Introduction: 35mm: a Guide for Beginners

*disclaimer: this article is aimed at SLR cameras not rangefinders though may still be helpful (you may want to google what type your camera is)*

First of all, congratulations on owning what I'm presuming to be your first (seeing as this article is for those with little or no previous experience with 35mm) 35mm film camera. I say congratulations as, in my opinion, despite technology evolving at breakneck paces these days, affordable digital cameras are not advanced enough to compete with the results of properly used, "conventional," film cameras: this is for a variety of reasons which are beyond this introductory article.

The aim of this Instructable is to teach you everything you need to know in order to capture decent photos with 35mm film. The Instructable will not teach you anything about developing film but it will however provide a way to circumvent this issue.

Step 1: Choosing Film

400 ISO black and white c41 film will be a safe bet if you do not want to read this section.

There are several factors to consider when choosing film. The first should be whether or not you will develop it yourself. If you do not want to/cannot develop the photos yourself then you need a film that uses the, "c41," process. c41 is a colour process but you can get "pretend" black and white film that uses this process. If you are going to develop it yourself then you will most likely want true black and white film as the, "c41," process is much more complex and requires more equipment.

I would recommend using "pretend" or even true black and white film at first as it is usable in any type of light and much more forgiving. However, if you insist on using colour or wish to use it in future then, as I mentioned, you will have to consider what light you will shoot in (the white balance/light temperature). If you're shooting nature then obviously you will want daylight film or possibly sunlight, the difference being daylight includes light refracted/reflected through the sky which gives extra blue light to shadows meaning that if you have shadows in your shots they will have a blue tinge if you use sunlight film whereas this extra blue is factored into daylight film meaning the shadows will appear as the eye sees them. There is too much information on coloured film to cover in this Instructable but my point is that our brain automatically adjusts what we see to make white appear white even if it is slightly green due to the light whereas you need to consciously make a decision with coloured film about what light you're shooting in. If you shoot in the wrong light the image will likely be very grainy and also have peculiar colours.

The only decision you're now left with is what speed of film to use (this is known as the ISO/ASA of the film). The higher the speed the less light it needs meaning a high speed is good for shooting in dark conditions (churches, caves, tube stations etc). Higher speeds will generally also have more contrast but unfortunately they will also have a more prominent grain (while low speeds will be exceptionally sharp), however some films have a particularly nice grain so it's worth looking at pictures taken with the film before buying. I find 400 ISO to be fit for most purposes although it wasn't quite slow enough for a summer holiday in France. As a general rule 100/200 is for sunny outdoors, 400 is for well lit indoors or cloudy outdoors (I live in England so this is perfect!) and 800 upwards is for low light indoors, action/sports (you will need a fast shutter speed - I will cover why later) or night shots.

Take c41 film to your local drug store/supermarket/photography shop to be developed. You can also post film and pay via online services.

You may wish to buy a film scanner but these are expensive so if you want your photos to be accessible digitally then ask for them to be scanned to a CD.

Step 2: Loading Your Film

Follow the instructions given in the images. Make sure that you do this in a clean, preferably low lit environment where you will not get dirt or dust inside the camera (clean hands!!!). Once you have stuck the tongue through the spool you can close the back of the camera, push the rewind knob all the way down, wind the film on and take two blank shots (this is because you just exposed the first part of the film when you loaded the camera so you need to move it along to the unexposed part). If you are unsure of how to do this, read the labels on the photo in the next step.

MAKE SURE THAT THE REWIND KNOB TURNS WHEN YOU WIND FILM ON. If it doesn't then the film is not loaded properly and no photos will have been taken - I have made this mistake before when a whole roll of film that I'd shot on my french exchange (it had photos of the family I stayed with etc) came back blank. It was a very big disappointment.

You should rip the lid of the box your film came in off and stick it in the little pouch so you know what film you are using. Also, put a new battery in the camera. The battery powers a light meter which will tell you about what shutter speed/fstop to use (I will explain these terms). You will need to Google where the battery compartment is on your camera.

Step 3: What to Do With This Dial

Stop for a second! Before you take a photo you must make sure the ISO/ASA number on the camera is set to the same as your film. There will be a ring somewhere on the camera, usually with a button to hold down, that you twist until it points at/shows the right number.

Now, what does this funny dial mean? This controls the shutter speed of the camera (how fast the flap opens and closes, letting light in). In my case the speed ranges from Bulb (meaning the shutter stays open for as long as my finger is pressed down), starts discrete speeds with one second and then roughly halves the time at each stop until the shutter is open for a mere 1/1000th of a second.

Well what setting should I use? Obviously it depends on the shot but you should never use a speed slower than 1/the focal length of your lens in mm without a tripod. My lens has a focal length of 50mm (this is written on the inside rim of the lens) so the slowest speed I will use while holding the camera is 1/60 which is marked in orange for this reason. If your subject is moving i.e. a horse then you will want a high shutter speed (1/1000) to make it freeze in the image. However, you might choose to have some motion blur in which case you will need to lower your speed though you will need to use, "trial and improvement," (as English schools now insist on saying) to find out the best speeds for this.

A camera with shutter priority will give you an fstop number when you half press the shutter release (look through the viewfinder and there will probably be a lit up number. If you get something else light up, keep reading). The shutter speed and fstop are linked in that if you change one, you will need to change the other by the same number of stops in the other direction. A stop in shutter speed is say from 1/500 to 1/250 or from 1/500 to 1/1000 would be minus a stop.

Step 4: What to Do With This Ring

The aperture is simply how big the hole letting in light is. A small number means a big aperture (lots of light) and a big number means a small aperture (not much light). A big aperture means not many things will be in focus (a small depth of field) while a small aperture means more or less everything will be in focus (a large depth of field). If your camera did give you an fstop then you will want to twist this ring so that it is set to what the camera says.

1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11.2 and so on is the fstop progression, 1.4 to 1 being one stop and 1.4 to 2 being minus a stop.

If your camera gives a lit up number that corresponds to a shutter speed then you should choose the fstop first and the shutter speed to match what your camera says. If your camera has coloured lights then you should make a choice for either the fstop or the shutter speed and then change the other until you have a green light.

Here is a mathematical explanation of why the numbers are in such a weird progression. Each stop represents twice as much light as the previous because the fstop tells you the diameter of the aperture with the equation: focal length of lens in mm/fstop... an fstop of 2 with my 50mm lens means: 50/2 = 25. However, the amount of light let in is dependent on the surface area of the hole, not the diameter. If the radius is half the diameter (12.5mm in this case) and the surface area is Pi (roughly 3.14) times the radius squared (12.5 * 12.5 = 156.25) then the surface area in this case is: 156.25 *3.14 = 490.625.

Lets do one stop less (half as much light) eg 2.8: 50/2.8 = 17.8571428571: 17.8571428571/2 = 8.92857142857: 8.92857142857 * 8.92857142857 * 3.14 = 250.318877551 which is, as expected, roughly half our previous value.

Step 5: Focusing

The ring in front of the fstop control is for focusing. Twist it and the lens should pop out from/recede into the camera. This is not a zoom. The way you focus is to look through the viewfinder and twist the ring about until your subject is no longer blurry. The further away your point of focus is, the greater the depth of field and visa versa (see diagram).

Step 6: Rewind Film

Once you've taken 36/38 shots (look at the number next to the wind on arm), press the button shown in the picture and then turn the rewind knob (there will be an arrow, likely pointing clockwise, showing which direction) until you hear or feel a click. In case you don't hear a click, turn the knob 38 times.

Step 7: General Tips

YOU MUST MAKE SURE VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL LINES ARE VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL IN YOUR PICTURE UNLESS YOU HAVE GOOD REASON TO SLEW THE PICTURE. It really irritates me/looks unprofessional when people have things at an angle they really shouldn't be.

Rule of thirds: Generally speaking you want to place your subject a third in from the bottom/top and left/right edge to give a naturally relaxed and aesthetically pleasing image (pic1).

Break this rule when: If you have strong symmetry eg in architecture (pic2), you're taking a portrait (pic3) or if you really want to concentrate on an object (pic4).

Ignoring the camera's light meter: The camera's light meter will give you a midtone subject with a background that has equal parts light and dark. The effect of this is that, if your subject is dark you need to make the shutter speed/fstop one stop lower than the camera says to and if you want to make your subjects(s) black you will do this two to three stops lower (pic5). The opposite is true if your subject is light though there is no real gain from making them white. However, if you have a bright background eg sky then you need to make the shutter speed/fstop one stop higher than the camera says to compensate though this will cause a whiteout of that area (pic6). Again, the opposite is true if your background is very dark.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN OBVIOUS SUBJECT. There are exceptions eg landscapes but you should always aim to capture something of interest or tell a story as such.

DO NOT CUT OFF LIMBS. Or any other parts that should be in the photo, if you do decide to cut out part of something/someone make sure it looks deliberate rather than a careless mistake.

Play around and read as much as you can - there is so much more to film photography :)

Step 8: HELP ME

If you found this article useful then please vote it up (I'm entering the photography Instructable competition and would love the equipment so much) and also check out my Instagram: "designatedriotarea."

Please post any pictures you take in the comments :)

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