Tips for Film Photography – How to Shoot Better Pictures on Film

11/05/2019     Author: Billy Gray

If you’re just starting out shooting on film – or if you’ve been at it for a while but want to improve, then here are some top tips for how to shoot better on film.


When it comes to film photography, most people think of waiting ages to get your photos developed, and then maybe ending up with some completely spoilt shots that you’ll have to throw in the bin. This isn’t entirely untrue, for the novices among us. But don’t worry – practice does eventually make perfect (or, at least, as close to it as a person can realistically get), and there are a few things that you can do to make sure that you’re constantly improving your skills.

Top tips for shooting with film

First thing is first, make sure that you’ve actually read up on and practiced how to use all the different features on your camera. If you don’t know how to set the aperture or focus while shooting, then you’re going to be at a loss when it comes to seeing the end results of your photos.

Remember that film is different to digital photography, and you’re not going to be able to review your shots on an LCD screen. You’ll just have to set yourself up for a good photo and then hope for the best.

Stop trying to get it perfect

Film photos aren’t going to come out perfect every time. Accept this and move on. You’ll need to put up with a fair amount of imperfections, like the light getting in the way of your photo, or it being totally out of focus, or just grainy as hell. This is normal with film photos – learn to work these imperfections to your advantage. Be proud of them. They’re beautiful and they’re part of what makes it all tick.

Don’t feel like you have to spend tons

You can get a decent film camera for $100, and the lenses shouldn’t be that expensive, either. Quite simply, you can shoot on any film camera and get a decent looking result. This doesn’t have to be something that you spend thousands of dollars on – if anything, spend the leftover money on different kinds of rolls instead of new lenses.

Experiment with different film

When it comes to taking a good photo, the camera isn’t the only thing that comes into play. The type of film that you use makes a massive difference. Some rolls are significantly more expensive than others, and they can produce cinematic results. If you’re just starting out, then it makes sense to just get some Kodak film for a cheaper price – this is especially true of anyone who wants to develop the photos themselves (because you might make mistakes).

Using portra film will make far better portraits, while black and white films will do exactly what they say on the tin, and other types will make for better shots in different light environments. Play around with different types to find the one that suits your style. Don’t be afraid to do something different.

Having said this, do make sure that you stick to each type of film for long enough to learn the intricacies about it. This means that you shouldn’t just shoot a couple of rolls and then switch – try to go through about ten rolls, or more, so that you really understand that film roll. You might find that by roll nine you’re beginning to get very interested in it.

Learn how to manipulate the light

Lighting makes all the difference when shooting with film – the same as it does when shooting with anything else. If you’re new to photography, then you should do some research about how to use the light to your advantage. In the early days, it’s important to shoot into a light area, from a shadowy one. This allows you to see your subject, while not having the light take too much of a toll on your shot.

There are so many things that you can say about lighting – we can’t really mention all of it now. It’s something that’s worth spending a couple of hours reading about from some photography websites, or even just by watching YouTube videos.

Use a light meter

While many cameras have an internal light meter, anyone who has used film cameras a lot can testify that these internal meters can be a bit… off. This is especially true when the light is in the background of your shot or when your subject is backlit. You can get around this by using an external light meter. A good one will cost you as much as a half-decent film camera, but the difference that having this makes to understanding how light affects your photography makes it a worthwhile investment at some point down the line.

Keep a journal while shooting

Once you get your photos back, some of them might look incredible, while others might look like crap. It’s a good idea to keep a photo journal so that you can note down everything that you did to get the decent photos – thus seeing what it was that works, and where you went wrong.

You could even shoot three shots of the same thing in the early days – one overexposed, one underexposed, and one ‘correct exposure’. In this way, you can learn what works best in different light settings, while also showing you different ways to play around with the light.

Film isn’t that expensive

You might look at the costs of rolls of film and developing labs and hurl back in disbelief. That being said, if you’ve ever looked into buying a digital camera, plus the lenses and upkeep – plus the amount of time required to edit all the digital images, then you’ll understand just how expensive digital photography is compared to film.

The wrap-up

When it comes to shooting film, the most important thing is to enjoy it. Keep shooting in different environments and don’t be concerned about making every shot perfect. Maybe even shoot an entire roll in one go, so that you’re not thinking too much about each shot. In this way, you’ll learn to take advantage of moments quickly and you’ll pick a theme quickly for that roll – like portraits, buildings, close ups, and so on. Good luck!

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