Shooting film when you’ve grown up in a digital world can feel a little daunting and be exciting at the same time. I started shooting film seriously when I bought my Canon EOS 1N whilst travelling in Kyoto in Japan in 2013, and I’ve been addicted ever since. It’s been a journey of trial and error and there’s certain things I’ve learnt along the way that are great basics for a beginner film shooter.
1 – CHOOSE THE CORRECT FILM
Choosing the correct film is the first step in producing amazing images. First, think about what and where you’ll be shooting – are you going to the local theme park or will you be photographing your friends in Rome? This will determine whether you want colour or black and white film, and what colour tones of film you want to go for. There’s plenty of different films out there to choose from so it can be pretty overwhelming when you’re starting out. Here are my general guidelines:
Kodak Portra 160 & 400 – natural colour reproduction, perfect for portraits as it provides soft, warm skin tones.
Kodak GC/Ultramax 400 – a cheap option if you’re just starting out, a more vibrant version of Portra.
Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400 – natural colour reproduction with cooler tones, super fine grain and high sharpness.
Fujifilm Velvia 100 – highly saturated and vibrant, great for sunny days and landscapes. Must be developed at a professional lab.
Black & White:
Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros – relatively high in contrast with super fine grain and high sharpness.
Kodak Tri-X 400 – great all-round B&W which responds well to push processing.
Ilford XP2 Super 400 – soft tones, with amazing dynamic range.
Check out our Film Features to see the results I’ve got from a range of different films.
2 – DECIDE ON YOUR FILM SPEED
Remember when you choose your film you can’t change your ISO halfway through, so think about what you’re going to want to shoot before you load your camera. Slow film (50, 100, 200) will give you better resolution images with finer grain, great for landscapes or when you want to use a large aperture. Fast film (400, 800, 1600 or even 3200) will give you more grain and a lot more sensitivity. 400 is great for most situations while still keeping grain to a minimum, and is my most used film speed. Now remember, some older film cameras have a maximum shutter speed of as low as 1/500 or 1/1000, so make sure you consider that when choosing your film. If you’re unsure, think about what your settings would be if you were shooting digital to give you an idea of what will work for you.3 – EXPOSURE
I’ve found film often benefits from being over exposed (except slide film), so when I first load my roll, I adjust my ISO so that my camera is shooting one to two stops over exposed. For example, if I’m shooting ISO 400 film, I set the camera to ISO 200 to give me +1, so a full stop over. Then shoot as per normal but alway meter for the shadows. This will result in much nicer colours with more shadow detail. Film has massive dynamic range so you don’t need to worry about blowing out the sky. If you’re using a camera which doesn’t allow you to shift the ISO, work with your exposure compensation dial to meter one to two stops over. Kodak Portra and Ilford XP2 especially work well using this method.
4 – DOWNLOAD A SMARTPHONE METER
Not all film cameras have a built-in meter and those that do can lose accuracy over time, so definitely download the free Pocket Light Meter from the app store. I’ve found it to be extremely accurate and is great for just checking if your camera is reading correctly, or to meter for each and every one of your shots. It has a log function that allows you to save each photo, so when you get your film back you can see the settings you used and decide if next time you’d want to adjust your exposure, which can be done with the exposure compensation function in the app.5 – CONCENTRATE ON YOUR COMPOSITION
Remember each shot is costing you around $1 so make sure every frame counts. Take your time, think about each and every element in your photo, and don’t press the shutter button until you’re happy with what you’re seeing through your viewfinder. See our 7 Composition Tips For Creating an Incredible Photograph.
*film does have an expiration date if kept at room temperature so store it in the fridge and it will last for years
Have you guys got any film tips? I’d love to hear them – I’m still learning as I go!