Introduction – Getting started with film photography in a digital era

Part 1 – Introduction | Part 2 – The Gear | Part 3 – How to shoot film

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Film camera - A fully manual FED 5B former Soviet Union rangefinder camera

Fig. 1 – Film camera – A fully manual FED 5B former Soviet Union rangefinder camera

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Everybody is taking pictures, i mean EVERYBODY!

With the mobile phone capability of taking pictures, instant awesomizing with filters and edits, instant sharing, instant “Like”-ing and instant feedback from “friends” and “followers”, not only photographers take/make pictures, everybody is doing it. Digital is fast, from pushing the button to getting your snap to an immense audition, everything happens in seconds.

In this digital era, we want things to happen with lightning speed and “the new way of taking pictures” is kind of intervening with the old ways of doing photography.

I don’t want to get in a debate or start flame wars about what is photography, how it should be done, why Instagram is/is not ruining photography, which is better film or digital, i just want to show you that there is something else than digital snap and share and waiting in vain for likes and faves :). There is something else, something classic, physical, very personal, old school, not very convenient but full of rewards you would be amazed if you try it…..this thing is film photography.

Disclaimer: this post is based on my experiences and my personal opinions and should be taken with a grain of salt. I am no expert but i hope my tips and tricks will get you started with film. Also the costs in these series may be different in other parts of the world.

Why would you try film photography?

  1. You have found your dad/grandpa old film camera in the basement. Or, you found one at a garage sale or someone just give one away.
  2. You’ve seen people online or offline using film cameras and thought it will be cool to try.
  3. You just want to be cool and different or want to experiment.
  4. You’ve done some digital photography, being with a camera or smartphone and want to try other mediums other than digital.
  5. The sky in your digital pictures is so blown away and you heard that film is more forgiving and finally you will get that blue sky and green hills right…in the same snap. 🙂
  6. You want to try the old process of doing photography, the get your hands dirty process.

What you should now before starting?

  1. Using film is more expensive than digital, for a casual user. (Using film for professional use, tends to be cheaper than digital in the long run but that’s another story). You need to buy film, pay for developing, pay for scanning to get your files on the computer. Here developing is free by the lab you buy the film, scanning costs roughly the same as the prints, but in the States, developing and scanning is cheaper. You will get cheaper if you develop but more important if you scan your film at home, so investing in a good film scanner will save you big bucks in the long run. Every click will cost you money.
  2. The process is slower from clicking the shutter to getting your photos online. The audition is online these days so don’t expect to show your photos in art galleries in 6 months from now, just because you’re doing it the hard way.
  3. You will slow down and this is good, so you will stop that “spray and pray” type photography and start to thing before snapping. You will judge if that picture is really worth it. With digital, in a photo shoot, you can take about 300 pics and get 3 good keepers, with film you only got 36 frames so think and look carefully before snapping the shutter.
  4. Film cameras are very cheap. I bought an old Former Soviet Union camera, a fully manual and mechanical rangefinder called FED 5b + flash, for around 18$. I didn’t have to adjust anything, i just put a film in it and i started shooting. My camera also doesn’t need any batteries.

Maybe before arriving here, you’ve done some research on film photography and i am pretty sure you’ve seen debates on “why is film better than digital” or vice-versa and i will tell you what i find special in film and why i think using a film camera will improve your photography:

  1. The dynamic range of film is awesome and i find it way better than digital.
  2. The film grain is so pleasant. I was so against grain or noise and i craved super sharpness in photos but after using film for a little while, i started to love the grain and noise. This is not the case of “i got noise in my pictures and i have nothing to do but like it”, it’s the shifting to being more interested in composition than sharpness.
  3. I love the time you spend waiting for the film to be developed and scanned. It’s like waiting for Christmas or like a box of candy….you never know what you will get or if you’ll get anything.
  4. It makes me see things better.
  5. I started training my eye by slowing down, it made me more thoughtful on composition and lighting and interestingness of the scene. You will want to nail all of those right in-camera and not in post-production. You will really look at the scene, look at the lighting, make the composition, frame the shot and if is wort it, click. 1$ gone. 🙂
  6. I spend less time editing on the computer. I do very little adjustments. It’s better to be outside and shoot than staying in front of the computer screen.
  7. I invested in 1 camera and 1 lens and i try to stick with 1 type of film for a while. This way i will learn the inside and outside of my gear and make it a part of me and get very natural taking pictures.
  8. It shifted my views on photography and the whole learning process. I don’t care anymore about gear, heavy computer editing or any technical info. I got very interested in composition and lighting, i look at paintings of the great masters, i have seen tones of YouTube videos about the great photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Josef Koudelka and many many others.

But film photography is no Holy Grail and i want to be fair and tell you what you may find annoying doing film photography – It’s not convenient. I do the developing, the scanning and the printing at the local lab and i find the costs pretty high for an experimenting amateur. Also, sometimes, i think there is too much time spent going back and forth to the lab. Another thing with labs is that after developing you may get missing frames, frames scanned badly or simply bad developing. If i will invest in a film scanner the costs will reduce drastically and some of the above problems will be gone.

I hope this introduction will get you the feel for film photography and in the next posts i will try to guide you in choosing the gear, guidelines for shooting, differences between shooting film vs digital and tips and tricks i learn along the way.

Have fun and keep on shooting! ^-^

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Part 1 – Introduction | Part 2 – The Gear | Part 3 – How to shoot film

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