35mm film photography tips for beginners — part 1

35mm film photography tips for beginners — part 1

Here are few really useful tips for any 35mm film photography beginner. If you’re just getting started, you’ve probably already watched a bunch of YouTube videos and done some serious googling already. This is my personal advice in addition to what you’ve already found out.

1. Shoot couple of test rolls first before getting too serious
I’d encourage anyone new to film to first familiarise yourself first to the format, before getting too seriously about it. When I got back to film, I set way too high standards for my first rolls. I spent about two or three weeks on my first roll and had too high hopes for the results. No matter what you do, be prepared that the first few images are not going to be the greatest works of art. If I’d be in the same situation now, I’d just shoot couple of rolls to get the hang of it and then slowly start to move towards more serious shooting. It is likely that you will mess things up a lot in the beginning, so it may be a wise idea to not to get too serious at it with the first rolls. There is a lot to learn and film shooting is such a different ball game compared to digital. Getting to know the differences is a vital step, which you can get over with with few test rolls.

2. Learn to develop your own film
As another personal anecdote, I can say that I wish I would have learned to process my own film right from the beginning. Lab processing that includes scanning etc. is relatively expensive and it sometimes takes a long time to get your images back. I found it annoying to drive to the lab to drop the film and make another trip the next day to pick it up. You’ll quickly lose your money too if you continue to take your film to a commercial lab. Home processing on the other hand is dirt cheap, quick, fun and (imho) kinda goes hand in hand with the whole film shooting endeavour. It’ll be twice as satisfying too because you’ve made everything yourself.

3. Finding a camera that works
Film cameras tend to be old and some are of course malfunctional. I’ve had more than a few vintage cameras and I find it frustrating to pick up a faulty camera. I’d look for a solid all metal body that has stood the test of time. If it has been maintained properly, it can still be as good as new. I don’t like 80’s or 90’s cameras because they incorporate usually a lot of plastic parts and electronics that has gone bad and/or are hard to repair. My fully repaired Olympus OM-1 is pretty bullet proof and there are of course several other great cameras as well, like example Pentax K1000 and most Nikons. Having a 80’s camera with half of the plastic parts broken and all the electronics corroded is a pain the butt.

4. Don’t spend too much money on the camera
Most vintage cameras, except Leicas (etc), have already lost all their value and you can get a really good one for a very little money. I don’t see any reason to spend more than 100€ on a camera kit. You can get one from a vintage camera store, that has been repaired and may even have a guarantee. If you get your parent’s old camera, it may be jammed due to decades of sitting in the attic. That way you can get a camera for free, but in that case, have that 100€ to get it CLA’d (cleaned, lubrirated, adjusted).

5. Connect with the film photography community
As you may already know, there is a big and vital film shooter community out there. Even though most photographers are only talking about their Canon 5D’s, or whatever the latest best selling model is, you may have the impression that film shooting is somehow underground or marginal group of loners. I was delighted to discover a huge active community of film shooters at Facebook and Instagram. I get much inspiration from following other film shooters. The film community is usually very friendly, helpful and encouraging. It feels like belonging to a club of likeminded people.

6. Listen to Film Photography Podcast
FPP podcast is an amazing resource for film shooters. New episodes appear twice a month and they discuss cameras, film, developing, different formats and everything you want to know about film photography. The hosts are funny and very informative. It isn’t as generic as most podcasts. They have their own style of doing the show, which I really like. I’ve gotten a lot out from listening to the it. You may think that you’re getting into a pretty marginal genre by picking an old film camera, but listening to FPP, you may realise just how alive film is and how big and dedicated community is behind it. I love the show’s laid back and warm hearted atmosphere. They don’t try to come out as too important or snobby. The show has charm and great inspirational value.

I want to mention the podcast because every time I talk with a fellow film shooter, no one has ever heard about it, even though they have a good following. I think every film shooter should be familiar with the Film Photography Podcast. Be warned though — listening to the show (or shoe, as often referred in the FPP) will make you want to spend all your money on new gear! But in all honesty, for example, I would have never started to develop my own film, unless I wouldn’t got the inspiration and the knowhow from the FPP.

They also run an online film boutique, so when the time comes to order new film, chemicals or anything else you might need, they probably have just what you need.

You can find the podcast at: https://filmphotographyproject.com

7. Learn sunny 16 rule and some variations to it
Since you’re now shooting with a pretty ancient camera that has no computer to help you out with your exposures, you might as well go all the way and learn metering light with your eyes. Back in the days it went without saying that a photographer needed to know how to do manual exposures, since there wasn’t anything else. I’ve got a lot out of photography by going full manual. It may sound like too much for an absolute beginner, but I’d really encourage it.

8. Practise without film in your camera
Now that you can’t waste valuable frames on pointless shooting at your back yard, you can sometimes just shoot without film. When I got started, I was really anxious to go shooting, but sometimes I just didn’t have the chance to go out for a proper photo walk, but still wanted to hear that shutter sound. If you practise without film at home, you can still practise visualising the image, learning exposures, focusing, framing and learning how to operate the camera. It will be a good practise and it will take some of that pressure off you, if you just want to shoot without wasting film.

Pekka

Graphic designer and a 35mm film photography enthusiast. I enjoy straight photography on natural/available light and in-camera techniques. I'm inspired by early and mid-1900's classic photojournalism, street photography and documentary photography. Currently shooting mainly with Leica M6, and Olympus OM-4.

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