Introduction: The Beginner's Guide to Film Photography

Film photography has been around for many more years than digital, and thus the quality of film, in some ways is unsurpassed. Shooting film can take photographers back to the roots of photography and give them appreciation for our modern equivalents. 
In spirit of this guide I took all the pictures in it with b+w film.

This guide will help even the most photographically challenged people get some cool photos that they can be proud of.

This guide will be comprised of 3 parts
     -Developing + scanning

The equipment section goes over everything one will need to take some great pictures and develop them their selves. The shooting section covers camera setting from film speeds to f-stops everything one needs to know. Lastly the developing + scanning section involves getting your pictures developed and into a digital format that can be shared with all.

Step 1: Equipment #1 - the Camera

There's been many film cameras made in the past, with many different features. For this guide we will be using a 35mm manual slr and a 35mm "point n shoot"

The 35mm slr is most often associated with pro photographers. These cameras give superb quality images and have setting for a wide variety of different shooting scenarios. These cameras were innovative when they were first released because they allowed the photography to see exactly what the lens captures on the film when framing a shot. These cameras can be found used all over ebay for cheep, or for a little more you can pick up a new one.

The 35mm "point n shoot" is another great option for anyone jumping into film. These cameras skip past all the complex settings of slr's. They however dont have the greatest quality to their pictures. In this case were looking at a Diana mini. This camera exists to take "crappy" photos. It has few settings and gets right down to the fun of taking pictures. The pictures obtained from the Diana are usually soft focus and have other artifacts giving them an artsy look. These cameras are fairly inexpensive and certainly wont break the bank.


Step 2: Equipement #2 - Film

Back in the hay day of film theres was hundreds of options to choose from. All sorts of speeds and styles for any shooting situation. There was film that worked great for wedding photos, and film that worked great for landscapes. There was a film for everything. For this guide will be shooting b+w film because its cheaper and easier to develop.

When you go shopping for film you'll probably find numbers on the film like 100, 200, 400 even 800. These numbers refer to the films sensitivity to light or iso number.

lower number = less sensitive, smaller grain, longer exposure times
higher number= more sensitive, larger grain, shorter exposure times

lower number film is great for landscapes and still life photos because the subject isn't moving and you can use a slow shutter-speed on them. They however arn't very good for indoor photography because they need alot of light. These typically have smaller grain and offer greater detail.

higher number films are great for indoor and speed shots. These films are more sensitive and will allow for higher shutter-speeds. These films however typically have larger grain, and are less detailed.

When i buy film i usually buy iso 400 b+w film. I buy black and white because i can easily develop it myself and i can buy it in bulk easily. Besides theres nothing like the cool grainy effect of an artsy black and white photo right. Anyways that's why we'll be focusing on developing b+w in this guide.

If you plan on shooting alot of film invest in a 100' bulk roll and a bulk film loader


Step 3: Equipment #3 - Developing

Developing was traditionally done entirely in the dark, where one had to dunk the film in several different baths. This process was difficult and time consuming. However with a film tank developing isn't all that hard and it can be done in about 15-20 min.

You'll need :



A film tank :

    - (for this guide you'll need one with with film spools like the one linked, I've never used the one linked though)

A thermometer (digital or analog)

A film squeegee (very important for film drying)

Chip clips (to hang up our film)

scissors ( i use safety scissor as to not cut myself in the dark, its happened before)

a can opener (to open film canisters if you didn't load your own)

A bucket

2 large cups ( one for developer, one for fixer )

a small measuring cup that measures fl ounces and ml

a baby medicine syringe (this is nice for precisely measuring the developer) 

old towels (developer and fixer stain bad )

dish soap (for final film rinsing, its an old photographer trick )

Step 4: Shooting #1 Slr's and Settings

Slr's may seem complicated but they really arn't that bad. The first step you should take is reading the camera's manual. This will teach you the names of all the parts and what each part does, better than i can.

To use expose with a manual slr, the aperture, film speed, shutterspeed , and focus need to be set. To do this you can either learn about shutterspeeds and f-stops (aperture) or we can use a trusty digital camera if you have one.

Most digital cameras today have a manual setting on them or will display the aperture information for you. We can go into the settings and find the iso settings. Then change the iso setting to the film speed of the film in your film camera. Now when you go to shoot, you can take a test picture with your digital camera, read the shutterspeed and aperture info on it and set your film camera accordingly.

Heres a step by step or a video here :

1. Set the iso sensitivity in your digital camera, to the same film speed thats set on your slr camera

2. Get the info from your digital camera. Often theres a display change button that will add a grid and the aperture and shutterspeed info we need.

The shutter speed with look like these 1/30, 1/60 , 1/250
Aperture will look like these 2.8, 3.5, 4.0

3. Set your film cameras shutter speed accordingly using the shutter speed wheel.

4. Set your film cameras aperture by the aperture ring on the lense.

      *note* sometimes the digital camera might display an aperture setting that your film camera might not have like 2.8 or something low like that. In this case we will choose the closest number aperture on our film camera and then move the shutter speed dial accordingly. With black and white, you can get away with most exposures even if there not correct.

Step 5: Shooting #2 Slr's and Settings Continued

On manual slr's we are most of the time guessing exposure because the camera won't tell us if they're correct or not. To work around this fact we can use a digital camera to get setting around what we need.

When shooting, if there's a composition you really like, but arn't sure of the exposure you can use these steps.

1. Expose with the digital camera's settings or your best guess.

2. Expose again with the shutter speed 1 click slower

3. Expose again with the shutter speed 1 click faster

what were doing is stopping up or down to get different exposures if,  we were off with our original exposure it will be corrected by doing this.

Don't feel bad if this all sounds super confusing, because it is. This is why photography is a skill that must be mastered to get really good photos. Why do you think point and shoot cameras are so popular ?

Step 6: Shooting #2 Slr's Film Loading

Reading the manual of your camera will most likely teach you how to do this, but just encase here's a pretty good video.

*note* when i rewind my film I only rewind until i here the click of the film leaving the take up spool. When it clicks, i turn the knob one more time. Doing this leaves alittle bit of the leader out that you used to load the camera. This films already wasted so its ok not to rewind it up all the way. Doing this will make developing easier in the next steps, because you can trim the leader off in the daylight instead of the dark.

Step 7: Shooting #3 - the Diana Mini

The Diana Mini is the much, much simpler way to go when shooting film. It offers nice artistic results without the hassles of all the slr's settings.

1. To load the Diana, read the manual or watch this video:

2. Take pictures! (there's only a few setting and the manual explains these all)

Step 8: Shooting 3.5 - Loading Bulk Film

remember earlier when i said to buy bulk, well here's how to load it.

1. In absolute complete dark, load the 100' roll into your bulk loader. The loader should come with instructions on how to do this, just be careful and take you time

2. Get your canisters and tape, and tape a small leader onto the spool making sure every things nice and straight and that the spool can take up the film nicely

3. Slip the canister over the spool and put on the cap, and wind away (usually 24 turns for 24 exposures)

4. Cut the film, and then cut a little leader on the film coming out of of your canister.

Step 9: Developing #1 - Prep and Developing

B+W film is very very forgiving when developing but there are still a lot of guidelines we have to follow.

*note* its recommended that you practice loading your film tank with some film you don't care about in the day light to get the hang of how it all works.*

-Until the film is all the way done developing, they're can be no light on the film, or it will be ruined
-The temperature of the Developer, Fixer, and rinse bath all need to be relatively the same.
- Timing is important don't forget that the developers on your film
-Plan on not using your bathroom for an hour while, you develop and dry the film
-The measurements are for the chemicals i listed earlier only, differnet chemicals have different mixture rations
-The ratios used for developing are assuming 10 ounces of water completely covers the film in the tank you bought

1. In our large bucket fill it with water aiming for 69-70 degrees fahrenheit. leave it in the bath tub

2. Fill one cup with 10 fl ounces of water from our bucket, then add 10 ml of developer to this glass, stir

3. Fill another cup with 8 ounces of water from the bucket, and then add 2 ounces of fixer to it, stir

 Now that the chemicals are mixed we can load the film into the tank in the dark to prepare for dark rooming in the light

4. In a completely dark room like the pantry or laundry room, we will prepare to load the film on a spool and then into the tank. Lay out all our items we need in front of us and know where they are, because we'll be in the dark.

5. Turn the lights off and make sure no lights coming from under the door, if so stuff a towel under there.

6. Open our film canister, using the can opener if necessary. 

7. trim the leader on the film so that there's a flat edge with  rounded corners to avoid snags when loading into the spool.

8. load the film onto the spool.  using the technique associated with the spool you bought. ( This is usually just twisting the sides of the spool to slowly wind the film up, this can be pretty hard so its recommended you practice this with dummy film in the daylight.)

9. place the spool on the spool rod and slide the clip on top.

10 put the spool and rod assembly into the tank and twist the tank lid on securely can now turn the lights on with the film safely in the tank.

now its time to develop.

12. poor the half the developer quickly into the tank, bang the tank lightly on the counter to release any bubbles on the film then poor the rest of the developer in. Leave the developer in the tank for 3 minutes and 45 seconds agitating the tank every 30-40 seconds. 

13 poor the developer out of the tank quickly and add the fixer into the tank, bang lightly on counter and leave the fixer in the tank for 1 minute agitating the entire time.

14. go to the bath tub and poor out the fixer into the drain unscrew the tank lid and take the spool out. Rinse the spool with the film on it in the bucket for about a minute or two. Then add 1 drop of dish washing soap to the bucket and rinse another minute.

15. take apart the spool and take the film out. hang it up with the chip clips and squeegee it off making sure to get all the water off completely

16. let the film sit undisturbed for 30min to an hour until its COMPLETELY dry to the touch

Step 10: Developing #2 - Cutting the Film and Scanning

After our films completely dried were going to cut it and scan it. 

Traditional films cut every 5 or 6 frames, and the leaders (black parts ) are cut off.
To scan our film we can take it to a photo developing place or scan it ourselves.
If you have a high resolution flat bed scanner you can simply use that.

The next method is using our digital cameras to take pictures of our film.

To do this we can create many different rigs to hold our film and scan it. I use a custom erector set contraption to hold mine, but a paper towel tube with 2 slits works just as well. Try to zoom in as far as you can on the negative and snap a nice clean, crisp photo. Using a nice flat white light behind the negative helps alot. A white computer screen works well.

Step 11: Developing #3 - Editing the Film Scans

Now that we have the pictures of our negatives we can put them into photoshop, or any other editing program.

1. Crop the image down to just the single frame.

2. Invert the colors (ctrl + i)

3. Turn the image to a b+w photo (image > adjustments > black and white )

4. Enjoy your awesome authentic film photographs