Getting into film photography

Seven simple steps to help you become a film photographer

Getting into film photography doesn’t have to be tricky! Photo Reuben Polansky-Shapiro

Film photography is a big trend at the moment, with rolls of film being shot by the dozens.

I have had the privilege to work at two film film labs, one in my hometown of Kingston, Ontario, and one here in Montreal. Here are a few of my tips and tricks on getting into film photography.

1. Ditch Disposables

I get it, disposables are very aesthetic, but they’re also objectively bad. They’re bad for the environment and they cost you much more to do less. Photography has three factors that your camera uses to set the exposure: shutter speed, which will either freeze or blur your subject, ISO, a camera’s sensitivity to light, and aperture, which controls the depth of field and the amount of light let in by a lens. On a disposable camera, shutter speed and aperture are set and cannot change depending on your lighting environment. The ISO is decided by the film inside of the camera. On disposables, Fujifilm products are loaded with Fuji Superia 400 ISO speed film, whereas Kodak disposables have an 800 ISO speed film. 

My top recommendation for people getting into film is to buy a real camera. Whether you buy a 35mm point and shoot or Single Lens Reflex camera is up to you, and depends on your previous experience within photography. For simplicity, I will only be talking about point and shoot cameras. 

So, whereas everything is set on disposables, point and shoot cameras give you a lot more freedom. The biggest one is that you can pick the film stock you want. Think of films like cars. There are many car brands who all sell different models. Film is similar. There are currently three top dogs within the film world: Kodak, Fujifilm, and Ilford. Kodak makes popular colour negative films including: Ultramax 400, Gold 200, Portra 160, 400, and 800, Ektar 100, Pro Image 100, and Color Plus 200. Fujifilm makes Superia 200 and 400, and Ilford, who only makes black and white film, has nearly a dozen different film stocks, including HP5, FP4, PANF 50, Delta 100, and many more. 

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Once you get your hands on a point and shoot camera, you’ll be able to experiment with all of the different film stocks and find the style that you like. There are even niche films such as Cinestill, who make motion films that have been reengineered for still photography—similar to the film used in Euphoria.

Point and shoot cameras also have light meters in them, which will let them change the exposure settings so that you get properly exposed photos in nearly all light settings.

You can find many film cameras on Facebook marketplace, Kijiji, and eBay. Just make sure the seller has tested it and lets you test it with them. Cameras that are 35mm film haven’t been made for 15 years, so many of these cameras are quite old and may be in poor condition. 

2. Bring your camera with you!

You never know what you’ll see when you’re walking around—especially in Montreal. Bringing your camera with you will certainly help you see the world through a different purview. It’s fun!

3. Find a quality lab, and develop a good relationship with them

Unless you plan to learn how to develop film yourself, you’ll need to bring your stuff to a lab.

Ask questions before you pick a lab. Ask about their default file size for scans, the colour corrections they do, whether they do wet or dry ink printing. I personally believe wet printing is so much nicer. Most labs in Montreal develop both C-41 (colour reversal film) and black and white film. Black and white film is usually done by hand, however, and therefore takes longer. Only a few labs in Montreal develop E-6 (colour positive film), and it is generally more expensive. 

It will say on the film packaging and cassette what type of processing you’ll need.

4. Learn about your camera

Most cameras aren’t too difficult. Make sure you watch a YouTube video on how to load your camera, and how to unload it. If you’re unsure, don’t be shy and ask a lab tech or camera store employee. 

5. Make mistakes on cheap film

Film photography is an expensive hobby. Until you’ve gotten the hang of it, stick to shooting the cheaper films. Kodak Ultramax 400 and Gold 200 are Kodak’s cheaper films, yet still have nice colours. Fuji’s Superia 200 and 400 are also really nice (Superia 400 is my go-to). All four rolls will cost you anywhere from $11 to $14 per roll for a roll of 36 exposures.

6. Shoot 36 exposure film

Frankly, the only reason why is that it’ll save you money. If you calculate the price per shot, taking into consideration the development cost and film cost, you will save money. Say a roll of 36 exposures costs $14, and a roll of 24 exposures costs $12. That’s $0.38 per exposure before development for the roll of 36, and $0.50 per exposure for the roll of 24. Say your lab charges $18 for the digital files only, and that’s what you want. That totals to $0.88 per exposure on a roll of 36, and $1.25 per exposure on a roll of 24. It’s a big difference that adds up and you shoot more film. 

7. Keep your negatives

Negatives are the physical film which your photo is captured onto. Keep those in a box or binder. If you ever want to reprint that photo, or scan it in a higher resolution, it is always best to use the original negative. 

Happy shooting!