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(Pic: Pixabay)

This is the fifth article in a series in collaboration with Film’s Not Dead.

There’s no getting away from it – shooting film can be frustrating. If you’ve come from digital, where a shot can be tweaked and upgraded at the touch of a few buttons, the gap between what you see in your viewfinder and what turns up on the negatives can be dispiriting.

Every film photographer has had that feeling; the expectation of an incredible shot that is punctured when the prints or scans come back from the lab – pics scratched, blurry, underexposed or poorly composed. Enough of those moments and it’s no wonder many think ‘what’s the point?’ and return to digital. You can’t blame them.

Most of those frustrations are easily solved however. There’s a few things worth bearing in mind until they become second nature – the kind of thing that those of us who’ve been shooting on film for years do without even thinking.

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They might be cheap, but they’ll need a clean (Pic: Pixabay)

Clean your camera: We’re not talking hours of polishing and rubbing. Open the back of the camera before you head out and give it a few gentle blasts from an air blower (you can pick these up for a few quid). Run a cloth to pick up any debris. This is how you prevent dirt, sand, dust and git getting stuck between the film transport and your film. Most people blame labs for scratchy negs. Most of the time it’s because their camera’s not clean.

portrait_stephen dowling
Shooting on a 150mm lens needs a shutter speed of 1/250th or faster

Keep your shutter speed above your focal length: Blurry photos? Your shutter speed isn’t fast enough. The quickest, simplest way to avoid that – apart from using flash – is to keep your shutter speed “above” your focal length. Have a 50m lens on your camera? Shot at /60th or faster. A 135mm lens? Shoot at 1/250th or faster. If need be, load a faster film so you can use these speeds, or a lens with a wider aperture.

josh rouse_stephen dowling
Use bright window light and you won’t need flash

Be aware of tungsten light: Most film is balanced for the colour of daylight – there were tungsten-balanced films available back in the golden days, but these are all now long gone. You might be lucky enough to find some on eBay occasionally, but these are likely to be well expired. Sometimes that orangey glow of light adds bags of atmosphere – think of the golden glow of candlelight and the feelings that can evoke. But the tungsten cast can be overpowering, especially for portraits. I tend to shoot indoor portraits black and white unless I can find a window, or I’m intentionally wanting to use that tungsten light.

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Pushed black and white film adds bags of atmosphere under indoor lights

Be aware of tungsten light: Most film is balanced for the colour of daylight – there were tungsten-balanced films available back in the golden days, but these are all now long gone. You might be lucky enough to find some on eBay occasionally, but these are likely to be well expired. Sometimes that orangey glow of light adds bags of atmosphere – think of the golden glow of candlelight and the feelings that can evoke. But the tungsten cast can be overpowering, especially for portraits. I tend to shoot indoor portraits black and white unless I can find a window, or I’m intentionally wanting to use that tungsten light.

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Get close – and then get closer again (Taken in Balat, Istanbul)

Get closer: Best piece of advice I ever got, from musician Chris Colbourn, who’s a cracking photographer – get closer. When you’re about to take a picture, stop – take a few steps closer, and recompose. That’s the single best piece of advice I’ve ever received. So many of my early shots were ruined by the vast amounts of empty space, and the point of the picture lost amongst it. Every time I go out to take pictures, it’s the piece of advice that still rings the loudest, wherever I am.

I can’t guarantee that every pic is going to be a keeper if you keep to these rules, but they will help cut down on some of the common traps that it’s so easy to fall into. And shooting film should be fun, not frustrating.

 

More posts:

52 Photo Tips #4: Carry a notebook

52 Photo Tips #3: Always carry black and white film

52 Photo Tips #2: One camera, one lens

52 Photo Tips #1: Don’t spend too much

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Judith Greig
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Judith Greig

No, don’t use canned air. It can ruin the mirror in a single lens reflex and the sensor in a digital camera. The best bet is one of those rubber bulbs with a brush attached. You squeeze the bulb, so the puff of air is gentle.

Bob Dungan
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Bob Dungan

Good advice.

Joe shoots resurrected cameras
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Cinestill 800T. I can’t say I know everything about it yet or how to get a perfect image every time, but for shooting indoors it can really do the trick, better than a blue filter when using an SLR, for sure!

Radu
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Would a 80A filter work with daylight balanced film under tungsten light? Witch one would be the best option 80A, 80B or 80C?

Radu
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Would a 80A filter work for daylight balanced film under tungsten light? Which one of these would be better, the 80A, 80B or 80C?

ALE
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ALE

Hello,
Very interesting this post and the generally page.
May explain why keep your shutter speed above your focal length.
sorry for my English

Askat
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Askat

The longer your lens the more it will amplify the movements of your hands/breathing the less steady the point of entry of light in your system will be so you compensate by using higher shutter speeds so the movement of the lease is not visible.

Robert
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Actually, one of the reasons I went back to 100% analog (apart from aesthetics, but that’s just personal taste): when I shoot film, I don’t care that much about imperfections (accidentally out-of-focus, being too late/early, blurriness); it’s more about that one moment than technical perfection. Shooting digital (with an “infinite” number of frames, and much more technical options) I expected it to be perfect, and I was frustrated when I still didn’t get it “right”. With film, I don’t have that feeling at all. It’s just what it is. That’s why film photography actually feels more “zen”, at least for… Read more »

Radu Serbanescu
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I really enjoy your posts and in particular this series. It’s hard to find good articles about film photography in this digital age. Thanks!