Photograph above via Unsplash, Mandy Choi
For some of us who have been shooting film for a while, this blog post might seem quite obvious. But everyone who shoots film, even professionals, had to start somewhere and were once at the stage where you are now. We understand that, so we are writing this for those of you who really need to get to know the basics. Maybe you have just picked up your grandparents old film camera, got a good deal at a flea market or found a good deal in our online store… but you’re curious as to how it all works! This is the blog for you.
Understanding the basics of film
The use of the word ‘film’ in film photography is a name given to photosensitive plastic, in a way. Film cameras are mechanisms that require a roll of film in order to take photographs. The most widely available type/format of film around today is 35mm film. This is a film type that can take up to 36 exposures/photographs.
35mm film can be found at photographic stores, chemists and particularly stores that specialise in selling film. Like Cape Film Supply, in Cape Town. The beauty about 35mm film is that it comes in different types and by different brands. We all know Kodak, right? Kodak film is one of the leading, if not the leading, film brand in the world. Other good ones are Fujifilm, Ilford, Lomography etc and the list goes on. So, let’s figure out which film is best for you. All of the film types discussed in this write up are available locally, in South Africa.
As a beginner, we always suggest starting with Fujifilm C200. This film is a colour film, meaning that when your photographs go to get developed (we will talk about this later) then the photographs you get back from the lab will be in colour. It is also hands down one of the cheaper film stocks yet it has great value.
Black and white film is also great, Ilford is a black and white film type producer although Kodak also makes some nice black and white film. If you look online at all the different types of film, they will have numbers either included in their names or descriptions. As an example, Kodak Portra 400, Fujifilm C200, Kodak Gold 200, Lomography 800 etc and the list goes on. The number on these film types are important! You will need to use this number later when we load your camera with the film.
Okay! So, you just picked up a fresh roll of film… You are super exited to get started but you do not know where to begin! Don’t stress, loading your camera is so much more easier than you think. If you are using a point and shoot, meaning your camera is a small one that can fit in your pocket and has a fixed lens (the lens cannot be removed from the camera). It looks very much like this…
If you have one of these then you don’t have to stress a lot at all. Simply extend your roll of film out of its canister at about 1cm or 2cm and put it into your camera once you have opened the back door. You take the little tag (the end of the film) and slide it into the film take up spool. I will place a video at the end of this paragraph so you can get a more in depth explanation and a visual example.
With most point and shoots, especially higher priced ones, the film will advance itself and you can simply start shooting. Woah, let’s go back. Advance? Your film needs to advance at the end of each photograph you take. This is usually indicated by a sound of something like a mechanical gear moving after a photograph is taken. It is the process of your film moving in the camera in order to make space for a new exposure or photograph. Like we said before, film is light sensitive, each photograph you create with film is essentially a burn of light on a plastic piece of film. If we are getting technical, film is made up of silver emulsion or silver halide crystals and other chemicals (gelatine etc), these chemicals and crystals are extremely sensitive to light and when exposed they are effected. But I will bring that back up again later.
Let’s say you are jumping straight to shooting an SLR. An SLR is a single lens reflex camera. They look very similar to DSLRs (professional looking digital camera’s). The basic difference between an SLR and a DSLR is in the name. DSLR stands for Digital Single lens reflex camera. Instead of having film that has the image burnt onto it, the DSLR has a digital sensor made up of megapixels.
How to load a point and shoot type film camera
How to load n SLR type film camera
Video’s above are by Pushing Film.
Now it’s time to go back to those numbers on the film, remember? If you have a point and shoot, you won’t really need to read this unless you plan to get an SLR one day! Those numbers we spoke about earlier are known as the ISO or the speed of the film. This is the term used for how sensitive the film is to light. If you want to learn more about this, such as how this is determined, you will need to sign up for our membership platform. Once you know the ISO of your film, let’s say we have Fujifilm C200, you are ready to start prepping your settings on your camera. There will be an ISO dial somewhere on your camera, usually on the top, this is very important. You will see numbers like 200, 400, 800, 1600, 25, 50 etc there are usually a lot of options. This is where you need to select the number that is associated with your film. It is important because if you set it incorrectly, you might end up taking photos that are too light or too dark, or over-exposed and under-exposed, because this setting correlates to your light meter in the camera. If you set it incorrectly, your camera will tell you information that is incorrect to your film type and every photo you take will be improperly exposed.
What ISO speed we recommend:
Anywhere around ISO 200 to ISO 400 is our go to. Reason being is because it works well during the day . These film types have very fine grain, meaning that if you shoot during the day your photographs wont come out too grainy and your colours will have quite a good amount of depth. Even 400 is quite a high ISO for daytime shooting. So 200 would be a great start, hence fuji C200. Higher ISO speeds like Portra 800 or Tmax 3200 are used for late late afternoon or night time shooting. These film speeds perform well at night because they are more sensitive to light. If you shoot these speeds during the day, you will get very grainy and flat results from the lab, no matter how good your lab is.
Shutter speed and aperture can be quite a long topic to chat about! If you want to chat about learning how to set shutter speed and aperture, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or our instagram, @thatgoodhour. If you already know how to set these, or your camera is an automatic, you should be ready to go! With most SLR’s, you will need to manually advance your film and manually rewind your film when the roll is done. I will attach a video down below that will help with all of these processes.