How to shoot film in 2021
Back in 2008 if you had told any photographer that film was going to be making a resurgence they would have thought you were crazy. Digital photography and video had matured to the point that it was by far superior in every way to film. No messy chemicals, no expense of film, film was basically dead and manufacturers were seeing the writing on the wall. But then something strange happened. A few years ago people started to buy records again, and the demand for 35mm film started to climb. Right now some manufacturing plants that had been shuttered have gone back into production making 35mm film. Kodak has brought back some iconic films and developed some new formulations. Film today is alive and well as it ever was. But something else really interesting has happened. Film cameras aren't really mass produced anymore but over a hundred years of photo equipment is for the most part just as good as it ever was, and it's being used again.
So you may be wondering how to get in this action. Well this article is for you because we here at Magnaimages shoot lots of film, both personally and professionally, and know all about how to do it. It's easier than you think, cheaper than it ever was, and oh so much fun.
What are film stocks?
Especially for those of you who are new to film, bit for anyone who needs a refresher, film "stocks" are all different, they have different formulations that do different things different
ways and they have their merits in different situations. Generally though film stocks fall into three broad categories. Color Negative, Black and white negative, and positive slide films. While many film stocks have been discontinued, many remain. I'll only go over common stocks that can be bought today though there are scads of formats, sizes, and types that have fallen at the wayside through history. The bottom line is that when you see the term "film stock" just know that what is being referred to is a specific brand or type of film. You can't really go by manufacturer to describe a film because most manufacturers make many different film stocks.
Black and white negative film
Today the cheapest film you can get, as well as by far the easiest to develop is the many black and white film stocks. These films hail from way back before WWII and can sometimes provide a look that appears very timeless. Black and white films run the gamut from silky smooth low ISO to gritty high ISO films that look like they'd have been used to take newspaper photos from the 50s.
I love black and white film and I shoot tons of it. In fact I recently reviewed one of my favorite black and white films, Fomapan 100. Black and white films are also the easiest to develop and are a great way to first step into developing film at home. The film is usually developed in two chemicals which are both easily available from Kodak or Amazon suppliers. Illford makes the Delta line of black and white films and Kodak makes the Tmax, and Tri-X lines of film as just a few examples of big players.
Color Negative films
When it comes to color negative films there are tons of great options that will give you various looks. Almost all color film is developed with the C-41 process which uses 3-4 chemical baths to develop the film. Color films such as Kodak Ektar 100 will give you very vibrant and saturated colors, while Fuji's C-200 offers some of the most cheap and basic color photography you can get. What lies between the extremes is a multitude of film stocks that can take you all over the place in terms of looks. You really need to just experiment or look at other people's work with different films to decide what will fit the look you desire. Unlike digital sensors the films themselves impart a huge impact on the look of your final image.
positive slide films.
Lastly we need to discuss briefly the most expensive films still for sale, positive slide films. Movie films were positive and 35mm color positive still film is basically the same stuff. Slide film exists because without it in order to project the image as a positive before we had digital images you'd have to take a picture of the picture in order to show it to anyone. Enlarging images created a second negative that flipped the negative image back to positive again. Slide films are called such because they'd be mounted onto "slides" and projected as a positive against a wall or screen. The process of developing the film is the most involved and it also offers the most complicated chemistry so it's the most expensive to produce and develop. For instance Fuji's Velvia 100 film costs a jaw dropping $31 on BH's website with developing for a single 36 exposure roll.
I got the film but I need a camera.
You'll need to have a properly working film camera to take advantage of any film stock. Film cameras can be had at thrift stores sometimes for a few bucks. Ebay and other sites are a great place to find film cameras. Just know that there are a few caveats to buying a particular film camera. 35mm isn't universal to all cameras. There are different film formats, sizes, that you need to be aware of. Many Polaroid cameras for instance shot proprietary film sizes or had special cartridges. If you're shopping for a camera do your homework if you aren't sure what film size you will need. The good news is that 35mm isn't the only film size today so old 120 cameras will be able to have a fresh life.
Furthermore don't get too excited just because you have a camera. Most 35mm cameras are at least 20-30 years old and they have aged surprisingly well for the most part but are still at the end of the day antiques. Herein lies your next challenge, getting a camera that works. You'll want to test the camera, have batteries if the camera isn't purely mechanical and hope that the lightseals around the door are still good, and the shutter and lens elements still work. The good news is that there are surprisingly few things that can't be fixed on old cameras so don't get too upset if your camera doesn't work right the first time.
I shot the film now how do I get my pictures?
Once you shoot your roll of film you'll need to get the film developed. Film developing is an art and a science mixed together. You can either develop at home or send your film out to a lab. In most cases it will cost between $5 and $10 to get each roll of film developed at a lab. But you also need to be aware that once the film is developed you'll want to take your negatives and look at the. There are various apps for your phone that claim to let you digitize your photos. Don't believe the lies, they can help you see what your negatives are but a cell phone image of 35mm film will not be a very good way to save your image. Rather you need to have your negative scanned in on either a film scanner or sent out for a drum scan.
I personally use the Epson V600 scanner and love it, though it's not perfect. I paid about $250 for mine. The scanner is how you feed your images into the computer. I scan as high resolution .TIF files and then import them to Lightroom for editing just like my digital files. Yes it seems like a high initial cost but these things have been around for quite some time and can be had for under $100 used.
Once you have digitized your film you're almost done. Import your photos into Lightroom or whatever photo software you have and do touchups if you need to. I do lots of dust removal and almost always increase saturation and contrast because film loves contrast. You don't need to worry about things like enlargers unless you're a nerd and a dweeb.(if you enlarge at home I think you're awesome btw) Today the darkroom is redundant, you can now take your photo and order prints online or wherever else you get them done just the same as digital files. I personally love printing 35mm at 13x19 inches and love how the grain shows up.
(A quick note)What are drum scans and do I need them?
drum scans are really expensive and high resolution. If you're wanting to print, especially huge prints, then you can pay to have your negative scanned. Otherwise just enjoy life and don't worry about drum scans. It's really only for professionals