Over the past year I have got so many private/public messages about shooting film. Mostly…. “Where/how do I start?”. There is so much that goes into it, there isn’t really a simple answer, and to try to answer it over and over has become a bit time consuming. With that said, I love to share, just like those that answered my questions when I was in the beginning stages. I thought it would be helpful to try to gather as much as I can into a blog post for me and those that are curious to reference.
Why did I decide to shoot film?
It was nearly 5 years ago and I won’t lie, I was a Jose Villa groupie. There was just something so authentic, dreamy, and ethereal about his photos. The light, tones and depth just mesmerized me. I spent countless hours trying to replicate the look with digital, and failed pretty miserably at doing so. Finally one winter during the slow season I decided I was going to get a used film camera and teach myself how to shoot film. It was a struggle, and there is documentation that I was throwing in the towel several times during the process. But, I stuck to it, read as much as I could possibly read, shot as much as I could shoot and the rest is history.
The thing I didn’t expect was to not just love the look I achieved with film, but the process of shooting it. I had spent more than half of my life in art schools, painting, drawing, and sculpting; getting my hands dirty and feeling the process of the work I created. After kids, it all slid away and I reached for the digital cameras to fill my creative void. But until film, I didn’t realize how much I missed the actual process of creating. There is a romance and cadence that goes along with shooting film that I just do not get from shooting digital. From the unpacking of the rolls, loading of the camera, hearing the winding, to slower paced focusing, the shutter and the wind down of each image. It begins to grow on you and become quite addicting. Not to mention the days that the film scans come in are like Christmas morning. Every. Single. Time.
My first film camera.
In order to try to make the process a little less intimidating, I chose the 35mm Canon 1V because it was very similar in build to my Canon 5dMarkii and I was able to use my current Canon lenses on it. Since it is a 35mm, the film had more shots on it for trial and error, 36 vs 12 frames (saving a little on money) and it was a bit cheaper than the Medium Format film. KEH is a great resource for used cameras.
How I learned.
I studied. A LOT. Just like when I taught myself digital photography, I read, asked questions, read some more and did a TON of trial and error. Practice makes perfect, right? I am a firm believer of putting the tools in your hand, having a vision and figuring out how to achieve it, with, or without the rules. I had 3 main resources for learning. Jon Canlas’s Film Is Not Dead Book, Jose Villa’s Fine Art Wedding Photography book, and a group of friends that were going through the same learning phase as myself.
The Film Is Not Dead book by Jon Canlas: This is a really good starter resource. It covered all the basics of camera, light meters, film, exposing, developing and more. I referenced this about a bagillion times and it did help me try to figure out the basics.
Fine Art Wedding Photography by Jose Villa: Of course I got this regardless of shooting film…being that previous groupie and all. But it turned out that this was a quite a resourceful book. He posted his camera stats with each image and gave tips here and there throughout the book. Between FIND and those stats and again that wonderful thing called trial and error, I was able to figure quite a bit out.
Film friends (newbies or not): There was a handful of us that decided to learn film about that same time, so we made a private Facebook group so we could chat, share successes and fails, ask questions, link resources and so on. It was such a great little place for us to all share those trial and error phases and work out the kinks together.
Choosing a film stock.
This to me is a lot like choosing what brand of pencils or oil pants you like to work with. It really is up to you and your vision. Film stocks have different tones, contrasts and latitude from one to the next. Again, it took a lot of trial and error and studying the looks I liked from other photographers and know what stocks they used to figure out what would work best for me. During my learning phase, I started with Fuji 400H. However, I have since learned about Kodak Gold (a drugstore sold film) that has some wonderful results and much easier on the wallet as well.
Currently I shoot Fuji 400H, Portra 800, Portra 160 and Delta 3200 BW. It all depends on the light available and the look I am going for. You can find a bit more about this in the FIND book.
Choosing a lab.
In the beginning, while I was still learning how to meter, use my camera, and focus (yeah…that manual focus thing is an entire other ball game), I turned to my trusty Walgreens 1 hr photo service to see my rolls. This helped a ton with more immediate turn around to see if I knew what I was doing, only cost $8 per roll, and they use a Noritsu on auto to scan the images. The bonus of that last part is, you get what you shot. I didn’t realize how important this part of my learning was, until I started using pro labs. One thing that the blogs, forums and books didn’t mention is just how much the labs did to the scans. I had no idea that they adjusted the tones, contrasts, exposures and everything during the scanning process. So, while I was still learning on getting my exposures, contrast and such right, I wasn’t seeing that I was getting it wrong. My goal was to get consistent, and to get it as close to right in camera, so the scanning process was more authentic to what I shot. There are some labs that will give you what they call Basic Scans. These are great for the learner, and they are much cheaper. This way you can see where you are at with your shooting and adjust accordingly.
This is very personal. Each lab is a little different in their scanning. Like I mentioned above, they are able to do so much with the scans, so some tend to have a style to them. Plus price, customer service, turn around times, scan sizes and machines used are all factors you want to consider in choosing your lab. Don’t be afraid to try some out and see who fits right off the bat. Also look for a lab that offers Color Profiles. They will take a group of images you love the look of and work on getting your scans in that same feel.
Film Box Lab (my lab) | Photovision | Indie Film Lab | Richard Photo Lab | are some of the common labs. There are a ton, small and big. So ask around to film photographers friends and see what lab they use and why they love them.
I honestly cannot really touch on this. I have never taken a workshop myself and I am really not sure which ones focus on teaching how to shoot film. If anyone reading this knows of some great ones that actually teach how to shoot…please comment and I will update this post!
Film is amazing. It was a game changer for my creativity and my business. BUT, it is expensive and took a lot of patience and practice to get to the point that I was comfortable switching completely over. I had to adjust my business model, and prices quite a bit to allow for film, but in the end it was worth it, and my clients are happier than ever.
Please let me know if you have any more specific questions. I am happy to answer them to the best of my ability!