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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.