Ultimate Film Photography Tips for Beginner Creatives

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From equipment to analog camera setups, here are some secret photography tips that beginners can use to start shooting more analog photography.

There’s a reason why classics are classic. When it comes to photography, analog is still a hit today. Sure, digital makes a lot of things easier. For one, it’s much cheaper to process compared to buying rolls and rolls of film. It’s also less time-consuming. If you’re not happy with the shot, simply delete it. With film, you’ll have to first develop the negatives, and only then will you know exactly what that shot looks like. Once it’s developed, there’s no turning back. There’s no “un-developing” it.

Contact SheetA contact sheet is frequently used to make selections in film photography. Image by Petukhov Anton.

That being said, there’s something about the slow process of film that’s so gratifying for creative artists. In today’s article, we’ll share film photography tips for beginners who are interested in learning more and want to try film for the first time.

What is Film Photography?

Also referred to as analog, film photography remains very much alive these days. It was the only type of photography known for years, but as the digital trend started to rise, it spawned a need to name it something more specific. Hence, digital and analog—or film—photography.

Tintype PhotographyA Tintype is a type of film photograph processed on a wet plate. Image by Ursula Ferrara.

This method uses plates, often metal, as well as film. The image is shot by capturing light using sensitive silver particles. Once processed chemically, the image will remain on the film or plate. While it’s still very possible to use metal as a medium for analog photography, many folks today stick with film. In case you’re wondering, yes, there are analog cameras still available on the market. And, of course, in thrift shops and vintage stores.

Film Photography Equipment for Beginners

Now, we get it. Film photography can be overwhelming at first. The first time you step into a camera shop, the selection of cameras alone is enough to make your jaw drop. For natural light photographer Schaun Champion, any analog camera is a “good camera to start with, but I personally think the Pentax K1000 is a good intro camera for beginners.” Heavily influenced by vintage style and working as a photographer full-time since 2014, she mentioned that, aside from online shops like B&H and eBay, you might also want to check your local antique shops to find some starter 35mm cameras.

Find the Right CameraFinding the right camera is the first step in your journey into film photography. Image by bogdandimages.

What Are 35mm Film Cameras? 

In short, 35mm refers to the kind of film a camera takes. Most film photographers start with a 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera as they’re the most widely available, and easiest to find and develop film from. 

Finding Used 35mm Film Cameras

Non-binary multidisciplinary artist Callie Lugosi is another photographer who considers thrift shops a great source for analog SLRs and point and shoots. But, they did warn against “getting too excited about anything you find,” and suggested testing it first with a cheap roll of film before purchasing. They also noted how beginners should double check on whether the camera they’re eyeballing needs batteries or not.

Thirty-five Milometer Film CamerasThirty-five milometer film cameras can be found at many used or vintage shops. Image by Dreava Bogdan / Westend61.

You may also want to pay attention to the lens of the camera you’re getting. Some analog cameras have interchangeable lenses and some don’t. The Mamiya C330, which was first introduced in 1969, is probably among the most common analog cameras with interchangeable lenses. Aside from lenses, it’s also worth exploring other useful equipment like light meters, film scanners, lens wipes, and maybe even a film rewinder. 

Choosing Film for Beginners

Let’s dive into film for a bit. How exactly do you choose film, and what options do you have? Well, that depends on many things. If you have an SLR camera or single-lens reflex, you most likely need a 35mm film, as that’s the kind of film used by most SLRs. If you have a medium format camera, you probably need a 120mm film. Medium format cameras are a bit more technical to use and harder to develop, so check with your local camera shop or developing studio to ensure they can process the film before purchasing this type of camera.

Types of FilmThere are a lot of different options for the types of film you can use. Image by Mooi Designs.

Then, we have the options between black and white and colored films. If you want to shoot in color, Fuji and Kodak Gold are two great choices for film. For black and white, you’ll never go wrong with Ilford HP5. Kodak, of course, also offers B&W films alongside other brands.

Keep in mind that not all films are the same. Some will give you a grainier look than others, so we suggest you get to know your films by Googling and asking your local camera shop.

Basic Film Camera Settings for Beginners

When it comes to camera settings, Champion suggests to “study the exposure triangle,” as well as familiarize yourself with the light. Unlike digital, film has a more intertwined and unique relationship with light, so to speak.

Camera Set-UpKnowing how to set up your camera is an important step in shooting film. Image by Wavebreak Media.

There are a lot of cheat sheets on the internet for camera settings, but one Lugosi highlighted was the way we see our cameras. They encourage folks to think of their camera as an eyeball. “The aperture opens up wide to absorb all available light, like the iris of your eyes in the dark. A wide-open aperture is the lowest number it can go. The bigger the number, the less light you let in and the smaller the physical mechanisms are,” they explained.

Experimenting with Film

If you think analog photography is boring compared to all the photo editing apps and softwares you can download, think again. Creativity and experimentation are at a whole new level when it comes to film photography.

Push and Pull Film Photography

One of the most common experiments would be the Push and Pull, which you can do both during the shoot and after, or during the film development stage. Push and Pull is more commonly used during the development stage. This technique involves over-developing films a.k.a. Push (ing) when they’re underexposed or under-developing films a.k.a. Pull (ing) when they’re overexposed.

Double Exposure Film Photography

Another is double exposure, which is present in many editing apps these days. But, while your smartphone allows you to play around with it easily, it takes a bit of a learning curve when doing double exposure in film cameras. Which is to say, it’s more experimental and fun.

Both colored and black and white negative films work well for double exposures. This photography technique requires that you underexpose each frame, cutting the exposure in half if you’re shooting two frames. You can do this by slowing down your aperture and increasing the shutter speed. You may also experiment with shooting with expired films and developing in cross process. The bottom line is that there are numerous ways to be creative with analog.

Double Exposure TechniqueDouble exposures is a popular technique photographers use when shooting film. Image by Eugenio Marongiu / Westend61.

Can You Submit Film Images to Stock? 

It can be a tricky process, but it’s doable. And, as Lugosi puts it, “it depends on what kind of time and budget you’re working with.” Fact is, working with film can be expensive, especially when compared to digital. Not to mention it can also be more time consuming.

However, Lugosi highlighted that, “film has an undeniable tactility to it and that can occasionally aid in telling whatever story you’re trying to tell with a photograph.” Depending on your goals, this could make digitizing your analog shots and submitting them to stock photography worthwhile.

High Resolution Film ImagesYou can send high-resolution film images to stock. Image by Eneko Aldaz.

Learning how to develop your own film is a great way to lessen the expenses. Of course, it requires time. Building a darkroom and developing your own film at home isn’t something you learn overnight. But, it’s a big help. Champion says, “all perspectives are needed and the beauty of shooting on film is that it requires a little more intention,” adding that, “being in the moment is more important than ever.” That said, film is the perfect medium not only to learn more about yourself as a photographer, but to also learn how to produce shots in a more intentional way.

Famous Film Photographers

And, for more inspiration, you can’t go wrong with famous film photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Steve McCurry. Leibovitz is a modern film photographer who has shot portraits of multiple celebrities. She is known for her unique lighting style. McCurry, on the other hand, is a National Geographic photographer known for his powerful portrait shots. One of the most popular was the famous “Afghan Girl.”

Photographer Annie LeibovitzCelebrated portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz specializes in shooting film. Editorial Image by James Gourley/ Shutterstock.

Today, many younger individuals are hungry for film photography tips. Many are inclined to discover classic ways of doing various creative activities, like photography. For Champion, the part of film photography she loves the most is the imperfection. “I think we’ve become so used to digital photographs, we forget what it’s like to appreciate the blurs, the change in color of expired film, the true captures of moments that can’t just be deleted and tried again,” she shares, adding that it’s “a bit like life.”

Lugosi, on the other hand, is all about the process. They shared that anyone can learn how to develop in their own darkroom and, after years of working, developing film has become “an automatic” for them. “Kind of an extension of my body, at that point,” as they described it.

No doubt, analog photography is far from dying. 

Cover image by Nicole Mason.

Looking for more inspiration on what to shoot? Check out these articles:

Creating Cinematic Images That Are Moody and Film-LikeWhat is Stock? A Guide to Creating with Stock PhotographyDigital Model and Property Releases for Shutterstock ContributorsFinding the Female Gaze in Photography and MediaFrom Natural to Homemade: Choosing the Right Background for Your Photography

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