Photographing on film is an old-school way of capturing moments. But its popularity has returned in the last few years. Film photography is an irreplaceable technique because it’s the foundation of photography.
If you’re looking to capture images on film, look no further. We look at cameras, processes, and techniques to make it all possible.
What Is Film Photography?
Film photography is where it all began. Before the birth of digital photography, we all took photographs on strips of plastic with layers of emulsion. Further back from that, photographers used glass and metal sheets that played both the role of light carrier and print.
These strips come with a coating of a silver halide solution that’s protected by a layer of gelatin. The photographs we took burned an imprint into the silver. To get a negative out of this, chemicals and washes stripped the plastic of all its coating. This reveals a reversed image.
Dark areas of the scene would show up as transparent on the negative. The grain or “noise” we see from higher ISOs comes from the size of the silver pieces. The bigger the pieces, the better they were at capturing light. But that also meant they were big enough to see.
Film photography is all about having a physical element with the possibility of experimentation. It relies on the process of conscious image-making because you have a limited number of frames. It is also time-consuming due to the developing and scanning process.
These days, film photography is making a huge comeback. There are plenty of reasons why you should shoot film. There are a lot of online communities, collectives, and groups on social media. You can even find hashtags like #filmisnotdead where people aim to bring film photography back to life.
Why Should You Try Film Photography
You don’t really need me to tell you the difference between analog and digital. Film came first, then the digital revolution followed. Digital cameras were built from the exact same mechanics of SLRs.
The biggest advantage of film photography is that it offers you a way to learn. Most analog film cameras are fully manual. This means you have to adjust all the settings yourself.
There are many disadvantages, but these are only relevant when comparing to the DSLRs of today. The quality of your negatives can surpass your DSLR if you have the right camera and scanner.
What analog photography offers you is a plethora of great cameras to choose from. These cameras are specific to their time and their location. There are also great lenses that you can even mount on DSLRs with adapters.
Digital cameras don’t have a look about them. Nor do they have a feel of a culture or a time. And they don’t last nearly as long as film cameras. But continue reading to see why you should give film photography a shot!
The benefits of film photography are what got people shooting in the first place. Back in the day, scientists and documentarians used the camera as a tool.
Then cameras found their way into the hands of studio photographers, documentarians, and artists. Without film photography, digital photography would not have been born. Likewise, Adobe Photoshop was born from struggles that Thomas Knoll found when dodging and burning in the darkroom.
Many photographers use digital to capture their street photography images. But there are still a few who prefer to use film for all street photography.
There are a few reasons for this. Not only does film offer a hands-on product. It’s also very forgiving in the way it captures highlights.
There are some great cameras that only work with film. For example, the Mamiya C330 TLR. This style of medium format camera works well for candid captures.
Whatever the reason, there are many benefits to using film for street photography.
General Tips for Film Photography
Film photography is different from its digital counterpart in many ways. One of the biggest differences is how we expose a scene.
In film photography, it is better to overexpose. It is easier to bring the exposure down later. You’re able to push or pull a film if you would like to change the exposure while developing.
In digital photography, the opposite works better. Underexposing a scene allows you to pull details out of the shadows.
Are you a photographer who likes using film? Perhaps you aren’t exactly sure why. The hands-on approach is very alluring.
If you think you’re alone, you couldn’t be more wrong. There are many photographers out there who still use film. And there are many film photography communities that you can join and follow.
For inspiration on what to photograph, you’ve come to the right place. These 25 photographers will have you up and on your feet in no time.
How to Choose Film Photography Equipment
Luckily for you, there are many cheap film cameras that you can buy today. And there are even cheaper second-hand options. Even though the camera body is important, you should get a good lens first.
As the digital market came, photographers ran to DSLRs. They up and left their analog counterparts to sit on the shelf. This gives you the opportunity to purchase various film equipment for a relatively low price. But be aware that the popularity of film cameras is increasing! This means prices are going up, too.
Not owning one shouldn’t stop us from buying and using other great cameras. The ones on our list had their time. And now they’re ready for their revival.
Have a look at the others and see which ones grab your fancy.
One of the challenges you might come across when shooting film is not having a light meter reading.
Some cameras have them built-in. But others have no way of telling you if the scene is over or underexposed. This is where a handheld light meter comes in handy.
Light meters work in two different ways. They operate as a reflected light meter or an incident light meter. Reflected looks at how much light is reflected from the subject.
An incident light meter looks at how much light hits the subject. It measures the light between the camera and the subject. This also works with flash lighting.
How to Choose Photography Film
Kodak, Ilford, Rollei. There are so many black and white 35mm films to choose from. It can be daunting. It would be impossible to give you the details and comparisons of them all.
A great image doesn’t just come from your choice of film. It also comes from what you capture. Or if you prefer to under or overexpose the film.
The developer also plays a huge part in how the final negative turns out. Then on top of that, you still have to print or scan the image and post-process the images.
Here’s our article on the best black and white 35mm films.
One great thing about film photography is that there are still so many different types of film to use.
The downside of film photography is also the overwhelming amount of choice. And the choice can be daunting.
The questions you first need to ask are 35mm or 120mm (medium format film)? Color or black and white? Low or high ISO?
Different sites offer different alternatives. Here’s our article with all the online locations for purchasing film.
Which Camera Settings Should You Use?
This cheat sheet is to help you get started with film photography. If you know the basics of film photography, you also know the basics of digital photography.
But film photography can be much more difficult and challenging than digital photography.
This cheat sheet features the exposure triangle—film speed (ISO), aperture (f-stop), and shutter speed. All three of these things work together to create the perfect exposure.
Your camera settings for film photography are going to be familiar. They are similar to what you would use for digital photography.
Knowing how to manually adjust these three settings will help your film photography.
We looked at handheld light meters above. But if you don’t have one, there’s another option.
The other option is adopting the Sunny-16 rule. This rule works at noon when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.
The first setting you should choose in sunlight is f/16. The shutter speed should be set as close to your ISO as possible. For example, using f/16 and ISO 200 gives you a shutter speed of 1/250 s.
The benefit of this system is that you don’t have to keep those settings. They are just a good base to work from.
If you wanted to move your aperture down five stops to f/2.8, then your shutter speed needs to go up 5 stops. This is exposure compensation—the wider aperture adds light, but the increased shutter speed lets less light in.
Tips for Darkroom And Developing
Film Developing Tank
Not only is it easy to process your own negatives at home, it’s also a lot of fun. The anticipation builds as you follow a few easy steps.
First off, you need to find a way to get the film out of its canister. Next, you need to put it into a developing tank. But this must happen in pitch blackness because the film is still sensitive to light.
Once the film is in the developing tank, you need a chemical called the “developer.” Then you add water and another chemical called the “fixer.”
The developing tank holds your film and allows the chemicals to work. By agitating the chemicals, you turn the film into a negative.
A darkroom is where you process your negatives into prints. A negative is a reverse image of the scene you captured.
The blacks are whites and vice versa. The negative acts as a template that allows light through it and onto light-sensitive paper.
A dark room consists of two areas—one for dry processes and another for wet processes.
The dry areas are where an enlarger exposes your negative onto the paper. The wet area is where you process and wash your paper with chemicals.
Here is all you need to know about how to build a darkroom.
Printing your first black and white image is an experience you can’t explain. All the hard work and training has lead right to this point.
The basic idea is that you take your negatives into the darkroom and place them into the enlarger.
This expands the projected image that falls through the negative. The light-sensitive paper picks up the different intensities of light and produces a positive print.
You can see this after you process the print in the developer chemical.
Our article goes into detail about how to develop black and white film at home.
How to Experiment With Film Photography
Pushing and pulling film refers to up-rating or down-rating your film to a higher or lower exposure.
This can happen during the shooting stage or the printing stage.
When you are pushing the film, you let your film stay in the developing bath for longer.
On the other hand, pulling means you keep it in the bath for a shorter time. There are certain measures for that depending on the film and the chemicals. But all the information you need is written on the film and developing liquid.
Here’s our article on pull and push film processing.
Using expired film has become a very trendy and popular way to photograph for a few years now. This is because the expired film presents color shifts.
The effects of heat and background radiation cause gradual damage to the film. But extending its life is as simple as sticking them in a fridge. And putting your film in the freezer will extend its life by decades.
These color shifts add those interesting filter effects and color tones. The best thing about them is that there is no way of telling how much the color has changed and shifted.
Different type of film presents you with a different shift in color. Sometimes you buy one and you end up with terrible pictures. It’s all about trial and error, which makes the whole process very exciting.
Photographic film starts as a negative. This is the reverse of the captured scene. It becomes reversed again when printed from an enlarger.
A negative creates a positive print, but positive paper exists to create a negative print. This allows you to capture a scene as it is and skip enlarging the image in the darkroom.
This is something that you can use with large format cameras and pinhole cameras.
Double exposure is a process of layering two images on top of each other. This can happen in either the photographing, developing, or even printing stage.
Some cameras, such as the Mamiya C330 TLR, have a built-in option to create many exposures. Or with certain cameras, you can manually expose the film as many times as you want by not advancing the film.
Not every camera automatically advances the film onto the next negative. For most 35mm film cameras, this is an easy way to create double exposures.
DIY Film Photography
If you are one of those awesome photographers that still shoots film, a light box is a necessary tool.
A light box will help you look at your negatives closely. This is great for the preselection process before printing or scanning. It will save you time and money.
The good news is that it’s easy to make one. Maybe you have an old table you can repurpose. Or maybe you’ll need to buy some cheap parts to use.
This article has everything you need to know about making your own light box.
If the experimental side of photography interests you, this post is for you. You will see a few photographers have taken it upon themselves to create their own cameras.
They created their own devices to fit their style. And believe us, there are a few unique shooting devices out there.
This is a great way to add interest to your work because no one has the same tool to capture the same things!
Hopefully this article on handmade cameras gets your creative juices flowing.
How to Digitize Film
Even though you love the analog aspect of film photography, you might still want to digitalize your negatives. This ensures that you have a copy of your negative.
It also allows you to post-process the negatives further. Working in programs like Lightroom allows experimentation with layers and local adjustments.
A digital version of your image allows you to share your shot on social media. It also lets you decide whether or not you want a physical print. When it comes to film photography, a film scanner is the best way to get your images onto your computer.
VueScan is a program that allows you to scan and digitize your film photography. This software is available for both Windows and MacOS systems.
It is important to find joy in the processes behind film photography. You will have to do mundane tasks repeatedly. Scanning your negatives is one of these tasks, so you have to make it enjoyable.
If you don’t like the program that comes with your scanner, give this software a try.
Digitizing your processed negatives has many benefits. For one, it means you don’t need to mess around with a darkroom.
This is something that some companies and labs can do for you. If you already have a scanner, you can do it yourself. (It’s cheaper this way!)
Read our article here for the step-by-step guide to digitizing film photos. You’ll be able to digitize your images in no time!
If it’s the film look you are after, you don’t have to shoot on film. There are many processes you can use to replicate it.
Our article above shows you how to obtain that atmosphere of an image shot on film by using Lightroom. It’s all about the local adjustments.
Why should you do it in Lightroom? Well, it saves the hassle of shooting on film in the first place. You can also use presets to achieve a film look.
Here’s our complete guide to using Lightroom.
Film photography involves loads of physical processes that need research and practice. It’s also an amazing way of getting in touch with the origins of photography.
We hope that these processes and tips motivate you to utilize the full potential of film photography.