guide to film photography

With film you think more carefully about pressing the button down each time. You take more time with each shot and think about the best way to capture the mood of your surroundings. You wait for the right moment.

With a digital camera you can take as many photos as your memory cards allow and simply choose the best ones and edit them. With film, you don’t know how they are going to turn out until you develop them. It is a nervous excitement; it’s special.

Now for the basic technical info that you need to know:

1. Where do I get a film camera?
You don’t need to spend lots of money on your first film camera. Firstly, I’d recommend asking your family if anyone has an old film camera lying around. Unfortunately my granddad gave his old one away years ago, so I looked on eBay. After reading about some of the cameras, I decided to go with a Minolta one. It only cost me 5€! As I just wanted to try it out, I figured I didn’t need to spend so much money at the start, and so far I have loved mine.

2. How to load a film camera.
Rear loading cameras are the most common and super easy to use. Open up the back and slot the film canister into the chamber, which can be on the left or on the right side. Pull the film leader out and slide it into a slot of the spool on the other side of the chamber (each camera is different and might differ from this a little). Once that is done, close the back and shoot a few photos until the frame counter reaches 0. Now that the film is properly loaded you can start shooting.

3. What the heck are Shutter Speed, aperture and ISO/ASA?
The shutter speed is the time the film is exposed to light. A smaller fraction will lower your exposure and a larger fraction will increase it. Use the shutter speed dial to set the shutter speed. Most cameras will show this in regular increments like 1/500, 1/250 etc. A fast shutter speed like 1/500 will help you capture sharp images of fast moving objects whilst 1/60 is okay for normal shooting.

Aperture is the amount of light that enters the camera. The aperture ring, which can normally be found on the lens, controls the small opening near the front of the lens. The increments for this are the f-stops (e.g.: f/2). The lower f/stops give higher exposure and a shallower depth of field (less is in focus), while the higher f/stops give a lower exposure and a higher depth of field.

The ISO/ASA is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light and can be found on the ISO/ASA dial. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light and a higher ISO increases the sensitivity. The number on your film box tells you the ISO of the film. ISO 200 is the most common; an ISO of 100 is great for shooting outside and in good light conditions, whereas you will need a higher ISO for darker conditions.

4. Autofocus is your friend but the manual mode gives you control.
Autofocus locks onto your subject when you press on the shutter button, keeping it in focus while the camera captures the image. The manual mode lets you make adjustments easily and gives you more control over the outcome of the image. A built in light meter is great here as it helps you determine the right settings for your desired exposure. There are several kinds of meters that work differently. If you have one, make sure to know how to read it correctly. Try both autofocus and manual mode, and see what you feel most comfortable with.

5. How to rewind the film.
Once your film is full, it is time to rewind and change it. Normally there is a button on the base of your camera, which “locks” your film so it can’t move backwards. If you move/press the rewind release button, your film will be rewound. Once that process is finished, you can open the back and take the canister out and get your film developed.



6. Play with light.
For me, this is one of the most interesting parts about shooting on film. I love looking for shadows, studying objects from different perspectives and angles. Look at shapes and contrasts created by light, especially if your analogue camera is an automatic one. I’d recommend shooting in daylight at first, snapping different subjects/angles and seeing how the lighting changes. It is a lot harder to shoot in low light and get clear images.

7. Always put film rolls in your carry-on luggage. Always.
Make sure when you are catching a flight to put all of your film rolls in your carry – on baggage. If you keep them in your checked baggage, the equipment used to screen the bags at the airport may damage your undeveloped film.

8. It can be much cheaper to develop your photos abroad.
When I was in Thailand I had 2 rolls of film undeveloped and I really didn’t want to wait until I was back in the UK to look at all the photos I had taken so far. It turned out that just 2 minutes away there was a shop where I could get them developed for a fraction of the price it would cost in the U.K. They also sent all images to me via email and gave me a CD as well. They did it immediately and I could pick it up just a few hours later. So, wherever you are traveling to, take a few minutes and find out if you can get your photos developed cheaper.

9. Don’t freak out and keep experimenting!
One thing I learned: some photos might not look how you intended them to look. When shooting on film, remind yourself that there is no digital screen to check how it looks or what could be improved. But little imperfections make it so interesting. It’s totally fine for your images to look a bit grainy and not fully in focus. Just keep experimenting with different types of film and shoot a lot. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it right the first roll! Enjoy the fun of not knowing until you hold the developed film in your hands.

Once you got your first roll of film full, the excitement starts; it’s called “Vorfreude” (German: feeling of anticipation of something pleasurable or desired in the future).

Photography and words by Maria Antheck.

Follow Maria on Instagram: @deepbreathsbrighteyes