A Film Shooter’s Intro To Film Part two: Shooting film
Cosh joins us again for another guest piece, this time about shooting film. Let Cosh take you through the do’s and dont’s of shooting film.
Hopefully you’ve taken my previous advice and gone out and purchased yourself an interesting camera – an avant garde photographic tool – and are now ready to start shooting.
Assuming you’re coming from digital, film can be a real shock: you’re restricted in the number of shots you can take and you (obviously) can’t shoot and chimp all day. You’re probably also going to be annoyed by being tied in to one ISO for a roll. When I made the switch this was the real killer: how to get used to only having 80 ISO for an entire day’s worth of work.
The trick is to adapt. If there is one thing you can learn from human history is that you always need to be a flexible Homo. Just like Homo habilis learnt to use stone tools and Homo ergaster figured out what fire was for, so too do you need to figure out how to work effectively without ISO 204,800 (in the Nikon D4’s “Stupid Mode” – K.Rock). Larry Clark captured some of the most outstanding imagery of the 1960s and 70s by using film intelligently, rather than by waiting around for advancements in image capturing.
So, if you want to learn to be a clever Homo and shoot film for awesome results, there are a few simple steps you need to follow.
Step One: Buy Some Film
The first thing you need is film. If you are lucky enough to live in a country which doesn’t have free healthcare and fantastic free education, chances are film will be cheap. If you live in Australia, like me, you’ll need to scour eBay (or buy some Bukkake cases) to get yourself started. I’d recommend a brick of something cheap to get your head around film. By cheap I mean some Chinese knock-off crap like Lucky 100 or the actually really lovely Agfa Vista 200 type of films. The quality of the film isn’t super important, what is vital is that you learn to load, expose, store, and develop your films properly so as to minimise the risk of getting burnt when you realise you tried to push Velvia two stops at a wedding (guilty!).
I copped a little flak before for mentioning that Japan Camera Hunter is a good place to buy cameras, but it’s a statement I made in good conscience (also want a GR1V free plz). Today I’m going to say that if you’ve never shot film before and want to get some stuff to try, get a Bikkuri case. Get a black and white mixed bag. At least this way you avoid the hefty cost associated with buying single rolls ($9 here!), you avoid the risk of being left with a bunch of film you aren’t going to shoot (again, a freezer full of Velvia 100), and you get a nifty case with a sticker. That’s my recommendation; may I forever burn in the ninth circle etc etc.
The most important things you need to think about when buying film are:
what do you want to shoot?
when do you want to shoot it?
how do you want it to look?
Working out what you want to shoot will help you decide what kind of film you want. If you want to shoot portraits you’ll want something with rich colours and gorgeous tones (Astia, Portra), for landscapes you want something that renders great saturation with high resolution (Velvia). Mix them up and you’ll have flat hills and orange girls that look like they just stepped out of your high school graduation.
Once you know what you want to shoot, figure out when you want to shoot it. You can’t really just walk out of the house wanting to shoot colour portraits wide-open in the sun with Portra 400: you need Portra 160. Likewise you can’t shoot street photography at night with Ilford Pan F. There are some limitations you’ll need to be aware of. Don’t even bother trying to push/pull straight off the bat.
How you want it to look goes beyond the obvious choices of black and white versus colour: it includes decisions such as rendition of shadows and highlights, as well as grain. Personally, I prefer neutral tones for my colour film, and strong grain in my black and white. Preferences are unique to the individual, however, and it’s better to sample a lot of different films than to pin yourself down in your early days of film shooting.
My recommendation is to start with either basic black and white or C-41 colour negative. Black and white is good because it’s cheap to develop yourself (and I’ll teach you how), whilst C-41 is great because it’s still widely processed by labs all over the place. I started on black and white and instantly loved it, so be like me if you’re very cool.
If I had to make a concrete recommendation, this would be it:
B&W: Kodak Tri-X (or Arista Premium) and Ilford HP5+ for 400 speed. Daylight speed has got to be Ilford Pan F and FP4+ (50 and 125 ISO, respectively), as well as my personal favourite black and white film: Rollei Retro 80s. There are more, yes, but these are what I keep coming back to.
C-41: Portra 400/160. Ektar is amazing, buy it in loads. Fuji Superia and Agfa Vista are great bang for buck.
The best advice for selecting a film is to always do research. Check tumblr and flickr for photographs taken with a film you’re interested in, then buy a few rolls. Remember to take note of their development technique and remember that your’s probably isn’t going to look the same without a good deal of practice.
This is easy but people still manage to muck it up. Film has an expiry date; the best way to avoid spoiling your film is to shoot it before the expiry. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re out there getting into the thick of life and learning what fire is for like a good Homo, but we all get lazy sometimes.
When you get any film, put it in the freezer. Film works like meat, but on a much longer time scale. Refrigerating your film extends its life, whilst freezing it practically halts and destructive forces. Make sure you let it come back to room temperature before you shoot it, though.
Don’t leave film on the deck of your Cayman Islands holiday home. It will rot. When film goes bad it loses ISO speed and becomes foggy. I have shot a lot of expired film with mixed results and have found that, like milk, a little out of date is fine if you’re not a sook, but if it’s completely gone you’re gonna have a bad time.
Thanks for sharing this great article Cosh. I am loving this series. Keep them coming.
I still can’t get over Rockwell calling the D4’s expanded ISO “Stupid Mode”. I feel genuine love for that man.
Loving this series! Especially since I live in Sydney, I understand the pain of $10 rolls of film with even more ridiculous developing prices at some labs. Nothing under $10 – unless you have any suggestions of places? Looking forward to part 3.
Big W for C-41. Important stuff and 120 should be done at Vision in Redfern. They’re a bit more expensive but their work ethic is second-to-none.
How much is c41 at BigW? I know that its 12 at Teds for dev and scan and 5 bucks at Five Dock for just dev
Big W – last time I checked it was around the $10 mark. Dev and print c-41 only. Can also change depending on number of exposures on the roll.
They charge me $3 for negs only at Big-W.
If you have to get important film developed in Sydney, and want a good result for the best price, then I’ve always found Fotolab in Pitt Street excellent. Last time I was there they still did E6 (35mm and 120) on site with only a few hours turn around.
Hell, i live in a country with free healthcare and good and free education (inc. university) and i pay my rolls of Superia 4.70€ ! =D
Anyway, nice and good article ! i will share it to many friends of mine that want to start with film photography !
Good advice. I started shooting film about 6 months ago and found the 1 ISO thing annoying for a while but as you said you get over it.
You mentioned Velvia for landscape. What do you like for non slide LS film? Got a nice GR1v from Bellamy and still seeking the right film for color landscape and travel.
Ektar is the goods for CN landscape film.
For reference: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sparetimephotos/8103262332/
So by the look of the last photo you could view negatives properly on a light table? Man I had no idea
Those aren’t negatives.
No, that is positive black and white film. rare stuff.
Also if you can develop B/W film, you have more than the skill needed to develop c-41 films. Don’t let old fairy tales that say you cant do color with a normal inversion tank stop you!
> (or buy some Bukkake cases)
Don’t be thinking this little comment went unnoticed… :D
Or you could buy some bulk fiml and make your own Roll fims. The Ilforf HP5+ at B&H Photo Video is about 48.00 usd and you can make around 15-17 36 shots film rolls. This is what I use and it really makes the film cheaper.
That’s a good avenue to explore once you’ve found your film.
If you’re new to the game you’re going to end up with a lot of feet of film that you don’t really like/use.
I’ve been shooting film in Australia for a short while now. Living in the outer-suburbs of Melbourne makes it incredibly difficult for a cheap develop. It cost me $30 to get one roll of black and white developed at Michaels, and I had to travel an hour to get there.
So I spent $150 and bought my own equipment and chemicals to develop C-41. Surprisingly easy and works out at just over 50c a roll if you’re willing to stretch the chemicals a bit!
If I could find a simple method or how to develop B&W film ,nothing to crazy with chemical that will be great.
£10 for developing a film + £7 for a roll starting to get to expensive and I have limited space, maybe develop and scan at home?
Kodak HC-110 is pretty dead simple. Just mix with water, slosh around a bit in a Paterson tank with the film (I’m oversimplifying a little of course), rinse, throw in diluted Ilford Rapid Fixer for 5 mins, rise a few more times (last time with distilled water and Photoflo) and hang to dry.
You’ll need to spend roughly $30 for the Paterson tank, $15 for the HC-110, and $8 for the Rapid Fixer and $8 for Photoflo (which some say is optional). Miscellaneous gear include graduated cylinder, oral syringe to measure, and a changing bag (or just load film in complete darkness).
Youtube has several videos on the agitation process.
I am not sure on the advice about swapping out films a lot. The general advice I have seen, and I like is to try and stick to a single film (and camera) for a year when you are starting out. That reduces the urge to replace your camera/film because it is not giving you the results you want and forces you to concentrate on using the tool you have to get the results you want.
I am shooting with my 5D and looking for a chance to be film user with EOS 3. Could you pls help me by suggesting some cheap films that I can start? Some of friends still shooting outdated film and they look interesting.
Because I will be in Japan next month and could you pls advise somewhere that I can by tons of film because they’re easy to take home.
P/S: I tried over internet to search for a Canon 80-200 2.8L from all of the recommended shops here but nothing found. Do you know whether it’s hard to some old stuffs like this?