I jumped on the bandwagon of film (sort of).
All “the kids” seem to be doing it and after one night of falling down a hole of tutorials on Youtube, I ordered a film camera and a few rolls of film to play around with. My plan was to pack it for the trip I went on to Nantucket with Ashley. After posting on Instagram, I was getting a few comments/DMs about what I used so I figured I’d do a longer post with all the deets. We shot about 33 frames together, and I’ll share my favorites at the end of this post.
MY BACKGROUND WITH PHOTOGRAPHY:
I would still categorize myself as a beginner although I do have a fair bit of experience with film and photography overall. That definitely gave me a slight leg up, but nothing that other people couldn’t catch up to in a few days with practice.
My grandfather was a professional photographer and my dad always had a few great Nikons around the house. (We have next to no videos of us as kids because we didn’t have a camcorder but the photos of us are all so good and cute!) I got my very own Nikon camera (film since it was like 1999) in elementary school and I loved that little guy. In fact, I brought it on a vacation where I had glitter sunscreen… which meant that my camera was pretty much covered in glitter permanently from my sunscreened hands and a face 😂
I did go to a photography summer camp one year too where we learned how to use a camera, went on “field trips” around Tampa, and then developed our own film in a dark room. It was so cool and I swear it left a lasting impression on me. (It was actually exactly twenty years ago now that I’m thinking about it because it was the same year as the World Cup! We had people over to our house to watch it in the middle of the night and then I went to the camp. Ha!)
Then I was on the yearbook staff from seventh grade through my senior year where we learned even more about photography… Not necessarily about how to use a camera, but art direction, framing, leading lines, etc.
And now as a blogger, I have a closet of cameras and although I have a professional photographer who shoots my outfit posts, I can use a camera myself. This year I also took a photography course online that one of my high school friends put together to brush up my skills. (It’s “technically” for moms taking photos of their kids BUT the fundamentals of how to use a camera and set up a good shot and then edit it nicely are all in there!)
WHERE TO FIND RESOURCES:
Didn’t go to summer camp or yearbook staff or haven’t operated a camera beyond your phone’s? No worries. Youtube can literally teach you how to do anything. From figuring out what to set your aperture to how to load a roll of film, there’s someone out there who has created a video for you!!
Recommended Youtube video: Peter McKinnon is a very technical and skilled photographer and videographer (his videos are great!), but he did a video about Shutter Speed, ISO, and Aperture. Once you get the hang of the relationship between these three, manual mode will be much more accessible.
Recommended Youtube channel: Dusty “Moose” Winans’ channel is the best at breaking down camera basics. He shoots with a Nikon, but it’s a good starting point no matter what brand of camera you’re using. I learned so many great tips from him and I think he does a really good job at explaining things.
Recommended Youtube series: Shelby Church’s videos about photography are definitely the most relatable for me. She covers quick hacks, iPhone tips, and even tips for being in front of the camera.
An iPhone shot of Ashley with the camera!
WHAT FILM CAMERA + FILM I BOUGHT:
CAMERA + LENS: After doing some research, I ended up going with the Canon AE-1 Program. The AE-1 cameras were some of the most popular film cameras ever. Many schools even use it to teach students photography basics. Because it was so popular, they’re also relatively easy to find and not terribly expensive. (Your parents or grandparents may have one tucked away.) I found mine on Amazon. I also went with a 50mm lens (also known as the “nifty fifty”), but my next lens purchase will be a 35mm.
FILM: Unlike digital, it is important to think about what kind of film you want to shoot with. A digital camera can be adjusted for all kinds of lighting situations and then you can edit photos in post-production with filters to give them different vibes. With film photography, you have to start with the environment you’re in + the vibe you’re going for. I went with Kodak Portra 400 because I like the fine grain and felt like it would be nice and universal for all kinds of photos I took while on Nantucket.
ACCESSORIES: Not really necessary, but I did end up buying a strap for the camera.
STARTING WITH FILM:
After doing just the one roll of film (the first I’ve shot in probably 15 years), I have some thoughts. Practice with a digital camera first. You can play around on manual mode with a digital camera and get INSTANT feedback. You can switch between two different f-stops and see the difference right away. You can also play around without worrying about wasting frames or paying for terrible shots. SHOOT AWAY!
You also don’t have to jump into a manual camera. Here are a few super easy ways you can shoot film without having to think too much:
Disposable Cameras // I don’t think there’s any shame in disposable cameras. In fact, they can be a really fun and simple way to capture memories. You can pick a few up, right in your favorite drug store (they’re usually behind a lock and key).
Point and Shoot // My parents still have a few of these sitting around in junk drawers, but they’re also great options. (They might just need a new battery!) These will allow you to start shooting immediately…. no need to overthink the basics, it’ll do it for you. While you won’t have as much control over the look and feel of the artistry, it’ll give you a simple, great photograph.
Polaroids // These are back! (And in my opinion, proof that millennials don’t kill everything 😂) What could be simpler than these? You don’t even have to take them to get developed.
SHOOTING WITH FILM:
This is going to assume you’re shooting with a manual camera. If you chose one of the above options, just get out there and have fun.
Again, Youtube // It had been years since I operated a film camera and I was so nervous to ruin my film before I even got started. (And worse, only find out when I got back the developed photos.) For every step of the way, I was pulling up Youtube videos. From loading the film to setting the ISO, I referred to my trusty teacher: Youtube.
Light Metering // I downloaded the “Lightmate” app for my iPhone to help make sure my photographs are properly exposed. Because I was shooting with Portra 400 film, I had my ISO set to 400 for every photo and then it was a matter of selecting the aperture and shutter speed I wanted. (Not sure how it works? Youtube is there for you!)
Focus // My Canon is manual focus which honestly was the hardest part for Ashley and me to master. It seems like it should have been simple but I have a pretty bad double vision issue that only gets worse when I’m relying on one eye. A few of the photos came back perfectly lit and exposed…. but blurry. (Hilariously so for some!)
There are a few places you can send your film away to. The Dark Room, for example, is highly regarded. I opted to support my local photography shop (Madison PhotoPlus). I chose a matte finish and really love how everything came out. They do offer a digital option, but it only comes on a CD-ROM… and despite having five computers/laptops in our house between Mike and me, none have a CD reader anymore. So I ended up just scanning the photos myself with my printer.
iPHONE vs FILM:
I think smartphone cameras just keep getting better and better. And with apps like VSCO, you can get a film look with the click of the button. While I will continue to experiment with film, I think ultimately you just can’t beat the convenience of shooting with a phone camera. Even Annie Leibovitz says to go for an iPhone. The best camera you have is the one you have on you after all! It did inspire me to be better about printing photos, regardless of what medium they were captured with. iPhone, digital, instant. There’s something so nice about holding a physical copy of a great shot.
Okay here are my favorite pictures 😉
This was the first one I took!!!
This is where the 50mm lens comes in handy. The depth of field on it is beautiful for portraits. It also doesn’t hurt to have a classically beautiful subject!
The Peter Beaton Hat Studio is charming on and off film. It’s tiny so I had to back myself up right against the opposite wall. (The 50mm lens is a prime lens, meaning your “zoom” is your feet!)
Island cars are just the best.