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.

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Thanks for sharing this great article Cosh. I am loving this series. Keep them coming.