Starting Film Photography? Read This.

5 Things New Film Shooters Should Know

Olympus OM10 Film Camera with Kodak Color Film

With the continuing increase in popularity, there has been a renewed interest in film photography over the last few years. A lot of people are discovering the magic of taking pictures on film and some are even moving away from shooting with digital cameras altogether.

Shooting film can be a rewarding experience, but there is a slight learning curve that can be a little bit intimidating for beginners. So, in this short article, I’d like to offer some (hopefully) helpful advice to anyone beginning their film photography journey.

1. Where to start

There are so many types of film cameras available since they have been used for decades as the main medium to capture photographs. A quick search on Google or eBay for ‘film camera’ can return thousands of results, which may probably seem overwhelming when you’re trying to find your first camera. 

Something to consider when looking for a film camera is that you don’t need the best one ever made (which in my opinion is the Nikon F3, but I digress) or the most popular model that everyone shoots. You just need the best camera for someone who is starting out. The best fit for you.

With this in mind, I would suggest looking at two types of cameras- either instant cameras or 35mm point and shoots

Both types are easy to operate and can be found super cheap in the used market. Most importantly, they each have auto-exposure controls, so the camera takes care of the hardest part for you when you’re taking a photo. 

Since digital cameras now dominate the photography market, a lot of films have been discontinued by manufacturers like Kodak and Fuji. The benefit of shooting either 35mm or instant film is that both of these formats are still widely available and easily accessible today.

2. Learn how to load film into your camera

For people who have only shot digital cameras, loading film can be somewhat of a mystery. It’s important to know that film is sensitive to light, and your pictures can be ruined or come out blank if it’s not loaded correctly. So becoming familiar with getting your camera setup is something that you’ll need to know how to do.

Loading instant film packs is pretty user-friendly and self-explanatory, but 35mm might seem tricky at first because there are a few extra steps. It’s never a bad idea to RTFM (read the f*cking manual) and thanks to the wonders of the interwebs most manuals are available for free online if your camera didn’t come with one.  

Loading a roll of 35mm in most cameras is a pretty similar process though. For a step-by-step walk though, you might want to check out these videos on how to load film in point and shoots or loading film in manual SLRs.

3. Great photos are everywhere, so be ready

This next tip isn’t specific to just shooting film, but it’s no less important. One of the coolest things about photography is how it makes us see the world differently. Small details and things that we wouldn’t have otherwise noticed before now all seem like a photo opportunity.

That’s why I’ve gotten into the habit of taking along a small point and shoot with me everywhere, so I can easily grab a shot when I come across something interesting throughout the day. Not every photo needs to be a big production- quick snapshots can be as memorable as a studio portrait.

Carrying a pocketable camera and capturing everyday moments turns photography into a never-ending hunt for the next ‘best’ shot, and I want to be prepared!

4. Learn about composition

Sometimes you’ll look at a photo and instantly like it. Something about it just ‘works’. It draws you in and holds your interest.

The reason that the picture grabs your attention most likely is that it has good compositional elements. You may have heard of the “rule of thirds”, or things like “foreground” and “background”. Composition is the way that things are arranged and positioned in your photos, and it really does help make images more interesting to the viewer. 

Composing a scene for the best visual impact is something that takes time to learn, but eventually, it becomes like a second nature when you’re shooting. Knowing exactly where to put people or things of interest in your frame will dramatically improve your images. Even on-the-fly photos like quick snapshots and street photography can look more exciting with good composition.

Be forewarned, though- learning about composition is a rabbit hole that can go pretty deep. Here’s an excellent book to check out if you want an in-depth resource of usable techniques.

5. Shoot more film, together

It’s really a cliche saying, but “practice makes perfect”. Especially in film photography.

After you get your camera and have shot a few rolls of film, you may want to consider joining a photo 365 or 52-week challenge.

When I first got into photography the one thing that helped me improve the most was committing to taking a photo-a-day for an entire year. 

If a daily or weekly challenge seems like too much of a time commitment or the expense won’t fit your budget (film isn’t cheap!) another option is completing monthly challenges. There’s a FIMF Flickr group that’s just getting started, and you’re welcome to be a part of the community and join the monthly photo challenges over there.

Another huge benefit of being part of a photo group is receiving support and feedback on your photos from other photographers. An objective opinion from someone else can sometimes help us see things we otherwise may not have in our photos.

The journey never ends

Eventually, you’ll master that first point and shoot or instant camera, and want to move on to see what else is out there.

If you’re the type of person who likes trying out new gear you’ll never get bored shooting film. Camera companies have been manufacturing film equipment for decades, so there is a never-ending treasure trove of stuff to explore.

Multiple camera brands with hundreds of models have been released over the years. There’s a huge selection to choose from ranging from small handheld cameras that shoot 110 or 35mm film all the way up to larger formats like 4×5 and 8×10 view cameras. The only way to sort through it all is to try out different stuff, and see what you like. 

To wrap things up, I hope you found something helpful in this article. Once you get going and want to learn some other techniques, here is a playlist of videos with the beginner in mind.

Probably the most important advice anyone can offer someone who’s starting out is to just have fun. Jump in, experiment, and make mistakes. They’ll always be another roll to shoot.

This article contains affiliate links to Amazon products.

Kodak 35mm Point and Shoot F9 Film Camera

Kodak Portra 35mm Film (5 pack)

Fuji Instax Wide Instant Camera w Film

Polaroid Now+ Instant Camera

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