Yesterday evening I posted a side-by-side comparison on my Facebook biz page of an image from my FIRST attempt with color film and and image from my latest batch of scans from RPL, and it really got me thinking about everything I’ve learned over the past six months. Hours of research, reading, and studying film photographers’ work, plus the generosity of other photographers who’ve patiently answered my questions have all resulted in my feeling like I’m no longer completely oblivious, even though I still have a long way to go. So in the spirit of generosity, I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve learned so far when it comes to shooting film! *Note that I am in no way claiming to be an authority- I’m still woefully ignorant :)*
1) Be patient. This was one of the first lessons I learned. My beautiful friend Rebekah kindly agreed to be my first test subject and I’d originally been planning to send my film off to a lab, but I was so excited after getting home that I just hopped in my car and took the rolls to a local Ritz camera. The result was lackluster scans with dull and skewed colors. Some of that obviously had to do with the fact that I was a complete novice, but the lab also makes a huge difference. Had the images been simple snapshots, Ritz would have been fine (I’ll occasionally still take snapshots to Ritz, actually). But for a session I was excited about, it would have been worth the week or two delay for the peace of mind that the film was developed and scanned WELL.
2) Research before you start and as you go. I know y’all have heard me talk about the Film Is Not Dead book a LOT, but it’s a goldmine of information! If you’re even thinking about looking into film, you need to read that book. Jonathan Canlas gives explanations and descriptions of each of the different formats, types of cameras, and film stocks, so you at least have a place to start when you’re looking to settle on a film of choice. I also found it really helpful to poke around my favorite film photographers sites (Elizabeth Messina [ohmygosh she's AMAZING], Jose Villa, Gabe Aceves) and see what film stocks they tend to favor, how they seem to expose their film, and any advice they may leave.
3) Start on 35mm. You can find a 35mm SLR on CraigsList/eBay for CHEAP these days- the Canon A2E that I started with was $80 from a guy in Maryland, and it’s compatible with all of my Canon L lenses. The great thing about 35mm is that while you’re running test roll after test roll, you can mauzy on down to your local Walgreens and have the film developed there for something like $8, instead of spending gobs of money on lab fees for test shots. I don’t recommend Walgreens for anything you’re particularly excited about (best to save those for a lab), but if you’re looking to get a better idea of exposures and such, Walgreens rocks.
4) Get a light meter. Before I bought my Sekonic 358, I was doing the whole “meter with my DSLR, then apply those settings to my film camera.” Well, film and digital expose completely differently- film is MUCH more forgiving when overexposed, whereas if you completely blow out your whites in a digital image? That can be near impossible to salvage. I’ve accidentally overexposed a film image by 5-6 stops before, and it still looked good once I gave it a slight adjustment in LR. On average, I overexpose my film by 3-4 stops. That’s just what I’m coming to find is my personal preference, though- it really depends on what YOU like. I’m still learning to manipulate my film to look how I envision- it’s a process :).
5) Recognize that once you DO have rolls you’re excited about developing, good labs are worth the money. I nearly choked on my gum when I called Richard Photo Lab the first time to check how much it would cost per roll, so I sent my film elsewhere. It was only when I sucked it up and sent THIS shoot there that I realized why RPL charges what they do- because they are, simply put, the best. The attention they pay to each and every frame ensures that my film comes back to me in the best possible shape. I also experimented with Indie Film Lab for a while there and really enjoyed working with them (they rock!), and I think I’ll continue to send personal work their way. But any film I shoot of my clients goes straight to RPL. It really comes down, again, to finding what works for YOU. I know some photographers, like Ashley Goodwin, send all of their film to Indie. It’s a personal choice; make a decision on the look you’re going for with your film. And don’t be afraid to experiment with different labs, too!
And because everything is more fun with a giveaway, let’s give something away!
Leave a comment telling me about your favorite thing to photograph, whether with your DSLR, film camera or iPhone, and I’ll choose one random winner by tomorrow at 4 pm. The prize? A five-pack of various color and B&W films for you to play with! The winner gets to choose whether they want 35mm or 120 film. PS- the image above (the one of all those rolls of film? Yeah, that one) is a digital image. Just in case you were wondering.