15 Must-Have Film Photography Accessories! by Jen Golay

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Written by Jen Golay

We all know that life is all about the accessories.

Some are essential, and some are optional. But they usually make life easier, more fun, and even more creative if you have the right ones.

There are just some things I can’t live without when I am shooting film. I keep duplicates of many of these tools in each camera bag set-up I use on a regular basis.

I am sure you will be familiar with and already own some of these film photography accessories, but I hope that some of them will be new to you and will inspire you to try something new, get more organized, be more creative, or help you as you get started shooting film.

15 Must-Have Film Photography Accessories
15 Must-Have Film Photography Accessories
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The Essential Film Photography Accessories

The first ten accessories are items I think are essential for every film photographer to help you take care of your gear, create better images, and stay organized.

1. Light Meter

This is the number one accessory every film photographer needs! It should be the second thing you buy, right after your camera and right before your film.

If you want good exposures consistently, you need a hand-held light meter. Here are some of my favorite handheld light meters for film photographers. You can also learn more about rating and metering here.

Yes, your camera may have an internal light meter, but keep in mind that almost all film cameras are at least 20 years old. That light meter may not be so accurate anymore.

Plus, internal meters are reflective light meters, and they can be tricked. An incident light meter will be much more accurate.

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So, what kind of light meter should you get?

There are lots of options. The least expensive new option is the Sekonic 401-208 Twin Mate Light Meter (find on Amazon).

My personal favorite light meters are the Sekonic L-508 (find on eBay) or the Sekonic L-358 (find at KEH Camera). If you have the funds to purchase one of these two, they have features you can grow into as you progress on your film photography journey.

Find more light meters at KEH Camera or on eBay.

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2. Tripod

Tripods are an important accessory whether you are a pro or just starting out, whether you are a portrait photographer or a landscape photographer.

I use my tripod for portraits in the studio and on location for consistency and easy framing. I use it for low-light and night photography, as well as star trails. I use it for long exposures and landscape photography. It’s also a must for large format photography.

A tripod will help ensure you have sharper images, a level horizon, and consistent framing when necessary.

I confess that I am still searching for the perfect tripod—one that is lightweight yet strong to hold a heavy camera and lens, stable, and will contort to different levels and angles.

Do your research when choosing a tripod and choose the one that will work best for what you need it to do. At the moment, my favorite tripod is from Peak.

Find tripods on Amazon.

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3. Cable Release

A cable release is one of the handiest accessories you can have for your film camera.

They come in different lengths, and you may find that you want a few in varying length, depending on how you will use it the most.

Cable release - 15 Film Photography Accessories on Shoot It With Film

I use a cable release for self-portraiture, studio portraiture, long exposures, shooting star trails, and any other time I want to trigger my shutter from a distance or keep the camera from moving during a longer exposure.

Make sure that you choose a cable release that will work with your camera. Older, completely mechanical cameras will most likely use a threaded, plunger-style cable release.

Newer, electronic film cameras will take a cable release that is battery powered and may be proprietary, so check your owner’s manual for what you need.

Find shutter releases on Amazon.

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4. Filters

There are three types of filters I have for every single camera I own, regardless of whether it is 35mm or medium format: UV filters, polarizing filters, and close-up filters.

Every camera lens I have has a UV filter on it. This can be a controversial topic for many passionate photographers who feel that any extra glass will degrade the image quality. But a $20 UV filter saved the front element of a $2500 lens when my camera bag fell out of the back of my car, so for me, the UV filter is worth it as a protection device.

I also always carry a circular polarizing filter for shooting situations where I want a brilliant blue sky, less reflection on water or glass, or a longer exposure in bright light.

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My favorite set of filters is a set of close-up filters. These usually come in sets of three: +1, +2, +4, that can be stacked to achieve various levels of magnification.

These are a great lightweight and inexpensive substitute for a heavy and costly macro lens. I own a set for every size of lens that I own.

Before you purchase any filters, be sure you know what size you need. Check the back side of your lens cap or owner’s manual for you lens filter size.

For example, my older Nikon lenses take a 52mm filter, while my newer Nikon lenses take 77mm filter.

Find filters on Amazon: UV filters, polarizing filters, and close-up filters

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5. Rocket Blower, Lens Wipes, and a Cleaning Brush

Film cameras are beasts and will last forever if they are well taken care of.

To care for your camera and to keep it and your lenses clean, a Rocket Blower is essential for dust removal.

You should also have lens wipes and a cleaning brush. You can purchase a cleaning kit that will cover all of your maintenance needs.

Find a Rocket Blower cleaning kit on Amazon.

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6. Exposure Notebook

When I started shooting film, I was an experienced digital photographer, and I didn’t realize how much I relied on EXIF data to learn how to make good exposures.

If you have made the switch from digital to film, you know that you can’t shoot film the way you shot your DSLR and get the beautiful look of film.

The best way to learn how to get good and consistent exposures in various lighting situations is to take exposure notes. Yes, it’s tedious, but it is so important.

Make that job easier with an exposure notebook. Record your exposure data, time of day, and lighting conditions.

Eventually, you won’t need to keep track of this information all the time, but it’s still a good idea to keep a small notebook in your camera bag.

Find a notebook to track exposure information on Amazon.

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7. Sharpie and Washi Tape

A Sharpie and Washi tape are absolutely essential to have in every camera bag!

Use a Sharpie to mark your exposed rolls of film if they need to be pushed or pulled. You can mark what you shot or where you shot a particular roll of film. A Sharpie is indispensable!

Washi tape has been a life saver for me several times when I am shooting medium format film and the little lickum-stickum seal fails, or worse, falls off!

Washi tape can seal your medium format film securely, yet still be easily removed at the lab.

Find Washi tape on Amazon.

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8. Lens Hood

A lens hood is a very practical accessory. Most lenses come with a lens hood, but if yours did not, it’s not a bad idea to invest in one. They are usually inexpensive and readily available.

A lens hood’s first duty is to shade your lens and prevent lens flare (if the lens flare is undesired). But a lens hood is also a protective device.

It can protect the front element of your lens from being bumped, banged, or bashed. My lens hoods have protected my lenses during portrait sessions or other jobs when I am using more than one camera and switching between them.

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9. Gaffer’s Tape

Gaffer’s tape or electrician’s tape can come in handy in lots of different situations—especially those in which something breaks.

I’ve used it to hold the back of my camera together when the film door latch broke. I use it to cover the viewfinder when I am doing star trails to prevent light leaking through the viewfinder.

I’ve used it to attach light modifiers, to tape down strobe cords, and prevent light leaks in my Holga.

It’s an inexpensive lifesaver!

Find Gaffer’s tape on Amazon.

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10. Film Cases, Fanny Pack, or Zippy Bags

I’ve learned the hard way that I need to keep track of my film accurately.

A client and I once spent a half an hour searching for a roll of film I thought I had lost. Thankfully, I hadn’t!

And I once found a roll of film from a wedding weeks afterwards and after I had already delivered the gallery!

Film holders - 15 Film Photography Accessories on Shoot It With Film

There are many ways to organize your film, and you will have to figure out what works best for you. Some photographers use plastic cases in different colors to store unexposed film in one color and exposed film in another color.

Other photographers use fanny packs or waitress aprons to organize and separate out the exposed and unexposed film.

Or you could simply use zippy bags. This is the method that seems to work best for me. I like to be able to see what and how much is in each bag.

Find film roll holders on Amazon.

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Next Level Accessories

The last five items aren’t essential, but they add another dimension to your life as a film photographer.

11. Negative Storage

This one is really pretty important and should probably be considered essential to a well-organized film shooter.

When you get your negatives back from the lab, what do you do with them?

Most photographers are excited about seeing their scans and prints, but the negatives are the vital photography product. You need to develop a negative archival system that works for you.

Usually, your negatives come back from the lab in sleeves and maybe envelopes. If you develop your film yourself, you will need to invest in negative sleeves.

Label your negatives in a way that makes sense to you and hopefully anyone else who accesses your archive and store them in negative archival boxes.

Ideally, you would be able to keep these boxes in a fireproof safe. Wherever you keep them be sure they are in a cool, dry, and dark location.

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12. Film Picker

A film retriever tool can be useful if you accidentally rewind a roll of 35mm film or you want to shoot the roll again for a roll of double exposures.

It’s not an essential tool because there is a method to retrieve the leader of the roll of film using a piece of scrap film. I find this easier.

Find a film leader retriever on Amazon.

Film picker - 15 Film Photography Accessories on Shoot It With Film

13. Changing Bag

Usually, you would only need a changing bag if you were going to develop your film at home.

This is a light tight bag that you put your film into and then slide your arms through a set of sleeves. The inside of the bag is completely black so that your film can be removed from the canister and wound onto a developing reel.

But a changing bag has come in handy for me in other situations.

I have had film break off the spool inside the 35mm canister at the end of the roll. The only way to get the exposed roll of film out of the camera is to open the back of the camera and wind it by hand and then seal it in a black 35mm plastic container with gaffer’s tape and send it off to the lab with a note explaining what happened.

I have also used a changing bag to rewind 35mm film shot in a medium format camera and to load large format film into 4×5 film holders.

Find a film changing bag on Amazon.

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14. 35mm Conversion Spool

If you want to try shooting 35mm film in your medium format camera to expose the sprockets as well, you will need a conversion spool set.

This is a very specific and limited use accessory, but it’s fun to do every now and then for a different look. I keep one of these in the camera bag for my Rolleiflex and will shoot with it every now and then.

If you use one of these, you will need a changing bag to rewind the film back into the canister because medium format cameras do not have a rewind feature.

Find 120 to 35mm adapter kits on eBay.

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15. Creativity Tools

If you like to experiment and try unusual techniques, keep some creativity tools in your camera bag of tricks.

You can use things like prisms, pipe cleaners, cellophane sheets, sequins, or any other unique item you can think of to shoot through to give your images fun, colorful, and completely unique looks.

Let your imagination go and see what happens!

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My grandfather always said that the right tools make the job easier. A few essential accessories and a few unique film photography accessories make the job easier and can inspire your creativity.

What are the accessories you can’t live without?

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Double exposure image with flowers - 15 Film Photography Accessories on Shoot It With Film

Thank you so much, Jen! Jen is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other articles here, including How to Shoot Snow on Film and a review of the Rolleiflex 2.8F.

You can also check out more of Jen’s work on Instagram.

If you have any questions about any of these film photography accessories, leave them below in the comments! And share your favorite accessories, too!

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Jen Golay

Jen Golay is a senior portrait and travel film photographer and a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as How To Shoot Kodak Gold 200 and Olympus Pen F Half-Frame Film Camera Review.

Blog Comments

Shooting large format cameras, a focusing loupe is indispensable!

Yes! Such an excellent accessory. Thank you for sharing!

Very true! I also use one when looking at negatives and contact sheets.

Excellent article! I do have to disagree with the light meter tip; reflected light meters are no more inaccurate than an incident meter. As always, how they are used affects the outcome. An incident meter in a shadowed foreground will not give the correct exposure for a distant sunlit mountain range, for instance. Skill in using either type of meter is paramount.

Hi Roy! I am so glad you liked the article! And you are not incorrect. My experience with some older cameras has been that the internal light meter can be inaccurate sometimes by more than a stop. I always do a comparison with a handheld meter before putting my trust in an internal meter. And yes, incorrect use of a meter will not produce a correct exposure, but an incident meter used correctly definitely produces the most accurate exposure since it reads the light falling on the subject and not averaging the reflected light and shadows of the whole scene. Ultimately, every photographer has their own metering methods, and as long as they are happy with their results, which type of meter they use doesn’t really matter.

I have found that a UV filter is magical. If I do not have it, my finger is invariably drawn to the lens. With it, my finger stays far away!

One trick I use is to tape a couple of film cans upside down on my camera’s neck strap. This way, I can pop the top, and a new roll of film drops into my hand.


Another bonus to using a UV filter! And what a great idea for keeping your film handy! The vintage camera strap on my Nikon FM has a couple of loops designed to hold film canisters. I have never tried using it because I am afraid they will fall out. I might have to give it a try next time I take that camera out!

I have tried multiple times to keep an exposure notebook. Somehow it never worked out. What has worked is using the memory features of my Minolta Maxxum cameras. The 7000i, 7xi, and 700si can used a memory card which stores exposure data for forty frames (Data Card I) or four rolls of 36 exposure film (Data Card II). Later models—800si, 7, and 9 have internal memory to hold exposure data for at least four 36-exposure rolls. So, when I really need to keep accurate exposure data, I use one of these cameras. Very likely, other camera manufacturers offered a similar feature. Oddly, few reviews ever mention this capability.

This is a great list!

Hi Jerome! What a cool feature on the Minolta Maxxum. I have not heard of that before. I know that several of my newer cameras like the Contax g2 and Fuji GA645 have the capability of printing exposure data on the negative. And I have definitely referred to it instead of taking exposure notes. I have also used an app on my iPhone designed to keep track of exposure notes. How do you access the information on the memory card? Do you use a regular card reader and your computer?

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