Film Photography

A Beginner’s Guide to Film Photography: Recommended Films and Techniques

Film photography is an art form that has stood the test of time. With its ability to capture moments in a unique and timeless way, it’s no wonder that many photographers still prefer it over digital photography. But for beginners, the world of film photography can be daunting. With so many different films and techniques to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the best films and techniques for beginners, so you can start capturing stunning images with ease.

What is Film Photography?

Brief History of Film Photography

The art of film photography has a rich and storied history that dates back over a century. It was first introduced in the late 19th century and quickly gained popularity as a means of capturing and preserving memories. The early days of film photography were marked by the use of large, cumbersome cameras and slow-to-develop film. However, as technology advanced, so too did the art form, leading to the development of smaller, more portable cameras and faster film.

One of the most significant advancements in film photography came in the form of 35mm film, which allowed for greater flexibility in shot composition and camera design. This format became the standard for amateur and professional photography alike, and it remains so to this day.

Despite the rise of digital photography, film photography has continued to maintain a dedicated following. Many photographers appreciate the unique aesthetic and tactile qualities of film, as well as the ability to control and manipulate the photographic process in ways that are not possible with digital cameras.

Today, film photography is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, with a new generation of photographers seeking to explore the art form and its endless possibilities. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner just starting out, there’s never been a better time to explore the world of film photography.

Differences between Film and Digital Photography

While digital photography has become the norm in recent years, film photography remains a popular and beloved medium for many photographers. Here are some key differences between the two:

  • Image Capture: Film photography captures images using a physical medium, such as film stock, which is processed in a darkroom to create a print. Digital photography, on the other hand, captures images using a digital sensor, which is then stored as a digital file.
  • Processing: Film photography requires physical processing, which includes developing the film and creating a print. Digital photography, on the other hand, involves digital processing, which includes editing and post-processing the digital file.
  • Image Quality: Film photography is known for its unique look and feel, with rich colors and fine grain. Digital photography, on the other hand, offers higher image quality and dynamic range, with greater detail and sharpness.
  • Cost: Film photography can be more expensive than digital photography, as it requires the purchase of film stock and the cost of processing. Digital photography, on the other hand, offers a more affordable option, with lower costs for equipment and processing.
  • Learning Curve: Film photography requires a certain level of technical knowledge and skill, as well as the ability to process the film manually. Digital photography, on the other hand, is generally easier to learn and requires less technical knowledge.

Despite these differences, film photography and digital photography each offer unique benefits and challenges, and many photographers enjoy exploring both mediums.

Choosing the Right Film for Your Camera

Key takeaway: Film photography offers a unique aesthetic and tactile experience that many photographers appreciate, despite the rise of digital photography. It requires technical knowledge and skill, but offers endless possibilities for creative expression. Beginners can start with recommended films such as Kodak Portra 40 and Fujifilm Superia 40 for versatile and vibrant colors, respectively. Proper exposure, composition, and development techniques are essential for great film photos. Scanning and editing can enhance images, and high-quality equipment and thoughtful editing can produce optimal results. Remember to have fun and enjoy the process.

Factors to Consider

When choosing the right film for your camera, there are several factors to consider. These include:

  1. ISO sensitivity: ISO sensitivity determines how sensitive the film is to light. A higher ISO film is more sensitive to light and can be used in low light conditions, but it may also produce more noise. A lower ISO film is less sensitive to light and requires more light to produce a proper exposure, but it will produce smoother and more detailed images.
  2. Color rendition: Different films produce different colors and tones. Some films produce more muted and subtle colors, while others produce more vibrant and saturated colors. Choose a film that matches the look you want to achieve.
  3. Grain: Grain refers to the texture or noise in the image. Some films produce more grain than others, which can be a desirable effect for some photographers. However, too much grain can make the image look muddy and unsharp.
  4. Shutter speed: Shutter speed can affect the look of the film. A faster shutter speed can produce sharper images, while a slower shutter speed can produce more blur and motion effects.
  5. Film size: Different films come in different sizes, from 35mm to medium format. The size of the film can affect the depth of field, field of view, and overall look of the image.
  6. Availability: Some films may be more difficult to find or more expensive than others. Consider your budget and the availability of the film when making your choice.

By considering these factors, you can choose the right film for your camera and achieve the look you want in your photography.

Recommended Films for Beginners

When it comes to choosing the right film for your camera, it can be overwhelming with the many options available. However, here are some recommended films for beginners that are easy to use and provide good results:

35mm Film

  • Kodak Portra 400: This is a versatile film that works well in a variety of lighting conditions. It has a natural color reproduction and is great for portraits, landscapes, and general use.
  • Fujifilm Superia 400: This film has a slightly higher saturation than Kodak Portra 400, making it a good choice for bright and vibrant colors. It’s also a good option for shooting in low light conditions.

Medium Format Film

  • Kodak Portra 800: This film has a higher ISO than the 400 version, making it a good choice for low light conditions. It also has a natural color reproduction and works well for portraits and landscapes.
  • Fujifilm Pro 400H: This film has a higher saturation than Kodak Portra 800, making it a good choice for vibrant colors. It’s also a good option for shooting in low light conditions.

Remember, these are just a few examples of the many films available. The best way to find the right film for you is to experiment with different types and see what works best for your style and preferences.

Loading and Unloading Film

Steps for Loading Film

Before diving into the specifics of loading film, it is important to note that different types of film require different loading procedures. For example, roll film requires a different loading process than sheet film. However, the general steps for loading film are as follows:

  1. Remove the film canister or box: If you are using roll film, carefully remove the canister from the camera. If you are using sheet film, remove the box from the camera.
  2. Load the film onto the reel: Depending on the type of film you are using, you may need to load it onto a reel. This involves threading the film through the reel and making sure it is securely in place.
  3. Open the camera back: Most cameras have a back that can be opened to allow the film to be loaded. Once you have loaded the film onto the reel, open the camera back and carefully place the reel inside.
  4. Close the camera back: Once the reel is in place, close the camera back to ensure that the film is securely in the camera.
  5. Advance the film: After you have loaded the film, you will need to advance it to the first frame. This can typically be done by winding the film advance lever or button on the camera.
  6. Set the ISO: Before taking your first shot, make sure to set the ISO on your camera. This setting will determine how sensitive the film is to light, and will impact the final exposure of your photos.

By following these steps, you can properly load film into your camera and prepare for your first shot. It is important to be patient and take your time when loading film, as a mistake in this process can result in poor image quality or even damage to the film.

Steps for Unloading Film

  1. Rewind the Film: The first step in unloading film is to rewind it back into the canister. This is done by opening the film door on the camera and winding the film back into the canister until the leader is exposed again.
  2. Remove the Lens: Next, remove the lens from the camera to prevent any damage to the lens or film.
  3. Open the Film Gate: Some cameras have a film gate that needs to be opened before unloading the film. This gate is typically located on the back of the camera and is opened by pressing a button or lever.
  4. Load the Film onto the Reel: Once the film gate is open, carefully load the film onto the reel. Make sure to load the film onto the reel in the same direction that it was originally loaded into the camera.
  5. Cut the Leader: After the film is loaded onto the reel, cut the leader to remove any excess film.
  6. Close the Film Gate: Once the leader is cut, close the film gate to prevent any light from entering the camera.
  7. Close the Lens: Finally, close the lens to prevent any dust or debris from entering the camera.

By following these steps, you can safely unload your film and prepare it for processing. Remember to handle the film carefully to avoid any damage to the film or camera.

Taking Great Photos with Film

Understanding Exposure

Exposure is one of the most critical elements of photography, and it is particularly important when shooting with film. In digital photography, exposure is typically controlled using a light meter, but in film photography, exposure is controlled by adjusting the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings on the camera. Understanding how these settings work together to control exposure is essential for taking great photos with film.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the length of time that the camera’s shutter is open, and it is measured in seconds or fractions of a second. A slower shutter speed allows more light to enter the camera, while a faster shutter speed allows less light in. Slower shutter speeds are typically used in low light conditions or to create a sense of motion in a photo, while faster shutter speeds are used to freeze fast-moving subjects.


Aperture refers to the size of the camera’s aperture, which is the opening in the lens through which light passes. Aperture is measured in f-stops, and a larger aperture (a smaller f-stop number) allows more light to enter the camera, while a smaller aperture (a larger f-stop number) allows less light in. Aperture also has an effect on the depth of field in a photo, with a larger aperture resulting in a shallower depth of field and a smaller aperture resulting in a deeper depth of field.


ISO is a measure of the camera’s sensitivity to light, and it is used to control exposure in low light conditions. A higher ISO setting makes the camera more sensitive to light, allowing for shorter shutter speeds and smaller apertures in low light situations. However, increasing the ISO also increases the amount of noise in the photo, so it is important to use the lowest possible ISO setting to achieve the desired exposure.

In conclusion, understanding exposure is crucial for taking great photos with film. By adjusting the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings on the camera, photographers can control the amount of light that enters the camera and achieve the desired exposure in a variety of shooting conditions.

Using Aperture and Shutter Speed

Controlling the amount of light that enters the camera is essential to capturing great photos with film. Aperture and shutter speed are two important factors that can be adjusted to achieve the desired exposure.

Shutter speed, on the other hand, refers to the length of time that the camera’s shutter is open, allowing light to enter the camera. Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second, and a slower shutter speed allows more light to enter the camera, while a faster shutter speed allows less light in. Shutter speed also affects the motion in a photo, with a slower shutter speed resulting in a motion blur and a faster shutter speed freezing motion.

To achieve the desired exposure, photographers must balance the aperture and shutter speed. Aperture and shutter speed are interrelated, and changing one will affect the other. For example, using a smaller aperture will require a faster shutter speed to achieve the same exposure, and using a faster shutter speed will require a larger aperture to achieve the same exposure.

In addition to aperture and shutter speed, ISO also plays a role in controlling exposure. ISO is the sensitivity of the film or digital sensor to light, and a higher ISO will result in a brighter image, but at the cost of increased noise. Therefore, photographers must also consider ISO when adjusting aperture and shutter speed to achieve the desired exposure.

In conclusion, aperture and shutter speed are essential elements of film photography that can be adjusted to achieve the desired exposure. By understanding how aperture and shutter speed work together and how they affect the exposure and the final image, photographers can take control of their photography and create stunning images with film.

Tips for Composition

  1. Rule of Thirds: A classic principle in photography, the rule of thirds involves dividing the frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically, creating four intersection points. Placing key elements of the image at or near these points creates a more visually appealing and dynamic composition.
  2. Leading Lines: Leading lines are elements in the scene that lead the viewer’s eye from the foreground to the background or vice versa. This technique can be achieved using roads, walls, fences, or any other linear objects in the scene. By incorporating leading lines, photographers can create a sense of depth and guide the viewer’s attention to the subject.
  3. Framing: Framing is the technique of using objects in the foreground to create a frame around the main subject. This can be done by finding natural frames, such as tree branches, windows, or doorways, or by utilizing the shape of the subject itself as a frame. Framing can help isolate the subject and draw attention to it.
  4. Negative Space: Including negative space in a composition means leaving blank areas around the subject. This technique can create a sense of simplicity and calmness, allowing the viewer to focus on the main subject without distractions. It can also provide a sense of scale and emphasize the subject’s importance.
  5. Symmetry and Patterns: Finding and utilizing symmetry and patterns in the scene can create visually appealing and balanced compositions. This can include repeating shapes, reflections, or even the arrangement of objects in a scene. Look for these elements and use them to create interesting and harmonious images.
  6. Play with Depth of Field: Experimenting with depth of field can greatly affect the composition of your images. A shallow depth of field can isolate the subject and blur the background, while a deeper depth of field can keep both the subject and the background in focus. Understanding how to control depth of field using aperture, focal length, and distance can help you create more interesting and creative compositions.
  7. Experiment with Point of View: Changing your point of view can significantly impact the composition of your images. Shooting from a low angle, eye level, or high angle can create different moods and perspectives. Experiment with different viewpoints to find the one that best suits the scene and your vision.
  8. Balance and Contrast: Strive for a balanced composition by arranging elements in a way that feels harmonious and pleasing to the eye. You can achieve this by repeating colors, shapes, or sizes, or by including complementary elements that contrast well with each other. Contrast can also be achieved through light and shadow, so pay attention to how light affects the scene and use it to your advantage.

By following these tips for composition, you’ll be well on your way to taking great photos with film. Remember that these are just guidelines, and it’s essential to develop your own eye and style as you continue to explore the world of film photography.

Developing Your Film

Equipment Needed

Developing your own film is an essential aspect of film photography that allows you to create your own unique images. However, it can be daunting for beginners to know what equipment is needed to develop their own film. In this section, we will provide a list of the basic equipment required for developing your own film.

  1. Darkroom: A darkroom is a space that is completely dark and is used for developing and printing film. It is essential to have a darkroom for developing your own film.
  2. Film Developing Tank: A film developing tank is a container that is used to develop film. It is designed to hold the film and the developing solution and agitate the film during the developing process.
  3. Film Stock Solutions: Film stock solutions are chemicals that are used to develop the film. These solutions come in different formulations, and it is important to choose the right solution for the film you are developing.
  4. Measuring Cup: A measuring cup is used to measure the chemicals needed for developing the film. It is important to measure the chemicals accurately to ensure the correct development time.
  5. Thermometer: A thermometer is used to measure the temperature of the water used in the developing process. It is important to maintain the correct temperature to ensure the film develops correctly.
  6. Stop Bath: Stop bath is a solution that is used to stop the development process and fix the image on the film. It is important to use the right amount of stop bath to ensure the image is fixed correctly.
  7. Fixer: Fixer is a solution that is used to fix the image on the film. It is important to use the right amount of fixer to ensure the image is fixed correctly.
  8. Water: Water is used to rinse the film after it has been developed and fixed. It is important to use clean, distilled water to rinse the film.
  9. Film Drying Rack: A film drying rack is used to dry the film after it has been washed. It is important to dry the film thoroughly to prevent water spots from forming on the film.

These are the basic equipment required for developing your own film. With these tools, you can develop your own film and create unique images that reflect your creative vision.

Steps for Developing Film

  1. Gather necessary equipment: To develop film, you will need a film development tank, a measuring spoon, a stop bath, a fixer, a washing machine, and a water container.
  2. Prepare the equipment: Before starting the developing process, it is important to ensure that all the equipment is clean and free from any dirt or debris. This will help to prevent any contamination of the film.
  3. Load the film: Carefully load the film into the development tank, ensuring that it is in the correct position. It is important to handle the film with care, as it is delicate and can be easily damaged.
  4. Set the timer: Set the timer for the recommended development time for the film you are using. This can vary depending on the type of film and the desired level of contrast.
  5. Add the developer: Pour the developer into the tank, following the instructions on the packaging. It is important to measure the developer accurately to ensure that the film is properly developed.
  6. Agitate the film: Gently agitate the film every few seconds to ensure that the developer is evenly distributed. This can be done by hand or using an agitation plate.
  7. Rinse the film: After the development time has elapsed, carefully pour out the developer and rinse the film with water. This will help to remove any remaining developer and prepare the film for the next step.
  8. Fix the film: Add the fixer to the tank and agitate the film again. This will help to set the image and prevent it from fading over time.
  9. Wash the film: Rinse the film again with water, this time using a stop bath to help to reduce the amount of time the film spends in the water.
  10. Dry the film: Finally, gently squeeze out excess water from the film and lay it flat to dry. It is important to avoid touching the film as it dries, as this can cause streaks or other damage.

Tips for a Successful Developing Process

Properly developing your film is crucial to achieving the desired results in film photography. Here are some tips to ensure a successful developing process:

  1. Follow the recommended developing time: Different films have different recommended developing times, which are typically specified by the manufacturer. Adhering to these recommendations will help you achieve the best results.
  2. Maintain the correct temperature: The temperature of the developer solution is crucial for proper development. Most films require a temperature between 68°F (20°C) and 77°F (25°C). Ensure that your development tank is within this range.
  3. Agitate properly: Agitation helps to ensure even development of the film. For most films, this means inverting the development tank every 30 seconds and giving it a gentle but firm swirl.
  4. Watch for signs of overdevelopment: Overdevelopment can result in loss of detail and increased grain. Look for signs such as a change in contrast or texture. If you notice any issues, stop the development process immediately.
  5. Rinse thoroughly: After development, it’s essential to rinse the film thoroughly to remove any remaining developer. This will help to prevent damage to the film and ensure the best possible results.
  6. Dry the film carefully: Drying the film evenly is crucial to prevent bending or creasing, which can lead to permanent damage. Consider using a film dryer or a cloth with a gentle touch.

By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a successful developing process and stunning film photographs.

Scanning and Editing Your Film Photos

Scanning Your Film Negatives

When it comes to scanning your film negatives, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure the best possible results. Here are some tips for scanning your negatives:

  1. Choose the right scanner: There are a variety of scanners available on the market, ranging from simple, entry-level models to high-end, professional-grade scanners. If you’re just starting out with film photography, a basic scanner should be sufficient for your needs. However, if you’re looking to produce high-quality scans, you may want to invest in a more advanced scanner.
  2. Consider the size of your negatives: Different scanners are designed to handle different sizes of negatives. If you’re working with 35mm film, you’ll need a scanner that’s specifically designed for that size. If you’re working with larger formats like medium format or large format, you’ll need a scanner that’s capable of handling those sizes.
  3. Set the correct settings: When scanning your negatives, it’s important to set the correct settings to ensure the best possible results. This includes adjusting the brightness, contrast, and color balance to bring out the best in your images. You may also want to consider setting the resolution to a high setting to ensure that your images are as sharp and detailed as possible.
  4. Take your time: Scanning your negatives can be a time-consuming process, especially if you’re working with a large number of images. However, it’s important to take your time and carefully scan each image to ensure that you get the best possible results. Rushing through the process can result in subpar scans that don’t do justice to your images.
  5. Edit your scans: Once you’ve scanned your negatives, you may want to edit your scans to further enhance your images. This can include adjusting the brightness, contrast, and color balance, as well as cropping and resizing your images. There are a variety of software programs available that can help you edit your scans, including Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Editing Your Film Photos

Once you have your film photos scanned, the next step is to edit them. Editing your film photos can be a fun and creative process that allows you to enhance the image and bring out its best qualities. Here are some tips for editing your film photos:

  • Adjust the exposure: One of the most common things to adjust when editing film photos is the exposure. If the photo is underexposed, you can brighten it up to bring out more detail in the shadows. If it’s overexposed, you can darken it to prevent blown-out highlights.
  • Adjust the contrast: Adjusting the contrast can help to bring out more detail in the image and make it look more vibrant.
  • Crop the image: Sometimes, the composition of the photo may not be perfect, and cropping can help to improve it. Be careful not to crop too much, as you may lose important details in the image.
  • Add filters: Film emulsions can give your photos a unique look, but sometimes you may want to add a filter to the image to enhance its overall look. There are many filters available, from warm tones to black and white.
  • Enhance the colors: Depending on the film you used, the colors may not be true to life. Enhancing the colors can help to make the image look more vibrant and realistic.
  • Add grain: Some film photographers like to add grain to their images to give them a more film-like look. You can do this by using a grain effect plugin or by adding a grain layer in Photoshop.

By following these tips, you can enhance your film photos and bring out their best qualities. Remember to have fun and experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.

Tips for Optimal Results

To ensure the best possible results when scanning and editing your film photos, there are several key tips to keep in mind. These include:

  1. Scanning at the highest resolution possible: This will give you the most detailed and accurate representation of your film photo. Make sure to scan at a resolution of at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) for best results.
  2. Correctly exposing your film: Proper exposure is crucial for getting the most out of your film photos. Overexposure can lead to washed-out colors and loss of detail, while underexposure can result in dark, muddy images. Follow the recommended exposure times and settings for your specific film and situation.
  3. Using high-quality scanning equipment: A good scanner can make a big difference in the final quality of your scans. Look for a scanner with a high resolution and good color accuracy, and consider investing in a dedicated film scanner if you plan to scan frequently.
  4. Editing carefully and thoughtfully: While it’s important to respect the unique look and feel of film photography, editing can help you enhance and refine your images. Use editing software to adjust colors, contrast, and other elements, but be careful not to overdo it and strip away the film-like qualities that make your photos special.
  5. Printing your images for display: Finally, remember that film photography is ultimately a tactile and visual medium. Don’t forget to print your favorite images and display them in your home or gallery to fully appreciate the beauty of your work.

Final Thoughts on Film Photography for Beginners

  • Film photography can be a rewarding and creative experience for beginners.
  • With the right knowledge and techniques, anyone can capture stunning images using film.
  • Experiment with different films, cameras, and techniques to find your own unique style.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as they can often lead to valuable learning experiences.
  • Remember to have fun and enjoy the process, as film photography is a journey that can lead to a lifetime of creative expression.


1. What is film photography?

Film photography is a photography technique that uses film to capture and record images. It has been around for over a century and has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity due to its unique aesthetic and the ability to create physical prints.

2. Why should I use film instead of digital photography?

Film photography offers a unique experience that cannot be replicated with digital photography. It allows for a greater sense of control over the final image, as the photographer has more creative control over the exposure, ISO, and other settings. Additionally, film has a unique aesthetic that is not found in digital photography, with richer colors and a unique grain structure.

3. What type of film should I use as a beginner?

As a beginner, it is recommended to start with a black and white film, such as Ilford HP5+ or Kodak Tri-X. These films have a wide exposure latitude and are forgiving when it comes to over or under-exposure. They also have a unique aesthetic that is great for learning the basics of photography.

4. What camera should I use for film photography?

Any camera can be used for film photography, from a simple point-and-shoot to a professional DSLR. However, it is recommended to use a camera with manual controls, such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, to gain more control over the final image. Additionally, a camera with a built-in light meter can make it easier to accurately expose your shots.

5. How do I load film into my camera?

Loading film into your camera can seem intimidating at first, but it is a simple process. First, open the back of the camera and remove the take-up spool. Then, thread the film onto the supply spool and place it in the camera, making sure to insert it into the correct side. Once the film is loaded, close the back of the camera and you are ready to start shooting.

6. How do I properly expose my shots?

Proper exposure is key to achieving great results in film photography. The most important factor is the amount of light that is entering the camera. You can control this by adjusting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Additionally, using a light meter can help you accurately measure the light and make adjustments accordingly. It is also important to consider the exposure compensation, bracketing and film sensitivity.

7. How do I develop my own film?

Developing your own film can be a rewarding experience, but it does require some specialized equipment and knowledge. You will need a darkroom, chemicals, and equipment such as a developing tank and stop bath. There are many resources available online that can guide you through the process, but it is recommended to start with a simple black and white film and work your way up to more complex processes.

8. Can I scan my film negatives?

Yes, you can scan your film negatives to create digital images. This can be done with a scanner or a scanning attachment for a camera. There are also several scanning apps available for smartphones that can digitize your negatives. It is important to note that scanning your negatives will not replicate the unique aesthetic of film, but it can be a convenient way to share and edit your images.

A Beginner Guide for 35mm Film Photography.

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