Everything You Need to Know About Shooting Film in 2019
In the era of digital photography, the idea of shooting film can seem both intimidating and unnecessary. After all, bad digital cameras are rare these days, and why would you want to work with old-school technology? It’s slow and can be imprecise — not to mention, getting your work online requires additional equipment and effort.
But the downsides of shooting film are, in their own way, upsides. There’s something to be said for slowing down, considering your shots carefully. Some photographers prefer being deliberate rather than simply firing away, knowing they can hold thousands of images on a memory card or shoot dozens of images a second in burst mode. Shooting film forces you to focus on each element of the process — it can remind you what it means to make a photograph in the first place. Many photographers would also agree that there’s something special in the feel of analog images, similar to the way people still love vinyl records.
Best of all, it isn’t as difficult as you might think. Some Peerspace hosts may even have film equipment available to rent when you book their venues. That said, here’s everything you need to know about shooting film in 2019.
1. Choose your camera
Before you can begin shooting film, you’ll need a camera. Because of the proliferation of digital cameras, old film cameras are often incredibly cheap. If you’re wanting to pick up something like a Leica, Rolleiflex, or Hasselblad, you’ll certainly have to spend quite a bit. But there are plenty of 35mm film SLRs that can be had for very low prices. You’ll often find this equipment at yard sales or in thrift stores, but they’re sold all over the internet as well. Just look for something that has a working light meter and no issues with the film advance mechanism, and you’ll be good to go.
Lenses for these old SLRs are also affordable, so building a film kit doesn’t have to be an expensive venture. A lot of second-hand SLR cameras are sold with bundles of lenses, too. And, if you’re accustomed to shooting with a DSLR in manual mode, transitioning to a film SLR will feel very natural — the process is the same.
2. Buying film
Of course, you can’t go out shooting film if you don’t have any. This is where the costs can begin to add up. While an SD card can be pricey upfront, you can re-use them indefinitely. As film has become increasingly uncommon, however, the price per roll has steadily gone up. Despite this, you may be surprised to learn that buying film is still relatively easy. Most of the large camera supply stores sell a variety of options.
If you’re willing to shoot on expired film, you can save some money, but the results can be inconsistent. For example, often your images will look fine, but other times you won’t get an accurate reproduction of colors or ISO value, and you might have artifacts in your images. This doesn’t have to be a negative, though — there are plenty of digital filters that replicate this look, so being able to achieve that aesthetic genuinely adds to the fun of shooting film.
3. Color vs. black-and-white film
You’ll also need to choose whether or not you want to shoot color or black-and-white film. Each has advantages and disadvantages. With color, you have color negative (or “print”) film and color slide (or “reversal”) film. Color negative film is commonly available and reasonably priced; in addition, the film is very forgiving of overexposure.
Slide film is less common and more expensive, but it’s the best choice if accurate color replication is your main concern. Processing slide film is much more expensive than processing color negative film, and fewer labs still do this kind of work. You also lose all the exposure advantages you get with color negative film. Most photo labs will give you the option to scan and digitize your images as well, so you’ll still be able to put them online or share them on social media.
Black-and-white film is a different animal entirely — it can be expensive and isn’t as common as color negative film, and processing is an involved process that drives up the cost of development. But, unlike color films, you can process your own black-and-white shots at home. There’s some basic chemistry involved — you need certain amounts of chemicals and water at specific temperatures for different rolls — and you’ll need a space you can use as a dark room.
Several companies sell boxes and tabletop tents that will isolate your film from light for loading without your having to dedicate an entire room to the process. This process may seem intimidating, but if you are comfortable measuring chemicals and following directions, it’s simple to develop black-and-white film at home.
4. Go out and shoot
This is where the fun begins. Practically speaking, shooting film isn’t much different from shooting with a digital camera. The roll of film you choose will determine your ISO, so plan accordingly. Once you’ve loaded your film, you’re still manipulating focus, shutter speed, and f-stop to get the exposure you want.
The most significant difference will be that shooting film forces you to slow down. Your camera is slower, and you only have a few exposures per roll before you have to change it out. All of this forces you to consider your shots carefully. You’ll find yourself trusting your eye over the camera, which absolutely makes you a better photographer.
In addition, the whole system of shooting film also puts you in a position where you’re culling in the field, rather than at your computer during editing. You learn to edit your work as you go, only focusing on the most important images. So, overall, you’ll have fewer images when you shoot film, but they’ll be good shots if you’ve taken your time to really consider your work.
5. Develop your film
Many cities still have camera stores that operate photo labs that can develop your film. If you’re lucky enough to have one near you, this is your best option for developing. Not only will you be supporting a small business, but you won’t have to deal with the hassle of shipping your film and waiting for your prints.
If you don’t have a photo lab near you, then shipping is your only option. There are several large photo labs around the country that you can mail film to. Turnaround time can be a week or two. You should also read a photo lab’s policy carefully — some pharmacies, for example, will still offer to develop your film. But, they’re sending them to commercial labs that often throw away your negatives. You absolutely want to work with a photo lab that will return your negatives, otherwise you’ll never be able to make additional prints.
When you’re making art, the process matters. The medium matters. The process affects not only the technical creation of the product, but also the mindset of the photographer. As such, shooting film — especially if you’re used to shooting a DSLR — forces you out of your comfort zone, requiring you to think about your craft in new ways. That kind of creative experience is worth its weight in gold (or maybe rolls of 35mm film) and can result in truly special work. If you’re giving film a try for the first time, we hope you’ll tag us in your posts using the hashtag #MadeinPeerspace. We’d love to see your work.