With the prevalence of digital cameras and cell phones with built-in cameras, it’s easy to forget that there are still film cameras out there. Shooting with film is popular among artists and traditionalists and you can easily find new and vintage film cameras to practice with.
Know Your Camera
The most important thing about shooting with film is to know your camera. With a digital camera, you see your image immediately and can take multiple shots until you get it just right. With a film camera, you won’t see your image until it’s developed, so the better you understand your camera, the better chance you have of taking a quality image.
Every camera is different and the best way learn about the settings for your particular camera is to read the manual. There are, however, some general concepts to understand that apply to all film cameras as well as digital cameras.
Your camera is made up of a camera body and lenses. The camera body is a lightproof box, designed to keep film protected from light until the shutter is pressed. The shutter is a spring-loaded button that regulates the entrance of light through a small circular hole called the aperture. The lenses are pieces of glass made to direct light to the back of the camera. Depending on how a lens is shaped, the distance the light needs to travel will vary. The millimeter specification of a lens indicates this distance and is often referred to as focal length. When light hits the film, it causes a chemical reaction that recreates the image onto the film and the film is then developed to produce a picture.
There are many brands and types of film to choose from. Different brands will react differently in different cameras. The only way to know how a brand will behave in your camera with your settings is to experiment.
When deciding on the type of film to use, first you’ll want to pick from black and white versus color. Black and white is a good option for beginners because it can be more forgiving if you overexpose your shot.
Other easy decisions when selecting film are the number of shots and whether you want prints or slides.
Next, you need to decide on the ISO, which is sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to light. If you are shooting in low light environments, you may choose a higher ISO. A faster film will allow you to capture a subject in worse light, however, the trade-off is that your picture will have a grainy appearance. In general, 400 is a versatile ISO to start with because it works well with a wide range of lighting conditions.
When selecting film, it is important to keep in mind that your print results will vary depending on film brand, your camera, settings, light, developing chemicals, and processing time. You may have to experiment to find out what works best for you.
Aperture is the diameter of the lens opening that lets in light. The aperture is expressed as a fraction of focal length and is known as f-stop. As the f-stop goes down, the number gets bigger, and the aperture hole gets smaller. In order to take sharply focused pictures, you need as much light as possible so the f-stop goes up, the number gets smaller, and the aperture gets bigger. In dimly lit areas, it’s best to choose a low f-stop number, opening the aperture to its biggest size.
The f-stop affects depth of field which is balanced by using a combination of ISO (film speed) and shutter speed to provide the correct exposure while achieving the depth of field desired.
A light meter can be very helpful for shooting film, especially for portraits. A light meter measures the amount of light in a scene. When shooting film photography, a light meter can help you set the exposure time. When using a film camera, a light meter becomes far more important due to expensive film and processing costs.
Shutter speed controls the amount of light by setting how fast the shutter opens and closes. This makes it possible to adjust the length of time the film is exposed to the light. A fast shutter speed is helpful to catch a crisp action shot. A slower shutter speed can create “motion blur” which is a blurring effect that creates a sense of motion. Slow shutter speed can also help light up a dim environment by capturing more of the natural light. If using shutter speed to light up a stationary picture such as a landscape it is recommended that you also use a tripod as the extended length of exposure is susceptible to also capturing slight movement and without a tripod, you will likely end up with an unintended blurred shot.
One of the most important elements of film photography is developing the film. Make sure you choose a reputable lab to develop your prints or you can develop your prints yourself. You want a lab that uses de-ionized water and manages a professional chemical replenishment system. They should guarantee quality and consistency by running routine daily checks on temperature, PH, and color balance.
Every camera and combination of techniques will produce different results. The best way to find out what works with your particular camera is to experiment with different films and settings. You also may want to experiment with different cameras. Many brands are much more affordable than their digital counterparts and they are available new and used.
Keep a journal of what combinations you used so once your prints come in you can look up the settings used to produce the results you like best. With film, you will have to wait until your prints come back and you may not remember the settings you used. Because of this delay, you will find yourself taking more time composing your shot – putting more effort into framing, lighting, and mood. As a result, you will see an improvement in your overall photography even if you switch back to digital.