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Getting Started with Film Photography

Getting Started with Film Photography

Let’s talk about the basics of starting with film photography.

Whether you already shoot digital or you are a beginner I hope you can find the information in this post useful.

The information is geared towards the use of a SLR type camera, such as a Canon AE-1 or a Minolta X-700, with the ability to shoot manual, semiautomatic mode also known as aperture priority or shutter priority.

We will be covering 5 basic aspects to get you started and will provide very basic overviews of each.

The 5 aspects are ISO, Film Stocks, Aperture, Shutter Speed and Lenses.

  1. ISO

Also labeled in several film cameras as ASA, refers to the light sensitivity rating for your film. The most basic aspect of it is the lower the number, 100 ISO, the least sensitive to light it is and the higher the number, 1600 ISO, the more sensitive to light it is. So how do you get started choosing my film speed? You should select your film speed based on the light conditions in which you will be shooting. For example, if shooting outdoors when there is plenty of daylight any ISO between 100 and 400 will be a great choice. If shooting indoors or with low light conditions, then 800 to 3200 is recommended. Keep in mind that unlike Digital photography, with film you cannot change your ISO, it is fixed and must be shot at that rating completely for best results.

One more thing to keep in mind when choosing your ISO is that the higher the number the grainier the look and the lower.

The most popular and abundant film ISO is 400.


  1. Film Stocks.

In modern days with digital photography whether smartphones or digital cameras the distinctions in the photos comes from the manufacturing of the device. Each brand provides a distinct look. When it comes to film photography the type of film stock you choose is the primary difference in what your photos will look like, given that they have been exposed and processed appropriately. The most popular brands are Kodak and Fuji, both offering consumer and professional level stocks. For black and white Kodak and Ilford offer some of the most reliable and popular stocks.

Four great beginner options for color film stocks are Kodak Gold 200 ISO, Kodak Ultra Max 400 ISO, Fuji Superia 200 ISO and 400 ISO. Black and white Kodak Tri-X 400 ISO and Ilford HP5+ 400 ISO are great choices.


  1. Aperture

Aperture or also known as f-stop, is dictated by your lens, different lenses have different aperture ranges. The basics of aperture are the following: The lower the number, f/2.8, the more light is allowed through the lens, therefore the higher the number the less light is allowed thought the lens. In addition to controlling the amount of light aperture also controls the depth of field of your focusing or in other terms how much of your photo is in focus. The lower the aperture number the narrower the plane of focus is and the higher the aperture number the wider the focus plane is. So if you want that nice bokeh, or blurry background on your portraits you want to shoot at a lower aperture number like f/1.4 or f/2.8 or if you want the whole landscape or street shot to be in focus the you shoot at a higher aperture number such as f/8 or f/11.


  1. Shutter speed

Shutter speed varies slightly from camera to camera and it controls how fast the shutter opens and closes therefore allowing more of less light into your film, freezing or giving you some blurred motion. If there is one thing you want to take away from shutter speed because you are anxious to get started is that you preferably do not want to let your shutter speed drop below 1/60 of a second. If you can remember that then you can get started and either come back later for the rest or just forget about it.

For those that want a little more here it is. In most instances, unless it’s for a specific aesthetic, you don’t want your photos to be blurry. One aspect that contributes to it is shutter speed. Most photographers shot handheld and even if you think you have ninja hands you still have other elements that can produce some shake when taking a photo, therefore you want to make sure that you keep a reasonably high shutter speed in order to capture a sharp photo.

In most cameras shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/500 the of a second. If you happened to see a “B” that stands for bulb which means that the shutter stays open for as long as the shutter release button is pressed.

 For best results shot at 1/60, 1/125 or above when shutting handheld. If using a tripod, then there is no shutter speed to worry about.


  1. Lenses

Most film cameras will have a 50mm lens, which is in the “standard range” other more popular focal lengths are 24mm, 28mm, 35mm all in the “wide angle range.” 135mm and 200mm for the “telephoto range.” The lower the number in mm the wider and the higher the number the narrow field of view. All the previous examples are what is known as a prime lens, or fixed focal length, if you encounter a lens with variable focal lengths, such as a 16 to 35mm or 70 to 200mm, those are known as zoom lenses.


As you can see there are several factors that go into taking a photo specially when shooting with SLR, single lens reflex, cameras with manual modes. Combining them will provide different results making your photography journey an exciting learning experience and a great hobby or profession. We have only touched the surface here, but I hope that this can be enough to get started, the best way to better understand and improve your film photography skills is by practicing.

Once you have shot your first roll you will need to get it developed and scanned. For that you can got to click on Develop film and scroll down until you find your type of roll. The most common is 35mm Color C-41, click on it pick your scan quality any prints, how you want your scans to be delivered, add to cart and follow the checkout process.

Now to thank those that hung around to the end of the post here is a bonus tip.

As you may recall we mention the you cannot change your ISO mid roll, while that is still the case it does not mean that you cannot shoot at a different ISO rating. A common practice is to push your film. You can do this by rating and shooting your film at a higher ISO, for example instead of rating Ultra Max at 400 you can rate it at 800. This will allow you to shoot in lower lighting conditions were higher sensitivity may be needed. Once you have finished shooting your roll make sure to let your lab know that you need your film to be pushed to 800 ISO, most labs will have an additional charge but it will give you the flexibility when shooting if your current roll will is not ideal for the conditions.

Hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful make sure to comment and share it. 

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