What I Wish I Knew About Film Photography When I First Started Shooting Film

Wish I Wish I Knew About Film Photography When I First Started Shooting Film

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What I Wish I would've known about film photography before I started learning how to shoot film photos

Like so many photographers, I started out shooting entirely digitally. I learned primarily on the Canon 5D Mark ii through various trial and error efforts (combined with plenty of YouTube videos). But after years of shooting entirely digitally, I discovered just how much I loved shooting film. 

I jumped head first into shooting film, both personally and within my business. And now, film shooting makes up a large percentage of my work and workflow. Although so much of the trial and error I made my way through was helpful in the long run, there are so many things I wish I could've known from the beginning. I wanted to share those with you, in hopes that if you're newer to shooting film, I might save you some time: 

Film Can Be Fast

I know I can't be the only one; film is just...slower, right? While the learning curve fo film can slow you down at first, there are so many ways to shoot film during "faster moments". A few that I suggest? Try using a faster autofocus camera like the Contax G2 (35mm), Canon 1V (35mm), or the Mamiya 645AFD (Autofocus).

Maybe you're like me, and assumed that the images shot on film needed to be the "slower" moments, or the more "posed" images. I want to assure you that learning to shoot in-motion, moving people and experiences in film will be one of the greatest advantages you have in your work.  

You Just Have to Do It

I spent hours (countless hours) researching film; how do you expose it correctly? what film stocks work the best? what film stocks should I use in lower light? 

The truth is: you just have to do it. There's truly no way to completely learn it all through reading or hearing from others. For example, when I first started learning how to properly expose Portra 400, I heard to "rate it at 320". So that's what I did for the first year of shooting it...and it worked in some scenarios, and not so much in others. Then I heard you "must rate it at 400". So that's what I did for another year. I spent this year wondering why so many scans weren't my favorite colors, why they seemed almost a bit underexposed, etc. 

It took me over two years to finally realize, you have to meter however works best for you (and the meter you have). Despite how we want to believe meters are perfect, every meter is just slightly different in the way that it reads light. This means that someone who says they "rate at 400, bulb in for shadows" and someone who says they "rate at 200, bulb in for shadows" might actually be getting the same reading, though they're metering differently.

Film Isn't Magic

I mean...it is. But when I first began shooting film, I had this thought that shooting film simply made every image incredible. For awhile, I got a bit lazy with looking for the best light. I assumed that I could start scheduling shoots during non-ideal lighting hours because the film would make it okay. 

Finally, after getting plenty of scans back that I was less than thrilled with, I came to the conclusion that film just isn't magic. You still have to use the immense knowledge and skills you have in creating the very best image possible, and not rely solely on the fact that you're shooting with a beautiful film stock on a Contax 645 camera. 

The Contax 645 Isn't Everything

Okay, yes. I do shoot with this camera often...and it's a phenomenal camera to work with. But there are so many incredible options for medium format (and 35mm) film cameras. And those options may be a little less expensive. 

If you're just starting out (or even as a seasoned film photographer), I highly recommend considering the Mamiya 645AFD (autofocus). I have used this camera since day 1 of shooting film, and still use it on almost every wedding alongside my Contax. It's the perfect option if you need some good autofocus, and want a camera that has a few less "glitches" than the Contax645 can have.

Another one of my favorite cameras to use? The Contax G2 35mm camera. About a year ago, I picked up this camera and got immediately hooked. 35mm has its own beautiful look, and is great paired alongside medium format film and digital. The Contax G2 is a great autofocus camera that will last for....pretty much forever. I personally shoot this camera with this lens. Another 35mm camera that has been on my Dream Wish List for the last year is the Leica M6. It's a bit more expensive, but a dream camera to work with (I'll be getting that one soon enough!). 

* Pro Tip: If you decide to purchase one of those cameras above, install Rakuten first to get cash back from those purchases. 

You Don't Need a Meter

Well...you do at first. But some of the best advice I've gotten recently came from my friend, John Dolan. He told me that he rarely, if ever, uses a light meter. And that's not because he is guessing at his exposures. But rather, it's because he has spent years and years challenging himself to learn and understand light readings without constantly relying on his handheld light meter.

Don't feel comfortable leaving your film meter at home? Then don't! (And I highly recommend not leaving that at home if you have client work and don't feel 100% comfortable at knowing your exposures by heart). Instead of doing that, start challenging yourself to guess your exposure before you check the meter reading. Doing so over and over again will allow you to get better at knowing what readings to expect without over-relying on your meter. 

Don't have a good meter to start learning your exposures with? This is my favorite light meter

Messing Up Isn't a Sign of Failure

Do you know how many film scans I have gotten back that were (ahem....) terrible. Plenty. Instead of taking these scans as a sign that I was failing, or that I should stick with digital-only, I used each instance as a way to learn more about film. Doing this has helped me know what to do (and what not to do), and how to avoid common mistakes.



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