6 Film Photography Tips for Beginners by Samantha Stortecky

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Written by Samantha Stortecky

Do you love the look of film photography but not quite sure where to start? Or are you thinking about switching from digital photography to film?

In this article, I’m giving you my favorite film photography tips for beginners. These tips will help you avoid costly mistakes and start creating beautiful film images!

6 Film Photography Tips for Beginners - Learn to Shoot Film
6 Film Photography Tips for Beginners - Learn to Shoot Film
6 Film Photography Tips for Beginners - Learn to Shoot Film
Girl playing in the snow - 6 Film Photography Tips for Beginners by Samantha Stortecky on Shoot It With Film

Over the years, I have had many digital photographer friends who loved the look of film but were too scared to try it out. After all, it can be very daunting and costly if you don’t know what you’re doing or where to start!

I’ve been able to teach them how to step out of their comfort zones and start shooting film photography with more confidence! And now it’s your turn, so let’s dive in!

And if you want learn more about shooting film, check out this collection of film photography resources for beginners.

1. Go slow

Learning to shoot film isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Shooting film is an investment and you have to pace yourself.  

As you can imagine, film isn’t cheap, and if you’re transitioning from digital, you’re probably used to shooting as many pictures as your SD Card can handle.

But with film, there are a limited number of shots on a roll of film. Going from unlimited images to only 16 or 36 images at a time can be quite a shift. Therefore, I highly recommend starting out slow when you’re shooting. 

Take your time and enjoy the process of finding the best angle, searching for the perfect location, and snapping your picture.

Putting time and thought into your images allows you to slow down and be a bit more intentional about what you’re shooting and the outcome you want in your images.

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2. Shoot One Roll at a Time

When I first started learning to shoot film, I got crazy and started shooting up a storm. Only to realize, I had shot so many rolls on a $20 dollar broken camera I bought off eBay.

It’s safe to say that very few of those images turned out, if any at all, and I wasted so much money using several rolls of professional film on a broken camera. Oops.

So just take it one roll at a time. I know it can be hard to work one roll at a time, because you’re excited and you just want to keep shooting, but, trust me, it’s going to save you so much time and money in the long run. 

Shooting and developing one or two rolls of film at a time will let you really analyze the images and learn how your film camera works. You’ll be able to troubleshoot issues, like underexposure (or a broken camera!), and learn exactly how your shooting process and the particulars of your camera effect your images.

If I could start over, I would have done just one roll of a few different film stocks in a few different locations to see what I like most about each film stock and location.

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3. Start with 35mm

My next film photography tip for beginners is to stick to 35mm when you first start shooting film.

Both the film and cameras are often cheaper with 35mm compared to medium format, and at 36 images per roll of film, you get more breathing room to experiment and shoot! 

Shooting medium format rolls of film only gives you 12-16 pictures, depending on what camera you use, and that’s less than half of what you’ll get with shooting 35mm!!

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4. Use a Professional Lab

When I started shooting film, my local Walgreens was still doing one-day turnaround for film photography, and that was how I started my film journey. 

But after sending several rolls to Walgreens, I ended up getting frustrated with how my images were coming out. They didn’t look anything like what other people were posting on Instagram! 

I ended up getting so upset I gave up on my film journey for several months!

So, take it from me when I say that sending your film scans to a professional lab is SO IMPORTANT. Especially when you’re first starting out, because every roll counts when it comes to feedback and learning your own film technique. 

The first time I sent my film scans to my professional lab, Photovision Prints, I was blown away by the results I got back!

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5. Ask Questions

This was probably one of the biggest mistakes I could have made when I first started shooting film. I could have cut my trial and error efforts down by so much if I had just reached out to other fellow film photographers and asked questions! 

And the best place to ask questions is with your lab!

Professional film labs are trained and specialize in film, and if you’re trying to achieve a specific look, they are the people to ask. They will help you troubleshoot problems to achieve your film goals. 

And not to toot my own horn, but you can always reach out to me for questions as well. I may know a thing or two!

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6. Use Manual Focus

If you are transitioning from shooting digital, you are probably used to relying heavily on autofocus.

Unfortunately, film cameras just don’t have the speed that digital cameras have when it comes to shooting with autofocus. You’ll find that if you rely on letting your camera choose what to focus on, you’ll miss the focus or miss the moment you want to shoot due to your autofocus taking too long.

So, take it from me and all the blurry images I took in the beginning, start utilizing manual focus.

If you’re not used to shooting manual, this can be quite a change. You will find that learning to trust your own eye when it comes to focusing can be scary and take quite a long time to learn.

Because of this, I recommend practicing your manual focusing on still life subjects. Plants, flowers, buildings, etc.

When I first tried to develop my focusing skills I did it with my kids. No good folks. Kids don’t sit still, even when you’ve thrown all the fart jokes and promises of candy their way.

It may be hard at first, but I promise, if you just continue to stick with manual focusing and keep practicing, it’ll soon become second nature and you won’t even have to think twice about doing it!

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Well friends, I hope this article was helpful, especially if you have been thinking about jumping into film photography. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Thank you so much, Samantha! Samantha is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other articles here, including how to shoot Fuji Pro 400H and how to shoot Kodak Portra 400.

You can also check out more of Samantha’s work on her website and Instagram.

Please share your favorite film photography tips for beginners below in the comments along with any questions you have!

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Samantha Stortecky

Samantha Stortecky is a family photographer and a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as How to Shoot Kodak Portra 400 and 5 Unique & Experimental Film Stocks You Need to Try.

Blog Comments

This was SO helpful just to read and have it out there that film is HARD. I’ve shot so many rolls and I’m still figuring out focussing, developing, film stocks, grain, light leaks etc etc etc. It’s an amazing and gratifying process but it doesn’t half take some grit. Thanks for talking about the mistakes you made and the time it takes to get it right. It’s so easy to look at hashtags on Instagram and see billions of “perfect” images without any of the b-roll, which can be especially demoralising for women I think, in an industry which is still dominated by very self-assured men. ? ace work

Hello Georgia! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment and I’m glad that you liked the blog article. I’m so happy that you resonate with hearing about all the ups and downs that come with shooting film, when I first started out I felt like all I saw were the end results and I never got the chance to see people in the middle of experimenting. I never got to see the accidental light leaks and under or overexposed images that people make when they’re learning film. Because of that I vowed that I would be honest with my whole journey so that I can help others feel comfortable with this medium!!

And I totally understand what you mean, I have had many men go into my insta DMs and argue with me about film because they feel the need to prove me wrong. I definitely think this is an area where we need more women who are willing to take the role of teachers and leaders!!!

Once again, thanks for leaving your thoughts and if you ever need any help please reach out!

Hello! Thanks for this article. I was wondering if you can help out? I’m a beginner and I used my first roll of film (Kodak Gold 200) and out of the 36 shots, only got 2 shots that looked okay. I’m using a Minolta himatic AF. Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve my shots? Thanks in advance!

Hi Keshia! Thanks for reaching out and reading my article. I’d love to know more details about your roll of film, how exactly did the images look? Were the images too dark, blurry, too bright, etc.?

I’ve personally never shot with the Minolta Hi-Matic before but I am happy to help you in any way that I can!

Thank you for sharing your advice with working with film. I’m fairly interested in it but I don’t know much about film cameras. What 35mm film would you recommend for beginners?

Hi Lauren! Here’s a great list of 35mm film cameras that are perfect for beginners: https://shootitwithfilm.com/5-great-35mm-film-cameras-for-beginners/

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