Shooting In Film: Getting Started
In the age of digital photography picking up a film camera will probably be seen as a regressive step. After all, when you can check what you have shot immediately after each exposure, why do you want to wait for a day to get your prints back by shooting in film?
Moreover, with film, the whole process of making images becomes that much more complicated. There are very few visible clues as to whether your metering is off. You have to trust your knowledge in photography more than ever to get a decent well-exposed image.
Thanks to the digital revolution in photography the words patience and precision have been replaced by the words instant and quick. We no longer have the patience to ‘make an image’. We are looking to grab one at a moment’s notice.
The phrase Carpe Diem has an entirely twisted meaning these days. In such ‘hostile’ environment’ that probably no longer wants film and film camera, why am I even talking about shooting with one?
There are more than one reasons for shooting in film, and we shall be looking at a few today:
Film Makes You Appreciate The Value Of Composition
With only a finite number of exposures possible per roll of film, you become more judicious before pressing the shutter release. Instead of putting your camera on hyper-drive (read: continuous high) you make every shot count.
You start paying more attention to framing and composing your images. The rules of composition will start to become more relevant for you when you are shooting in film. You also start paying attention to setting your exposure correctly.
Force You To Trust Your Eyes A Lot More
Not all analog film cameras come with a built-in light meter. The lack of a built-in meter means you have to train your eyes and then learn to trust them to meter a scene.
Of course, you can always use an external light meter, and that is a good idea, but the ability to judge the light value across a scene is a skill that will hold you in good stead for years to come.
You will be able to play around with your camera settings even when you have access to a built-in light meter.
Film Has Higher Resolution Than Digital Sensors
This will sound appealing to those pixel-obsessed photographers out there. The film has higher resolution than digital sensors. When I say film, I am referring to the medium and large formats. The standard 35mm film does not match the resolution that modern digital cameras offer.
That means if you are seriously interested shooting in film you should opt to shoot in large format or at least upgrade to medium format to be able to get a larger resolution than standard 35mm cameras. The comparison that is often made is by scanning film with that of frames captured by digital sensors. Even then the scans produce more than 70 even 80 megapixels of resolution. 70 even 80 megapixels of resolution.
Film Makes You Shoot With The Same ISO
Well at least for the entire length of a roll of film. Film cameras don’t have an ISO button per se, something which can change the ISO of the film.
You can't change the ISO (or ASA as it is called in the “film language”) once you have loaded the roll. Is it a good thing? Both yes and no.
Yes because now you have to be more circumspect how you are going to fire the exposures. You are going to have to be more careful about how you meter for a scene and whether you have the exposure settings perfectly dialed in.
It is not a good thing because you cannot shoot a wide variety of scenes with the same roll of film. Since the ISO is set and you have to dial in the ISO number to your camera to match the film speed, there is not much of a leverage apart from tinkering the aperture and the shutter speed. With a digital camera, you have a much easier time changing ISO after every other shot.
Film Will Force You To Get Your Shot Correct In-Camera
Film has a fixed white balance setting. It is set to daylight. There are some film that are balanced to tungsten and fluorescent light. That means you are more or less stuck when it comes to changing white balance in post. Sounds scary? Well, if you have been bred on digital photography all your life you should be.
If you shoot under tungsten light with a daylight balanced film you are going to have serious problems later on. The same goes for shooting under fluorescent light with a daylight balanced film.
There is very little adjustment that you can do if you get the white balance wrong while making the exposure. Back when film was dominant, photographers kept this in mind when shooting.
They always kept one eye on the light. Every time the light changed they would use the appropriate filter to compensate for the change.
It is no surprise to find professionals, especially wedding photographers, shooting in film to carry multiple cameras each one with a different film stock, different film speed and or different white balance of film because of this reason.
For example, when you are shooting in film with a daylight-balanced stock and under a tungsten light bulb, you would need something like an 80A filter to compensate for the color cast and make the final image appear as if it was shot under daylight.
These days all you need is a reference shot of something white under the same light as the main image was shot and you can accurately adjust the color cast.
So much so that these days’ digital photographers don’t even bother to adjust white balance at all because they know they have powerful software in their hands to take care of such issues.
Shooting In Film Forces You To Meter The Scene More Accurately
Having said that, you now become a lot more methodical in your approach. A process that a lot of photographers adopt is that they meter the scene several times over.
They meter for the highlights and then the shadows and then do an average metering to figure out the best camera settings for the whole scene.
Unlike modern digital negatives, film is a lot less forgiving. That means there is a small room for error and you could only do so much in a processing lab.
Slowing Down The Process Of Making Images
Shooting in film slows down the whole process of making images. It is not wholly a bad thing after all. It only enhances your precision. With digital cameras, half the time you’re not making images but grabbing them.
Image making is a very precise form of art, and unfortunately, modern digital technology has made it all too simple. Social media platforms have only made it worse. Everyone is looking to be the first to upload an image. Quality, as a result, takes a beating.
When you slow down the process, take the time to think about the composition, look several times through the viewfinder, meter and then set the exposure manually, set your point of focus before pressing the shutter release.
This whole process invariably means you become conscious of the number of available shots in your film and you make every one of them count when out in the field.
Film Cameras Have Become Cheaper
About a decade ago something strange happened in the world of photography. Digital technology powered cameras began popping up. What was unthinkable a mere few years ago happened.
Film became obsolete. Now, what about those old working film cameras? They now sit quietly at some corner gathering dust or worse, are displayed as the memento of a bygone era.
Every now and then one of these beauties pop up at some garage sale or on eBay. All shiny and with most parts intact, just yearning for a new owner like some old dog which has suddenly been forsaken by its old owner.
The thing is if you are interested in shooting in film, these analog film cameras have become incredibly cheap. You can probably pick one up for less than 50 bucks if you look around.
It is also pertinent to mention that it is a lot cheaper to shoot medium format or even large format using film than using digital sensors. Just to give you an idea a medium format digital camera like the Hasselblad X1D-50C with a resolution of only 50 megapixels costs a shade under $9K.
Comparatively, a medium format film camera like the Fujifilm GF670 (Rangefinder) capable of shooting both 120 and 220 roll film costs $2,200 bucks.
If you look carefully, you can get a second-hand medium format Hasselblad complete with a lens for even less.
Finding a roll of film, on the other hand, is a hard these days. Finding a film lab that still processes rolls of 35mm film is even more challenging.
- Captures true color even under fluorescent lights
- Patented 4th color sensitive emulsion layer
- Fujifilm 1014258 Superia X-TRA 400 35mm Film -4 Pack
- Color print film is 35mm
- For action or low-light shots
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Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 7 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.