Tipster of the Week: Return to Basics


Whether you're a newbie who just had a film camera for the first time or an analogue fiend who's been shooting with it for ages, this week's tipster will not only inform you, but will also remind what it feels like to shoot with film for the first time, as told by Artpunk.

Starting Out with Film by artpunk

I sometimes forget that in this digital age there are many people out there who have never actually dealt with film or analog cameras in their life, but more and more people are ‘finding’ analogue photography through sites like Lomography. The popularity of cameras like the new Diana + series means that there are people out there taking their first steps with film (and with medium format when talking about the Diana and Holga) as well as dealing with the particular considerations of shooting with analogue cameras and film in general.

I’ve outlined a few points below for those who have previously only used digital point and shoot cameras set on ‘auto’ to capture their photographs prior to venturing into this wonderful world of analogue fun. For examples sake I have used the Diana F+ (one of my personal favourite cameras) for reference to certain settings like aperture etc.

If you find yourself with a new analogue camera, I know the temptation to load the film and start shooting is very strong, but try and read the instructions that came with it first, it may save you disappointment later.

It’s good practice to make note of a few variables when first shooting with film and/or a camera you are unfamiliar with:

  1. Film speed – this will be constant for each individual roll, so once you’ve loaded it into the camera that’s a constant for that particular roll/shoot (but an important one to keep in mind as it will often determine decisions regarding what aperture and shutter speed to shoot a particular scene/subject with or even to bother taking a photo at all!) As a general rule, the higher the film speed, the more sensitive it is to light, so 100 asa will be less responsive in low light conditions compared to 400 asa. Higher speed films have, in the past, usually meant more ‘grain’ but with newer films made by manufacturers these days this is becoming less noticeable.
  2. Aperture – in the Diana + series it’s a choice of Sunny (ƒ 22), Partially Sunny/Cloudy (ƒ 16) or Cloudy (ƒ 11) and lets not forget pinhole (ƒ 150) – the larger the aperture (the smaller the ƒ stop number) the more light is going to reach the film plane (and depending on the lighting conditions, shorter exposure time needed). The smaller the aperture (larger ƒ stop number) less light and consequently longer exposure time needed depending on the lighting conditions.
  3. Exposure Time – the amount of time the shutter is open to let light onto your film. With relatively simple cameras like Diana, you have N (approx 1/60th sec) and B (however long you hold the shutter open)
  4. Lighting Conditions – the way a scene or subject is lit and the intensity of light will help determine your choice of aperture and exposure time/shutter speed depending on what speed film you are using. If you know in advance what conditions you will be shooting in it will help determine your choice of film speed too.

If you pay attention to these variables when you are shooting you will soon get to know what ‘works’ and what doesn’t.

I would further suggest that if you are new to shooting with film or when using a camera you are new to, you start with C-41 (negative film) rather than E-6 (slide film). Compared to C-41, E-6 is usually more expensive to buy and process, sometimes harder to find a lab to actually even process it and has less latitude (not as forgiving in lighting conditions outside of the gamut of your film speed and cameras exposure capabilities) often leading to under or overexposed images.

C-41 is the way to go for learning what your camera is capable of and it hurts the hip pocket less if you make mistakes. Once you know a bit more and feel comfortable with film and your camera in general you can start trying different stuff like cross processing with slide film.

Don’t be discouraged by ‘bad shots’ or ‘bad rolls’ – keep shooting, keeping in mind what I’ve talked about above and in no time you will be picking up your exposures from the lab with a big smile on your face when you see how cool they turned out. Of course there will still be ‘clangers’, we all get them, but sometimes your so-called mistakes can turn out to be some of your more interesting shots!

The most important thing is to HAVE FUN. If you can’t have fun whilst shooting, then chances are you will not get results that please you and also, what would be the point of doing something you not enjoying?

written by artpunk on 2009-08-09 in #gear #tipster #medium-format #analog #film #beginner-tips #film-speed #tipster #aperture #exposure #c-41 #lighting #diana #tipster-of-the-week #newbies #e-6


  1. magdalenagabriela
    magdalenagabriela ·

    very helpful hints explained in a clear way. I'm glad I've read this!

  2. zoe191
    zoe191 ·


  3. stouf
    stouf ·

    Good job artpunk !

  4. lazara
    lazara ·

    hey that's a great article! thank you for reminding me about the basics, sometimes i get quite carried away :))))

  5. frecklythomas
    frecklythomas ·

    thankyou for the advice, it is nice too know that there are people thinking of us analog newbies.

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