Well, lets take a little step back in history why don't we :) For people my age, I am 23, film is one of those obscure things that seems cool and hipster-ish, but we don't really know what it is exactly. Maybe we took a film photography class back in High School. I know a lot of people my age who took some of the last true film based photography classes at their schools before everything was switched to digital.
Instead of the sensor inside your fancy digital camera, the frame of film sits behind the lens and turns light into an image. That is the very simple explanation. So why should I care about shooting film? It's antiquated. It's confusing. And what do you mean I can't see the picture on the back of the camera right after I took it?!?!? These are all very valid questions, but recently I have fallen in love with film again and here are my top 3 reasons WHY before I get to the HOW.
1. Better dynamic range.
The best way I can explain dynamic range to a person in the digital age is by using an iPhone. iPhone's have great cameras, don't get me wrong, but have you ever tried taking a photo in a very bright or very dark environment? You touch the subject area of the frame to get it properly focused and exposed and BAM the other areas of the frame are blown out and either way too bright or its super, super dark. That's annoying. With film, it is more sensitive to bright and dark areas AT THE SAME TIME. You can take a picture on film and still see detail in the bright areas and dark areas. Well of course taking pictures on film is not perfect, and a photo will never have the same dynamic range as our own eyeballs, but film does THE BEST job of exposing for high dynamic range than any other medium available.
2. It costs money.
I haven't been 100% honest. Film costs money...for every photo you take that is money. BUT this is important. Photos of yesteryear were so much more magical and were viewed as a work of art, less of a commodity. That's because each frame was well thought out. The composition of the frame, the focus point, the exposure, the story behind the shot. Virtually everything, and that was because each frame cost the photographer something and was not something to be wasted. Sure, film photography is even more expensive now than it used to be, but this teaches us to SLOW down and get better quality over quantity. HOWEVER, I will say that buying a film camera, a good lens, and if you buy reasonable film stock and find a good lab for processing you can make film photography affordable. More on that later.
3. Better color and more character.
That filter that you swipe through on Instagram to add the extra burst of contrast or saturation? Yep, film invented that. The "dust" filters or "light leak" filters you add to your digital pictures on your Afterlight App? Yep, you guessed it, film had it first. Shooting with a digital camera, your pictures become just that. Digital, electronic, and too perfect if you ask me. Digital cameras are limited by their sensors ability to reproduce colors. You also have to worry about white balance, skin tones, and digital files often look washed out. Instead, the layers of chemicals in your roll of film are able to reproduce colors that are evenly saturated and contrasted. And when it comes to character, if your vintage film camera has a light leak you embrace it and it is kinda awesome that it occurred naturally and you don't feel like a doofus for adding a digital light leak to a digital picture.
Now for the fun part! How can you dive into taking photos on film? If you are serious about taking film photos, and you are a complete novice when it comes to the world of photography then I suggest you read up on the basics. This should include what ISO is, what f/stop is, what shutter speed is, how they are all intertwined and work together, as well as some basics on composition. Once you have read about these things, I suggest just diving in and practice, practice, practice! Now I am going to tell you exactly what I did and how I got my gear to shoot film! I am not fancy or anything, this is just works for me!
1. Buy a camera and lens.
I have two film cameras. My first camera is the Canon AE-1. This is the more retro/vintage looking camera that is completely manual, including manual focus on the lens. You can get a perfectly working one on eBay for $75 or less and it will come with an FD mount lens. The awesome part about FD mount lenses is although they are manual, you are likely to get a well made piece of glass that will be very fast (f/1.8 or f/1.4) which is great for low light and shallow depth of field. Similar lenses that are EF mount will cost a pretty penny. Lastly, there definitely is not a shortage on good AE-1 cameras out there as they were one of the most used cameras of the 70's! Maybe even your parents or grandparents will have one laying around!
My other camera, is a Canon Rebel G. I love this camera because it is fully automatic! I can still shoot in Manual mode, which is the only way I recommend how to shoot (maybe I'll write a blog about that later?), but it will load your film for you, wind the film, gives you digital light meter readings, and you can use an EF mount lens with auto focus! The EF mount by Canon is their current lens mount system and therefore you will be able to use any more modern lens with this camera. A good working one will only cost you about $25 on eBay!
I use both cameras, and it honestly just depends on what I am shooting or what mood I am in! I recommend the AE-1 because it truly teaches you the basics of manual photography, but the Rebel G will give you the same film-y feeling without accidentally forgetting to wind your film back up before you try unloading it. Not like that has ever happened to me....
2. Buy film.
Honestly, you can't go wrong. Buy lots of film! Film is film. Buy color, black and white, fast, slow, Kodak, or Fujifilm and just experiment when you are starting out. Once you see what you like, try more expensive types like Illford Delta or the Portra line from Kodak. I like to buy my film off Amazon in bulk because it tends to be cheaper that way.
3. Get it developed.
Pro-tip.... Film is light sensitive. So after you have taken your photos, do everything you can to properly unload the film, put it in the canister, and deliver it to a film lab without the emulsion seeing any more light. Honestly, this isn't that hard, but in this day and age I think that needed to be explained. And yeah, I've ruined a couple rolls by opening the back of my camera when I shouldn't have and over exposing my photos! I am cheap, and I like to just get my photos developed at Costco! Yes, Costco does a good job in my humble opinion and you cannot beat the price anywhere. At $1.20 for processing and 10 cents per print, you are looking at under $20 to develop and print 5 rolls of film. Killer if you ask me. And with all the money you will be saving on buying your camera at under $100 on eBay, you can afford the processing cost.
Below are some of the shots I have taken. I usually take one of my films cameras out when I am doing a "real" clientele shoot to snap a few photos, or with me just for fun. In this case, it was to LACMA, the beach, a flea market, walking around Abbott Kinney Blvd, and camping for the weekend. Film is fun, and you never know what you will get, so why not! Be adventurous!
So, go forth and shoot film. Be happy. Be a true photographer. If you want to hone your photography skills and feel like a true artist, shoot film. Trust me on this one :)
Love and light,