Shooting 35mm Film: My Top 5 Tips for Beginners

If you didn't already know, I'm a portrait photographer and have been exclusively shooting film for nearly a decade now. I've always been asked for help from people looking to start shooting film, so thought I'd share my top 5 tips on the blog. 

1. The number one question I get is "what camera do you use?" As obliging as I am, it doesn't matter. Someone once replied to my response with "wow it looks like it was taken with a really expensive camera"...bit of a backwards compliment, because the price doesn't matter at all. In my honest opinion, there's no "best" camera. It's all about who's behind it. I've always been told the analogy that Andy Murray would still expertly play tennis with a racket from Poundland, or a top-of-the-range professional racket. If you have the skill, the tool shouldn't be the most important factor. The same goes for a photographer. However an SLR has obvious benefits compared to point -and-shoot cameras or polaroids: not only do you have more control with an SLR, there's also another problem: 

2. Polaroids and point-and-shoot (most prominently the Olympus Trip) are very susceptible to what I like to refer to as 'the retro trap'. People love to slap "retro" and "vintage" on to hike up the price tag. This is true for all film cameras though (I've just noticed people do it a lot with polaroid etc). You're better off going to actual camera shops. My favourites are Canterbury Camera Centre (local to me). Ebay is also better than depop for example (hipsters love Depop), but again if labelled "vintage" etc, approach with caution.  

3. Film is an investment. Yes, the cameras and the lenses may be cheaper as a one-off purchase, but film is pricey. Very pricey. Film is also susceptible to 'the retro trap', particularly expired film. I wouldn't recommend shooting anything important using expired film. I use it in my 'third shooter' if you will (my third favourite camera) just to play around and see what I get; you can get funky colours, but you may also get literally nothing. My favourite 'serious' film stocks to shoot are Fuji 400H, Kodak Ektar, and Kodak Portra - all of which may still be labelled as 'vintage' and uploaded to Depop and the like with an inflated price. Buy film from a reputable seller and, especially if you are new, a knowledgable seller too, so that they can recommend different film stocks for different results, and I'm sure would also be more than happy to offer some pointers for beginners. My go-to for purchasing film is Film Supply UK

4. The beauty of DSLRs is that pretty much anybody can use one. The automatic settings mean the only job left to do is push a button. That's not the case with film photography, so - certainly if you're new to it - you need to know that, at first, not every picture is going to come out how you had imagined it would. Actually, to be honest, even 9 years on, film still surprises me sometimes! It's all about trial and error. You need to get to grips with the nature of film, as well as a camera that's much more mechanical and requires a lot more precision. But I think that's what's to love about film: it's finite, so every shot requires thought and planning. You can't just point and shoot. Well, you can; but what a waste of money! 

5. In my opinion, the best way to learn is to get out and shoot. Buy some cheap film (like Kodak Pro Image), test out different settings, make notes on which settings you used for each frame if you need to. Film photography is a very practical skill which is best learned from doing.

You're always welcome to get in touch via my social media if you have any specific questions, or e-mail me at Have fun shooting!

Models in the photos:
Pictures 1, 3, 6 & 7: Ellis Stone
Picture 2: Alice Viner
Pictures 4 & 5: Georgie
Pictures 8 & 9: Molly

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