How to Get Started With Film Photography

The hype with film photography is getting HUGE and I'm seeing people everywhere hopping on the trend — and I love it. However, I can understand why you'd be confused about getting started. Before I got into film photography, I was CRAZY about the newest cameras, cool lenses, and everything that comes with it — but that eventually changed when I bought my first film camera (if you don't wanna hear the story, scroll down a section). 

How I Started Film Photography

Funnily enough, I didn't plan for it. I was considering the idea, but didn't think to actually do it (because you know, it's all fun and games, but it's still something new). But that didn't last long. On my last day in Amsterdam, I finally decided to check out the vintage shop near my boyfriend's apartment — it's a small and cute boutique with all kinds of fun stuff — cameras included. 

And as I was browsing, I saw it — my beautiful Olympus Pen EES-2 laying around, waiting for me to pick it up. And that was the first step. I was worried because I had no idea where I could buy 35mm film in Amsterdam and I had no idea how ISO worked for film cameras (coming from mirrorless and DSLR cameras with tens of settings, not being able to control the ISO was a huge deal).

And as we were walking to get McDonald's, we randomly found a photo shop (even though we walked on that street a million times, we only now noticed it — this about frequency illusion, now I see photo shops EVERYWHERE). We walked inside and bought an ISO 400 film (cool mistake, but we'll get to this). And that was it. Going home, putting the film in together and taking photos was kinda magic to be honest. But that's how it started. 

35mm film picture of a girl (blurred) in amsterdam city

I'm out of focus so you can see the beautiful city <3 

How to Get Started With Film Photography

1. Choose your photography style

The first thing you need to do is decide what type of photography you're after. Some people prefer images with an old vibe (that's me), others want the best quality. Whatever your motivation is, you should choose your camera accordingly. 

Different cameras produce different effects — my Olympus Pen EES-2 is from the 60s and I always get a super dreamy vibe from it. But, you can even choose a new-ish camera that's more similar to a DSLR — everything's up to you. My opinion is that you should test them, or at least look for samples and see what to expect.

35mm photo of a swimming pool taken with an olympus pen ees-2

2. Choose your film

The film part is a little tricky at first. What you should know is the basic — small ISO means less grain and light, high ISO means more grain and light. ISO 100, for example, is great for outdoor photography in direct sunlight, but you may not get awesome results inside. ISO 200 is versatile and can technically be used in any environment (as long as you have enough light). From ISO 400, we're almost ruling out outdoor photography, but you'll also get some grain. 

As a friendly recommendation, start with ISO 200 and go from there, depending on the results.

3. Get a camera

You can find film camera pretty much everywhere, but you need to like it too. I'm personally not hyped about the newer ones because there's no challenge — I'm talking about cameras that do everything for you. I have a couple of other cameras that can do that and they seem basic now compared to the analog one. 

There are a couple of things you should keep in mind when getting a camera.

  • The price — obviously, you want to stay within a set budget. Beside the camera, you'll also have to buy film and pay for scanning and developing(if you don't do it yourself). I paid about $50 for my first camera and I'm quite happy with it. However, I invested a few hundreds more in developing kits, scanners, films and more cameras.
  • The format — there are 2 types of 35mm cameras: full frame and half-frame. In general, you can take 36 full frame photos with a roll of film, and that's what a full frame camera does — fills the entire frame. Half-frame is pretty obvious now — you get 2 photos instead of 1. While it's interesting to take 72 photos instead of 36, I promise it gets boring, and the quality won't be awesome. Again, you can test more than one camera and see what you prefer. 
  • The shape — for me, the shape was a big deal. I didn't want something bulky, as I wanted it to fit nicely in any purse (duuh). But that's only up to you :D
  • Batteries or not — this can be a dealbreaker for a lot of people. If you're like me and forget about most things, then you may be left hanging because you forgot to change the batteries. Some camera are fully mechanical, others use batteries to charge the flash, and others are fully battery-powered, so they're pretty much useless without them. Again, this is up to you and your level or responsibility.

I think there are a few more things, but I'll mention them as we go.

picture of olympus pen ees-2 camera and seashells next to a vintage lamp

4. Get the film in

This is a scary step when you first get your hands on a new camera, as you shouldn't expose it to light — if you do, then it's lost. Most film cameras have super-intuitive systems, but you can also Google your camera's model and see how it's done (most of them have in-depth tutorials). 

5. Shoot!

Shooting is the easy part. Roll the film, point the camera and press the button. What's funny, is that you may be looking at the back of your camera to see the photo, especially if you're used to shooting on modern equipment. With film, everything's different. You need to make sure you have enough light, that the focus is correct, and you can't see anything until you develop the roll. 

What you can do is either remember the settings for every photo (if you're completely crazy like me), or write them down as you go. 

Before you start, make sure you understand how the focus works — I got burnt with this one. On old Smena cameras, for example, you need to calculate the focal distance yourself. Play with all the settings and experiment. 

35mm picture of a flower field shot with an Olympus Pen EES-2

6. Take the film out

This step is also interesting, as again, you CAN'T expose it to light — under any circumstances. You can either roll it back in, take it in a dark room and get it out manually, or give it the command (this is the case for more modern cameras). If you have troubles here, you can take it to a photo shop and they'll help you).

7. Develop & Scan

You can either take it to a specialized photo shop or do it yourself. I tried both, and I love developing and scanning my photos — it's a lot more personal and I'm a full part of the process. I'll write something about that too at some point. 

And that's basically it. It's not a complicated process and you don't need anything special to get started with film photography! 

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