This is a movie. It has a very old tone to it. Nonetheless, it’s romantic. And it’s a long way from the word “pixel.” Before there were digital cameras, we all remember bringing our film in for production.
Or am I getting older? In any case, the film is making a huge, glorious comeback that inspires people to turn off their screens and enjoy their lives.
This is old news for film recording shooters who have never fired digital. It’s a new world worth discovering for the rest of us who want instant gratification.
You’re in for a treat if you’ve been trying to put your pixels aside for a while and try your hand at film. Here are some reasons why playing with the film would change your life, as well as some pointers on how to get started with your first rolls. If you are recording the film on mobile, use the reliable tripod for phone to get the best result.
1. Forget about the “pursuit of pixel perfection.”
I’ll begin with this theory because it is, in my opinion, the most interesting. The film has a physical presence. Look at how beautifully backlit the negative is, illuminating the scene’s details. It’s a little grainy. The grain is present in almost all film stocks. It’s true. This brings me to the point where I should point out that there is no LCD screen to check for focus, exposure, or the opportunity to redo the shot. That’s about the way it is.
That means it may not have the fine, teeny-tiny eyelash detail that we’ve come to expect from big digital sensors. It’s likely that your photos are slightly or entirely out of focus. Take a deep breath and relax, trusting that all will be fine.
The film isn’t expected to resemble optical. That is precisely the argument. When you don’t have the immediate outcome to test, there is also a learning curve. I confess that I wasn’t used to seeing with a “film eye” when I got my first roll back. I tried to minimise the grain in ACR and then slapped myself in the face because that was NOT why I bought the film camera in the first place. Allow yourself to let go of the flaws and enjoy the journey.
2. Experimenting does not have to be expensive.
Last fall, I discovered my husband’s old film camera (a Canon AE-1) from middle school in our basement. It was mounted to an old 50mm 1.8 lens that looked like it hadn’t been washed in years (which it hadn’t). I put a roll of film in the camera (more on film stocks later) and started shooting. With manual focus and all.
I was able to find a copy of the manual online and read it cover to cover to get a better understanding of the settings. When I first pushed the shutter button, BOOM! At first sound, it was love at first sight. Then I had to manually advance the film, which was pretty much the end of it. I was a true movie buff.
When you physically load a roll of film, manually focus it, and forward it after the shutter is pressed, you get a peculiar sense of possession and ownership. It’s your pic, after all. I later purchased a used Canon EOS3 from Keh for $250 that would accept my existing lenses because I wanted to spot metre. Is that it? That’s what there is to it. You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to try your hand at film photography.
I’m almost certain that someone reading this will dig up an old SLR film camera that once belonged to a family member. If you don’t have one, you can easily find one at a thrift store, on eBay, or at yard sales. Most people aren’t aware of the treasures that can be sold at yard sales because they seem to be old and dated.
3. Film recording has a lot of leeways.
The film is much superior to digital in terms of retaining shadows and highlights. It’s almost unbelievable how film can catch information in scenes that would otherwise be blown to smithereens. The same goes for those dreaded vivid pinks, oranges, and yellows that seem to blow around on digital sensors with ease.
This is not the case for movies. The film captures all of the lovely nuances in all of these troublesome colours with grace and sincerity that digital simply cannot match. Since the film does not blast as quickly as digital, shooting in direct sunlight becomes a pleasant experience.
4. Play with various film forms.
Here’s where we have to be honest. Although you can get a cheap film at Walgreens while studying, I recommend investing in a good film from the beginning. Why spend time and money training just to obtain pictures that you don’t like? It was a no-brainer for me.
I wanted to get a better understanding of the stocks I’d be working with the most so that I could fine-tune my exposure, lab processing demands, and the “look” I wanted from my film. Every film has its own “recipe” for exposing to achieve a particular look.
Since so many different film stocks have such a wide dynamic range, you can overexpose by a couple of full stops and still get beautiful results. For colour film, I suggest starting with Portra 160, Portra 400, or Fuji 400 because you can overexpose them a lot (and should, particularly with Fuji 400) and still get good results. Ilford 400, as well as Kodak Tri-X, are decent black-and-white films to start with. Tri-X has a lot more contrast than Ilford, which I prefer. Any of these films can be purchased from B&H or Amazon or picked up at a nearby camera store that still stocks film stocks.
5. Come to a stop.
Film cameras have a shallower depth of field than digital cameras. I discovered that I couldn’t get proper focus with my film cameras when I shot at f 2.0. It was difficult for me to train my brain to try stopping down while shooting film because I have such a habit of shooting wide open whenever possible.
I can tell you that after giving in and not shooting wide open all the time, I’ve been much happier with my pictures. This is something I can assure you of. You’ll be happy you gave yourself the wiggle room before you’re a master film focuser.
5. Keep track of your film stocks and settings in a journal.
What is the explanation for this? And you ARE going to forget. You may believe that you will recall the settings or film stock that your film recording used, but you will not. I found out the hard way and wasted a lot of money on development because I was stubborn. Since you don’t have access to the Exif data like you do with digital files, it’s a lot of fun to go back and align your scans with your notes once they arrive.
6. Find a trustworthy lab and establish a working relationship with them.
No, Walgreens, Costco, and other 1 Hour Photo locations are untrustworthy. I’m not going to the grocery store to make my film if I’m taking the time to practise this craft, saving money on film recording, and preferring to shoot important moments in the lives of my family or clients. There are a lot of fantastic laboratories out there, so do your homework. Since day one, I’ve used Indie Film Lab and Pro Photo Irvine for all of my production, and I couldn’t be happier. Before mailing your rolls, make sure to inquire about their current processing time, as wedding season can slow them down and trigger longer wait times.
7. Film encourages you to slow down and enjoy the moment.
I’m sure you’re like me and can recall 108 photos of your child enjoying breakfast in under two minutes. Seriously, it’s too easy to overshoot with digital. Then I have to cull all 108 of those images from my card and onto my computer because no one wants 108 images of their child having one meal. Culling takes a long time for me. “This one appeals to me! No, I like it as well! And then there’s this!” Put an end to the chaos.
The film has taught me to take a deep breath and WAIT for the right moment. It’s made it easier for me to take a deep breath and hit the shutter when all of my stars have aligned and I’m seeing exactly what I want. The fact that a 35mm film roll has between 24 and 36 frames, and medium format camera film has even less, is enough to jolt you out of overshooting and instil a little picture patience. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the world’s most impatient person. I have to offer credit to the film recording for assisting me in breaking the barrier. When I’m shooting video, I’m a completely different photographer, and I really like that girl!
8. Last but not least, there will be NO EDITING!
I love editing digital pictures, but it’s good to take a break from it and spend as little time as possible in front of the screen. I’d rather spend my time playing with my two young children than editing photographs of them. Shoot, send, and wait for the email that says “your scans are ready.” It’s fantastic for a variety of reasons.
First, by the time the scans arrive, I’ve totally forgotten what I fired, and reliving the moments is a wonderful experience. Second, there will be no editing. Oh, did I just say that? I haven’t touched a single picture from the lab scans I’ve got. I’ll confess that I lied. When I felt like it, I desaturated some colour pictures to make them black and white, but I didn’t do anything more than that. For more video recording tips, visit techmong.com.