My love affair with photography began with falling head over heels for analog photography- a college darkroom was all it took to get me hooked. But for those of you who don’t have a background with film, it can be REALLY intimidating to get started! The fear of messing up could keep you from ever starting in the first place, so here’s a super basic “Getting Started on Film: 101” post for you!
Step 1: Obtain a film camera! This could be your mom’s Canon AE-1, a simple 35mm camera from ebay or Amazon, or renting a medium format camera from something like Contax Rental. 35mm is going to be the easiest transition for digital shooters since the frame dimensions will be the same. For medium format (MF) beginners, I recommend a “645” camera- your frames will be 6cm x 4.5 cm, so less rectangular than a typical 35mm frame.
Step 2: Obtain some film. If you’re shooting on a 35mm camera, you’ll need 35mm film- roughly 36 exposures per roll. If you’re shooting on a MF camera, you’ll need a few rolls of 120 film. If you’re shooting on a 645-type camera (i.e. the Contax 645, Mamiya 645, etc), you’ll have 16 exposures per roll. I recommend purchasing film through Amazon or B&H!
My favorite film stock is Fuji 400H, with Kodak’s Portra 400 being a close second! Both films behave way differently when it comes to saturation, color tones, reaction to overexposure, so don’t be afraid to play around with several different film stocks! There’s no right answer, it’s whatever you personally prefer.
Step 3: Purchase FIND In A Box. I used to recommend the book version, Film Is Not Dead (aka “FIND”), but Jonathan Canlas (the author) just came out with FIND In A Box (FIAB) and it blows the book out of the water. I met Jonathan at WPPI last month and told him the book had been my Bible for learning film, and he laughed and told me the new workshop-in-a-box is way better.
He wasn’t lying- I bought FIAB and have learned SO much!! It’s everything you could ever want to know about shooting film, plus access to a super active FB group that Jonathan keeps up with regularly. I’ve been shooting film for four years now, on and off, and I’ve learned more than I thought possible with the new education he released.
Step 4: Obtain a light meter, and start shooting. Read your newly acquired FIND In A Box, and then go put it to practice. Don’t be afraid- just get STARTED. I do not advise starting with a paying client- try it out first either during a shoot you set up for yourself, or throughout everyday life. Photos of your kids, your dog, an outing with family, whatever. No pressure = freedom to experiment, and little to no repercussions if the film doesn’t turn out the way you were hoping! A light meter is essential for getting accurate results from the get-go. I use the Sekonic 358 and love it! (HERE‘s a similar model)
Step 5: Send that film to a quality lab, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Don’t be discouraged if your first batch of scans isn’t what you were hoping for- some of my first rolls were really bad. But if start off by reading FIAB, you’re much less likely to waste money on bad film photographs, since you’re no longer starting from ground zero :). I’ve used both The FIND Lab and Indie Film Lab in the past- both are amazing!
Just a fun heads up that a few of the links above are affiliate links that help make it possible for us to offer my Photog Friday posts each week! You guys know I only share products and companies that I believe in and trust, so know that I’ll always send you to sources I count on as reliable!
Go HERE for a post explaining when I shoot film
…and HERE for a post explaining when I shoot digital instead
Check out more of my film work HERE