Here at Shoot it with Film, our entire mission is to be a source of education, creativity, and collaboration to the analog photography community.
When I first got into photography, I had so many questions. About everything.
I had begun to find tons of people online who were creating amazing work, but found that many times they were hard to get in contact with when it came to asking for a tip, an opinion, or general advice.
Anything I’ve learned about photography, and specifically film photography, can be directly attributed to the willingness of people (whom I had never met before!) to share educational information with me.
That kindness and generosity that was shown to me by complete strangers has directly influenced my trajectory in photography and is truly what makes the film photography community so unique.
Film photography and community are two inseparable concepts.
In the spirit of community and readily accessible education, I reached out to some photography buddies, many of whom are the same people who shared their knowledge of photography with me when I was first beginning, and asked them a simple question:
What is your favorite film photography tip?
These are artists I deeply respect, and I hope that as you read through this compilation of knowledge supplied by friends in the community that you can glean something that will help you out in your own photographic journey and allow you to turn around and help someone else out who may be struggling.
Film Photography Tip #1 – From Han Phan:
The first tip for shooting film comes from Han (@hawnfawn), an amazing photographer and all around advocate for film photography.
Don’t be afraid to invest in and try expired or discontinued film. Some of these [film stocks] weren’t advertised as being stored properly, and I didn’t even like the images I saw of Kodak Portra NC, but after giving multiple expired stocks a try, I was thoroughly surprised.
Shooting expired film can be an excellent way to limit costs when shooting film, and it also can be a tool to experiment creatively. Expired films can sometimes act differently than new film due to color shifts and fading that come with the age of the film.
Don’t listen to the YouTube film bros. Shoot what you want to shoot! What really matters is that you’re out there making images. Just because it’s the most talked about camera or process doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for your own personal workflow. Start where you can. The only thing that matters is the work you produce, not what you produce it with.
Daniel makes a huge point. There are hundreds and hundreds of film cameras out there just waiting to be discovered and shot, yet the internet will sometimes make it seem like only a few select cameras and lenses are worth using.
I encourage you to experiment and shoot with what you have and to try cameras out just for the sake of experimentation. Not every tool we use has to be the most popular tool out there on the market.
This brings us to our next tip by Ashlee (@ashleetough), an amazing portrait photographer based out of Perth.
Equipment nor film stocks are what makes the photographer. And it’s okay if you can’t afford lighting, backdrops, the best camera, or if Portra/Cinestill is too expensive for you. It’s what you create with what you have available to you and the love for film photography that’s important. Everything else is a matter of resourcefulness, so don’t get discouraged by comparing yourself with all the YouTubers with their Leicas and Contaxes.
For every expensive process or piece of gear, there is almost always an inexpensive (albeit potentially more time consuming or lesser quality) method or option as well. At the end of the day, we are all out here with the common goal of making images – how you go about that mission is a personal decision.
What both Ashlee and Daniel are in agreement on is that using the tools you have access to is far more beneficial of a method than chasing gear and equipment simply for the sake of it being “the best.”
A big decisive element for me that aids in the look of my film work [is] pushing and pulling, when and why – I have no problem shooting box speed and do so very often in varying conditions. However, I find that when I’m in a scenario where the lighting is constant throughout a roll, whether that be a cloudy day or shooting at the last hour of light, I like to consider a push or pull on specific stocks.
I often like to shoot in scenarios where the light has contrast and color already in it, and although I like the punchiness of it, I’ve found that a pull really helps subdue the tones. In such scenarios, I enjoy shooting Portra 800 and pulling to 400. This takes down the contrast and opens the shadows a bit, but you’re still getting punch in the light, so it kind of evens things out and makes it pleasing to the eye.
I love this tip from Joe because pulling C-41 film is such a creative and unique way to experiment and is a process that’s hardly ever talked about. When he first described his process to me, it quite literally blew my mind.
It is crucial with film to understand the technicalities behind the medium in order to understand how to create the perfect atmosphere. Getting the correct exposure is a must, but remember this is only 10%-20% of the real deal. The message behind the image, your vision, and your own point of view is what’s going to make your photography stand out.
The fundamentals of film photography are extremely important, and are necessary to learn in order to create any level of work within the field.
Cayetano makes a great point in that learning the technical aspects of analog photography is only one aspect to making an amazing image – what’s going on behind the camera, in your mind, is most important to the realization of a stand out image.
Film has taught me to slow down my process during a shoot. I used to shoot at a much faster rate with less thought going into each photograph. It’s important to consider all the varying factors that are going into the moment you’re capturing. This could be the movements of the model, lighting, exposure, placement of props, or anything else that can impact the final result.
It’s perfectly okay to take a second during the shoot to take a step back and adjust and think about how all these aspects are coming together and if they in fact are telling the story you want. So, always remember to take a moment, meter for the shadows, visualize the current layout of the scene versus the story you are trying to tell, recompose, and then find the right angle to tell that story.
This is a really great tip from Alex and raises the question: Why race to the final image? Film photography is inherently a slow process and takes time for its full potential to be realized.
There can be many pressures when on set: pressure from the model, the director on set, time limitations, gear limitations, and even pressures from yourself to “get the shot.” Slowing down and focusing on the intention behind each shot, before the shutter is even fired, will result in a calmer shooting experience, higher confidence while shooting, and an intentional shooting experience.
A lot of the time, the idea that film is expensive to shoot holds us back from shooting more film. We love to shoot film and that’s why we get into it, but, at the same time, the fact that it is expensive makes people overthink too much (for example: questioning if every single thing is ‘worth the shot’). As a result, we stop shooting as much as we should, and then we end up with a heavy paperweight full of dust on our shelf, or we end up seeing more photos taken of the actual camera than photos taken with the camera. Don’t let the main thing you use in film photography, film, to be the reason you don’t experiment and shoot as much as you can.
This tip from Izack is very meaningful to me because I have been guilty of allowing the fact that I’m shooting with film to hold me back from being as creative/experimental as I otherwise would be if I had a digital camera.
Film is a very exciting medium to utilize for photography – if you’re on this site you probably agree. With that being said, it’s good to consider not getting so hung up on the fact that you’re “shooting film” and it’s finite nature.
I’d say one of the biggest tips I’ve used for film photography was using a light meter. It’s such a simple tool, yet it nails it for me every time and I’m not guessing what settings to use for my portraits
Unless you are keen on the Sunny 16 rule of metering, a light meter is absolutely essential for consistent results in film photography. One look at Brandon’s work will provide all the evidence you may need on the benefits of a light meter to achieve properly balanced and metered images.
One of my favorite tips is from Wesley Verhoeve (@wesley) who is a portrait and documentary photographer based out of Amsterdam and New York.
Although not specifically about analog photography, his wisdom struck me as priceless for any photographer looking to achieve goals within this field.
My main and most important tip is to not wait around for opportunities and assignments. Instead, self-assign stories or shoots that you want to be hired to do, whatever they may be. Want to be a photojournalist for the New York Times? Self-assign a story about a super interesting person in your home town and go do it, then share it, then rinse and repeat. Want to be a fashion photographer? Seek out a local designer or shop, pitch them an idea, shoot it, share it, then rinse and repeat.
If you love to shoot, go shoot it. This tip from Wesley encouraged me to get off my butt and self-assign some work.
When it comes to shooting portraits and film, never disregard the chance that you could blow out skin tones on your subjects (especially people of lighter complexion) when over exposing your film stock. Yes! Film retains highlight detail very well, but don’t get lazy when metering your light. It can be easy to favor a larger aperture – you may prefer an aperture like f/4 over something smaller like f/8 for your portrait, but are you willing to run the risk of possibly blowing out your highlights?
Take into consideration how you are metering. Is it strictly highlights, shadows, or an average metering? Figure out what method fits for your style and gets the results you want. Put that skin tone first.
As a portrait photographer myself, I can vouch for the fact that skin tones are extremely important in portraiture, and you do not want to blow the skin out under any circumstances.
For those who may not be familiar with the term, “blowing out the highlights” refers to inadvertently overexposing an area of an image to the point where there is no visual information at all and all you see is white. This is very common in digital photography and can happen in certain circumstances in film photography as well.
As you can likely imagine, blown out areas of the skin in a portrait is not a great way to create a flattering image.
Check out Vince’s editorial and videography work on Instagram @vincentperryjr.