My Quest for Taking Better Film Photography

What started with me simply wanted to know how to develop my own film has turned into my new obsession of wanted to take better photos.

My entire life I’ve only used the auto mode on any camera. Maybe, just maybe I would put it on that running man mode for high speed shots and moving objects. That was really it.

Once you start getting into film, you learn that those modes don’t exist on the film cameras. You also now have a fixed ISO setting (based on the film loaded) where-as a digital camera will auto adjust the ISO for you depending on the lighting.

What I’ve learned so far:

Type of Camera and Lens

This does matter, but not as greatly as you would first believe. A good overall camera will give you the photos you want. I’m currently having fun with a Cannon AE-1. It serves a dual purpose of having a “program” mode aka Auto mode. Then you can use that same camera to slowly start learning how to use the manual modes.

Honestly, use the digital camera to learn the manual modes. You get instant feedback and see what works or doesn’t work right away and then duplicate those settings on your film camera.

So an average to above average camera is more than enough.

Cameras to Choose:

  • Cannon AE-1
  • Nikon F2 or F3

Stay away from the point and shoots for now, that defeats the purpose of learning how to use manual mode

Type of Film

Film also plays an extremely important part. Now you need to choose the ISO’s. ISO is light sensitivity. The higher the number (800 ISO) the more light sensitivity it has. 800 is better for indoors, but the end result can be grainier in appearance.

I’m finding that ISO 100, 160, and 200 are my current favorites. I’ve used Kodak Gold 400 and not overly impressed. Not horrible. Had that vintage warm feel to the photos, but not what I’m looking for right now. Currently I want the photos to be as crisp and clear as a Digital photo.

Portra 160 seems the be the most popular currently and does take amazing photos outdoors in the day light.

Knowing how to Use the Camera

So this is huge. Most of this can be solved by purchasing a simple light meter or following the Sunny 16 method. (More on that in another post)

The better you know your camera, the better the photos. Getting off of the Auto mode and learning how to use manual properly will completely upgrade the look of your photos!

Developing Your Film

There is definitely something to this, but so far it hasn’t had any major bearing on the outcome of the photo quality overall. Make sure the film dries well, keep the dust AWAY from the drying film. Do not squeegee the film as you can scratch it. All of this will lead to poor film which means no matter what you do it will digitize poorly. Which leads me to:

Digitizing Your Film

This can make or break the quality of your final product. You may have the next award winning photo, but if you use a poor method of digitizing it will come out horrible.

Using a poor method of digitizing, not knowing your camera, etc

My first attempts were using a cheap $40 scanner for film. These are cheap for a reason. Don’t bother with them. They are great for quickly viewing film and finding ones you might want to scan, but that is all they should be used for.

Knowing your camera, using a Epson V600 scanner, etc

Look at those differences! Yes, that second one is film!

I’m currently using an Epson V600 for scanning and digitizing my film. I find it works fantastic and the colors only need to be minimally processed in Lightroom, which leads me to…

Lightroom

Leaning how to use lightroom is key when it comes to adjusting the colors of your photos to correct any scanning or developing mistakes. Most of the time the hues need to be adjusted. You might have too much green in the skin tones, etc. Simply and easily adjusted in Lightroom.

There are many working parts to film photography, which is why digital is so popular due to its simplicity and ease. Yet there is something oh so satisfying when you do all the work and get a shot you are proud to show off

If you have never developed film, I would suggest starting there. There are places you can send off your photos to be developed still for $12. So utilize those if you want to get started with film photography right away. One is particular is The Dark Room, but there are many others.

As for cameras, I’ve used quite a few film camera and the quality, ease of use, and stoutness of the Cannon AE-1 means that it is my go-to camera to recommend. It may not be the most expensive or the fanciest, but it is a rock solid work horse that will up your film game immediately.

Now go out and take some photos!

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