s smarter to start with something cheaper. Once you know shooting analog is what you want and you’ve practiced enough, you can continue with more expensive and advanced options.
When you’re ready to move on to more impactful images – one of the best medium format cameras (that uses 120mm film) is definitely Mamiya RB67. The details are incredible and the colors come out so vivid.
Another great camera for beginners but also for professional use is Canon AE-1 (uses 35mm film) which was my first camera to use and is still occasional used for personal projects.
Pentax K1000 is also one of the most used cameras there is; for it’s easy user experience and affordable pricing.
Learn how the light works and behaves; once you can read a room with changing light, you can manipulate it to your liking and implement in your images.
Always expose for the shadows
With digital cameras, you’re used to expose for the highlights. For negative film the opposite holds true — it indeed might be great at capturing those highlights, it sometimes cannot preserve details in the shadows.
When underexposing film it can also result in dark and grainy negatives, which in turn produce flat prints. Not a fan of the overexposing—unless you’re intentionally going for the dark, underexposed look.
Light meter will save your images
In the new film cameras have a built-in light meter, but if you’re interested in using the old rustic ones you will definitely need to get an external lighting meter. You can easily check the lighting – sometimes even the best of photographers might estimate the light wrong, and it will result in either overexposed or underexposed images.
But a light leaking camera can produce the most beautiful images, something no app can do with filters. So ‘mistakes’ can be lucky accidents too. These mistakes will add more life into your work and make them unique which digital will never be able to do.
If you will encounter these happy accidents, remember how it happened, and see if you can replicate it on purpose.
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