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HOW TO: get started with film photography

Hey SNAPfans.  Happy Wednesday.  Did you see our line up announcement yesterday?  

Today we bring you the first in a new series.  HOW TO.  Our SNAPsters are a seriously talented bunch and we want to share their awesomeness with the world, as well as to share useful and interesting content on the blog so HOW TO was born. We have a whole load of SNAPsters working away on articles teaching you HOW TO do everything from manage your work flow to shoot off camera flash portraits using neutral density filters.  

First up is SNAPster Ambre, who's going to talk to us about shooting film.  

Hi! My name is Amber, I'm a 29 years old French photographer and today I will let you know a little bit more about film photography :)

When it comes to which media we photographers use, there are two options: analog or digital. Some of us say digital is definitely the future, and others think analog has some really amazing features that digital will never have. Let's dig a little bit more into this shall we?

The wedding photography industry has evolved a lot.  Before, photographers were simply taking pictures of the ceremony, a few group pictures outside the church and some couples shots in a park. They were shooting many weddings each Saturdays and there were just a handful of people doing this as a job. Competition was non-existent.

However since the evolution of digital photography, photographers can also cover other important parts of the wedding day: the getting ready part, when everyone is home and, the party, cocktails and brunch. We can deliver more pictures than ever, thanks to digital photography. So this is undoubtedly one great thing about digital as a medium.  

But let's see what film can offer that digital cannot: dynamic range.

I shoot with the wonderful D800 and I love its dynamic range. But when I'm in the south of France, it's 
2pm and it's harsh sun at 40°, my images are contrasty (to say the least). The blacks are black and the whites are too bright. But with film, everything gets more pastel and soft. The contrast is lower, the images are softer and nicer to look at. Film is nicer with light, it's prettier, it has a colour pallet and softness that digital might never have. This is the reason why many photographers stick to film even in 2015.

This image was taken on the French Riviera during summer, at   1pm   in direct sun, and the film was overexposed 2 stops

This image was taken on the French Riviera during summer, at 1pm in direct sun, and the film was overexposed 2 stops

So here is some advice to get started with film photography...

First of all, you will need a camera. You can choose a simple 24x36 or go medium format with a 645 or a 6x6. My go-to camera is definitely the Pentax 645N, which has all the features of modern cameras (autofocus, semi-automatic metering, etc.) with all the beauty of film packed in a (pretty heavy) camera.  So if you want to start easy with a great quality camera, this one would definitely be the one to get.

A superior model is the Contax 645, whose quality is better but the price!

Then, you need to choose which film you want. You have 2 main film producers: Fujifilm and Kodak. Fuji creates the Pro 400H series, which is very nice with pretty cold shadows and desaturated colors. Kodak creates my favourite kind of film ever, the Portra (400 or 800 ISO), which has wonderful skin tones and warm shadows.

To shoot film, you will need time and concentration. Because you can't shoot like crazy and check you work afterwards, you need to be careful (hence the semi-automatic camera to start with). Take your time, breathe. Most film photographers also enjoy it because it makes you take time instead of jumping around and shooting like crazy. Analog is more organic, you build a relashionship with your camera, you create rituals.

And finally, you need to choose your lab. There are many out there but my favorite is Homemade Photo Lab, a little French startup that does a great job, with a small turnaround time (you can ask for small versions while Lionel, the owner, takes the dusts off and send you high quality files).

Some advice to get start with film:

  • Film always looks nicer when it's overexposed. Don't hesitate to increase your exposure by 1 or 2 stops, and you will have those creamy earthy tones even in plain sun.
  • If you are in low light conditions, you can still shoot with a higher ISO (shoot at 800 if you have a ISO 400 film) and ask your lab to push the development 1 stop (more could give an uncertain result).
  • If you want to experience something different, buy a Rolleiflex camera. It's expensive but it's worth it. It was my first film camera and I do all my personal work with it.
  • You can buy expired films and try different settings to see what it can do. Sometimes the colors would be totally amazing, just like the presets everybody uses for their digital pictures!
  • Have fun!

If you have any questions about film photography, contact me directly and don't forget to follow me on Facebook and Instagram!

Peace, love and film photography <3