Film photography is all about making mistakes and learning from them.
With so many moving parts – from the unlimited camera choices, to metering, to developing – it just naturally takes some time to find your grove and figure out a process that works for you to create the images you envision.
But you are definitely not in it alone!
I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned and a few film photography mistakes to avoid to help make the process easier for you.
1. Thinking You Need a High End Camera to Achieve Great Film Images
Listen, we all like nice things – I’ll be the first to admit to that. But at the end of the day, a camera is only as good as the hands holding it and the eye looking into it.
To take it a step further, a camera body is only a light sealed box that holds film. That’s it.
And unlike digital photography where the sensor inside a camera can vary from model to model and can change your image result greatly, all of us in the film community are shooting the same film from the same few manufacturers. So, that leaves us with the lens as the main variable.
Use the camera you can afford, and focus on the image making over the actual gear.
If you do choose to focus on your gear, put more stock into the quality of the lenses you choose and not the camera itself.
Here are a few articles to help you choose a film camera without spending a lot of money:
2. Not Metering the Light Before Taking Photos on Film
Unlike digital cameras, most film cameras will not do the work for you. Many, if not most, film cameras are not automated, meaning all functions will require manual input and do not have an auto-exposure mode.
I’ve messed up my fair share of rolls of film when I was first starting out due to this small error.
When I first began to shoot on film, I oftentimes was not pleased with my results after getting a roll developed, but as I learned more about light and proper metering technique, I began creating images I like more consistently.
It seems like 99% of people are terrified of shooting film before they’ve tried shooting film. And then, after they’ve shot some film, they’re like, “Oh! It’s not that bad at all.”
Film is all about the experience, baby.
It’s about risk, reward, experimentation, and the enjoyment of a tactile process that is prone to imperfection. At the end of day, you are making a photograph – all else is secondary!
4. Relying Too Heavily on Popular Recommendations
Recommendations are great, especially when you are entering a new field of interest, but it’s important to do the work to find out what works for you and your specific journey.
Many camera systems have been made popular over recent years by celebrities and influencers who will suggest that you “have” to have a certain type camera or a certain brand to achieve good results in film photography.
Each and every camera out there has its strengths and weaknesses and will lend themselves to a certain style of photography. For example, if you’re a fan of street photography, you may not reach for the Mamiya RB67 as your go-to camera when there are other lighter, more portable medium format options out there.
No matter how many blogs and YouTube videos suggest the RB as one of the best medium format camera systems out there, it may not be best for you and your specific style.
So, do the research, find what works for you, and then make an informed decision from there!
5. Not Understanding the Full Process of Creating an Image on Film
Oftentimes, people will buy the same camera and film as someone they look up to, and then expect their images to come out the same way as their inspiration. But, in film photography, there are many factors beyond the camera and film that all directly correlate to the quality of the final image.
Firstly, the camera’s lens will affect how the image is captured. Age, haze, fungus, and other aberrations can alter the final image quality of anything captured with a lens.
The developing process of film is important as well. Some people develop their film at home while others take it to a dedicated lab.
There may not be a noticeable difference when using C-41 (because all C-41 is developed the same), but with black and white film, different development processes can result in huge differences in the final image.
Lastly, there is the scanning process. Scanning your film can be done at home or by a lab.
From personal experience, I can tell you that the difference between lab scans and home scans can be striking. Don’t accept a lab scan as the end all be all of your film images.
Try scanning your negatives at home; you may love having the control over the final look of your images!
Here are a few articles if you’d like to learn more about developing or scanning your film at home: