Yesterday evening I posted a side-by-side comparison on my Facebook biz page of an image from my FIRST attempt with color film and and image from my latest batch of scans from RPL, and it really got me thinking about everything I’ve learned over the past six months. Hours of research, reading, and studying film photographers’ work, plus the generosity of other photographers who’ve patiently answered my questions have all resulted in my feeling like I’m no longer completely oblivious, even though I still have a long way to go. So in the spirit of generosity, I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve learned so far when it comes to shooting film! *Note that I am in no way claiming to be an authority- I’m still woefully ignorant :)*

Virginia film photographer

1) Be patient. This was one of the first lessons I learned. My beautiful friend Rebekah kindly agreed to be my first test subject and I’d originally been planning to send my film off to a lab, but I was so excited after getting home that I just hopped in my car and took the rolls to a local Ritz camera. The result was lackluster scans with dull and skewed colors. Some of that obviously had to do with the fact that I was a complete novice, but the lab also makes a huge difference. Had the images been simple snapshots, Ritz would have been fine (I’ll occasionally still take snapshots to Ritz, actually). But for a session I was excited about, it would have been worth the week or two delay for the peace of mind that the film was developed and scanned WELL.

2) Research before you start and as you go. I know y’all have heard me talk about the Film Is Not Dead book a LOT, but it’s a goldmine of information! If you’re even thinking about looking into film, you need to read that book. Jonathan Canlas gives explanations and descriptions of each of the different formats, types of cameras, and film stocks, so you at least have a place to start when you’re looking to settle on a film of choice. I also found it really helpful to poke around my favorite film photographers sites (Elizabeth Messina [ohmygosh she’s AMAZING], Jose Villa, Gabe Aceves) and see what film stocks they tend to favor, how they seem to expose their film, and any advice they may leave.

Virginia film photographer

3) Start on 35mm. You can find a 35mm SLR on CraigsList/eBay for CHEAP these days- the Canon A2E that I started with was $80 from a guy in Maryland, and it’s compatible with all of my Canon L lenses. The great thing about 35mm is that while you’re running test roll after test roll, you can mauzy on down to your local Walgreens and have the film developed there for something like $8, instead of spending gobs of money on lab fees for test shots. I don’t recommend Walgreens for anything you’re particularly excited about (best to save those for a lab), but if you’re looking to get a better idea of exposures and such, Walgreens rocks.

4) Get a light meter. Before I bought my Sekonic 358, I was doing the whole “meter with my DSLR, then apply those settings to my film camera.” Well, film and digital expose completely differently- film is MUCH more forgiving when overexposed, whereas if you completely blow out your whites in a digital image? That can be near impossible to salvage. I’ve accidentally overexposed a film image by 5-6 stops before, and it still looked good once I gave it a slight adjustment in LR. On average, I overexpose my film by 3-4 stops. That’s just what I’m coming to find is my personal preference, though- it really depends on what YOU like. I’m still learning to manipulate my film to look how I envision- it’s a process :).

Virginia film photographer

5) Recognize that once you DO have rolls you’re excited about developing, good labs are worth the money. I nearly choked on my gum when I called Richard Photo Lab the first time to check how much it would cost per roll, so I sent my film elsewhere. It was only when I sucked it up and sent THIS shoot there that I realized why RPL charges what they do- because they are, simply put, the best. The attention they pay to each and every frame ensures that my film comes back to me in the best possible shape. I also experimented with Indie Film Lab for a while there and really enjoyed working with them (they rock!), and I think I’ll continue to send personal work their way. But any film I shoot of my clients goes straight to RPL. It really comes down, again, to finding what works for YOU. I know some photographers, like Ashley Goodwin, send all of their film to Indie. It’s a personal choice; make a decision on the look you’re going for with your film. And don’t be afraid to experiment with different labs, too!

And because everything is more fun with a giveaway, let’s give something away!


Leave a comment telling me about your favorite thing to photograph, whether with your DSLR, film camera or iPhone, and I’ll choose one random winner by tomorrow at 4 pm. The prize? A five-pack of various color and B&W films for you to play with! The winner gets to choose whether they want 35mm or 120 film. PS- the image above (the one of all those rolls of film? Yeah, that one) is a digital image. Just in case you were wondering.
Aaand go!
Happy Thursday!

Lessons Learned: Film fun!

October 18, 2012

  1. molly says:

    abby – it has seriously been a pleasure to watch you grow in film. as you know by now, i just love photography in general – i love the art of it, i love playing on my camera, and i have LOVEEEEED learning your adventures in film! it’s so fascinating! i remember playing on my mom’s film camera when i was a kid and loving it. 🙂 i’d say my favorite thing to photograph is strangers. weird, i know. but i love catching a cool, candid moment of a total stranger in a different scene. i’ll sometimes just take my camera to downtown chapel hill and take pictures. is that weird? maybe. but it’s the truth!

  2. Lauren says:

    oooh so lovely. I’ve been trying to play with film a bit more since that’s what I learned to shoot with, but it’s definitely slow going getting my mind back into the right groove. I’m discovering I love photographing redheads with freckles.

  3. Amanda B. says:

    I love engagements (and always have!) but I am learning more and more that I LOVE product photography.. I feel like I can make art, be creative, and can take my time to get the perfect shot. 🙂 And ridiculous moment here: I have ALWAYS wanted to try shooting with film, but have never had the opportunity! Thanks for posting all your film-love.. it’s fun to watch others with passion!

  4. Anne Schmidt says:

    I know I SHOULD say that my wedding clients are my favorite to shoot. BUT….no offense dear clients, but my favorite person to shoot is my little girl. Her little face, either on film, my iphone or my bulky DSLR brings me so much joy. 🙂

  5. Brianne Fischer says:

    Abby, love your film updates! I just recently started playing with my dads old Pentax 35mm and I love it!! There’s something so dreamy about film. I like taking film of small details and making those the focus of an image, I.e. flower boxes, colorful doors, old ironwork like door handles and landscapes! Can’t wait for more updates thanks for sharing!

  6. Yay- I’ll play! I have a session coming up I wanted to play around with film! My favorite thing to photograph are the little moments- the ones that make our couples come back and say “I didn’t even know you took that!” 🙂

  7. Mia Bjerring says:

    These are great tips, Abby! Thank you for sharing them with us! And I am so wishing for that book FIND for Christmas 🙂 My favourite “things” to photograph are sunsets/sunrises. I just love them so much! Eventually I’d love to photograph some people in those sunsets/sunrises!

  8. Rebekah Hoyt says:

    That shot of the red head is one of my favorites of yours EVER!!! I’m a terrible person and have no idea what my favorite thing to photograph is… seriously. I think aside from weddings, I LOVE shooting landscape panos. I’m such a nerd.

  9. Lindsay says:

    Hi Abby!

    Thanks so much for this post! As an avid film camera collector, I’ve been wanting to get back into shooting film. I started out with film and then transitioned to digital, like everyone else 😉 But I’ve got 30-40 vintage cameras I’ve been saving, along with some expired film, because I want to venture back in the world of film photography.

    And to answer your question, my favorite thing to photograph would have to be dogs. I volunteer for the local Humane Society and photograph their dogs to help get them adopted. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. As an animal lover, it means so much to me that I can help find those animals a home! If I could, I’d bring ’em all home 🙂

    I also really enjoy engagement or couples sessions 🙂
    Thanks for your consideration!
    Lindsay Marie Photography

  10. heather says:

    A beautiful landscape and even better if it has a beautiful couple in it 🙂

  11. Tammy says:

    Film is my first love! I learned on film and am so happy to have found my way back to it. I love to photograph details!! Also I like looking at ordinary objects and finding something interesting. I am interested in photographing more food with film.

  12. Rachel May says:

    I adore anything involving two people and their personal connection. The moments they create together inspire me and give my work real meaning.

  13. Sarah G says:

    Well besides my clients, I love to photograph my family. I’m always the one clicking away at family gatherings, not because I have to but because I want to. Those photos I treasure the most. Your film work is so dreamy girl! You’ve rocked it out in 6 short months!

  14. I love when clients tell me that the images are just like “them” meaning the images express who they are. That is what I want to do with photography. I want to not just take pictures of a pretty face, but expose and celebrate the person and life in an individual. Everyone is so different and i love that!

    Plus, film is freakin’ epic.

  15. Amelia Renee says:

    AHHH! This is so fun! I love contests…and I love the idea of film. Praying I get a camera for Christmas!;) Ok. People! People are my favorite…but I’d have to say my two favorite subjects are my best friend Miranda and my sister Clarissa!

  16. Holly says:

    I love film!! I teach photography at a high school and I have a secret darkroom that I show them how to use. Shhh.

    I like to photograph “things”. Is that too broad? I am not a portrait girl at heart, or a landscape fan, just the every day things you see in life.

  17. Liz says:

    My favorite thing to photograph is nature. Especially in the fall. All of the colors popping out against the trees and everything is just so calm and brilliant. I love it. It’s my favorite to photograph with both my DSLR and my film SLR. Love your shots, Abby! Gorgeous.(:

  18. Erin says:

    My 3 week old daughter…with my iPhone 🙂

  19. Love your posts on film photography! Having learned to shoot on film, it’s something I’ve been wanting to get back into but just haven’t gotten around to it, womp womp. Maybe having film in the house will give me the push I need 😛 As for my favorite thing to photograph, I’d have to say it’s the candid moments between people, I love how absolutely natural those feel!

  20. Joe says:

    Thanks for helping to keep film alive!!!! No matter what I’ve been shooting it seems more exciting when I shoot it on film. Getting that email that your scans are ready for downloading is the best!!

  21. Yuri Long says:

    great post Abby! I absolutely agree with everything you said. am i recalling correctly that you’re still undecided on FIND DC? if so, do it! The book is great (i’ve read it several times), but the workshop is so much more. Totally worth it!

    oh, and i’m terrible at it, but i love photographing people, especially kids (and families) the most 🙂

  22. Jean says:

    I like photographs of my family, especially my grandchildren. As you know, though, I don’t need the film, because I gave my film cameras away!

  23. Jess Porter says:

    My FAVE thing to shoot is couples and weddings!
    And just thought you should know that yourself and a couple other awesome photogs were my inspiration to also start shooting film a bit.
    I’m LOVING it!!! 🙂

  24. Faith says:

    I love photographing love, especially of a bride and groom on their wedding day! 🙂 I love my DSLR, but I would love to experiment with film! 🙂 Your recent work with film has been absolutely GORGEOUS! 🙂 Love it!

  25. Bethany Ann says:

    This was so helpful!! Loved it. I want to start shooting some film soon-ish so I really enjoyed this. 🙂

  26. Ali W. says:

    film film film. love shooting the beach. it’s my simple little dream to shoot a beach wedding. i could photograph the water forever. put a bride in front of it, and you have perfection 🙂

  27. My favorite thing to photograph is horses on my Contax 645! This summer I had 2 little baby horses in my pasture and I LOVED shooting the little guys on medium format! All of the pretty bokeh and pastel colors made the fillies that much more precious.

  28. […] have quite the range of shutter speed for my style of shooting, and then when I read what Abby Grace wrote about the Canon A2E and how you could use all of your existing Canon EOS lenses on it, I […]

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