(Pic: Castor/Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This is the 24th post in a series in collaboration with Film’s Not Dead.

When you first start shooting film, the choices can be a little daunting. Even if there is quite the number of emulsions still being made today, there are still dozens to choose from.

Each brand of film, like cameras and lenses, has its own characteristics. Some demands bright light, others like it best when the light is lower. Some can be pushed and still yield fantastic results. Some take a little more care.

Once you find a film that you connect with it, you should shoot it as much as you can. Here’s why.

The more you practice with something – like a musical instrument, or a computer programme – the better you get at it. You learn its strengths and limitations, and you learn what it’s best for. Film is the same.

You should, of course, try as many films as you can. Check out sites like Flickr and Lomography and see what other photographers are doing with them; that will give you an idea of the film’s colour palette, grain, and other characteristics. Then get out and shoot with it.

Kodak Ektar is one of my favourite films to use when travelling

Try and shoot in a range of conditions – use it indoor and out, in sunny conditions and, if you’re shooting black and white, overcast aswell. Get to know what it looks like in different light. And here’s the thing – there’ll be some situations where it’ll look rubbish. Films sing in some conditions, but can be poor in others. You’ll get the best sense of this by loading it and using it.

Using the same film again and again can almost help your personal style. Using a film regularly can add a trademark look to your photos – and this is vitally important if you start shooting a personal project. If you’re creating a project around a strong theme or subject, you’ll want each shot to have a uniform look; chopping and changing from film stock to film stock can be jarring.

Each photographer will, most likely have different films for different moods. For my Soundcheck Session project I used Fuji Neopan (since retired by Fujifilm, so I’ll have to find another black and white film for the project). I love Kodak Ektar when I’m travelling and it’s sunny. If I’m taking black and white portraits I tend to do them on Kodak Tri-X. These decisions come from using films again and again and getting a sense of their strengths and weaknesses.

Kodak Tri-X is my favourite film for black and white portraits

But those films I use a personal choice. Just because I use them for certain jobs doesn’t mean everyone has to.

Just because most people are using a certain film for portraits, doesn’t mean you have to. There’s accepted wisdom that a film like Kodak Portra 400 is great for portraits – and it most certainly is – but if a bolder colour palette of another film is really what you want to use, then go for it.

You’ll have your own film that suits your vision. Have fun using various films and seeing what they can do, and make your decisions after you’ve shot with them. Then use it, and help it strengthen your photographic vision.

Stephen Dowling
Follow me
0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jim Grey
4 years ago

I guess I’ve settled on Fujicolor 200 as my go-to color film. I say I guess because I never set out to shoot so much of it — it’s just easily available and inexpensive. But after shooting so many rolls, I know exactly what I’m doing with it.

I haven’t settled on a b/w film yet. I like Tri-X for a lot of things, but when I want a slower b/w film I can’t decide between Neopan 100 Acros and T-Max.

4 years ago

My go to colour 35mm is Agfa Vista 200, mainly because it’s astoundingly cheap here in Cardiff as one of the Poundland’s sell’s it for a quid a roll, although if money was no object, and it was still manufactured, I’d be all over Fuji NPS 160. Black & White ideally I shoot Ilford FP4 125 but have found Fomapan Classic 100 to be close, if not quite perfectly the same, enough for a fraction of the cost. It’s 120mm that really sucker’s me in as I can’t shoot 120 on anything except FujiPro 400H or 160S, it feel’s like… Read more »

4 years ago

And there is also a favorite film for each camera! For example, for BW I love Tri-X, but since I purchased my LC-A120 I found that this camera, with its added contrast and vignetting, makes this film too dark, so I ended with Ilford Hp5 and I love the results. At the end, it is a learning curve and a combination between the lab, the camera, the lens and the film…

4 years ago

For people, Kodak portra series. Else, Ektar.
My default slide film is Fuji Provision 400X.
Black&white: Acros.

Barnaby Nutt
4 years ago

I’m still looking for mine. Acros (any older Neopans) are always my favourite, but 100iso is usually too slow for gloomy England.

4 years ago

I love ektars punchy colors too. Trix is just awesome, no wonder why many people use it.


Christos Theofilogiannakos

For colour negatives, you can’t beat Fujicolor C200 for contrast, resolution, colours and lattitude at that price (I get it for 2 euros per 36-frame roll). Ektar 100 and Portra 160 are great films but they are so techhnically excellent that if scanned well, you almost can’t tell the difference from digital and they are so expensive compared to C200 that I would only consider them if I was a pro shooting in the studio in medium format or larger. I also kind of like Kodak Colourplus 200 which is far inferior to C200 technically, but it sometimes gives colours… Read more »

barry cook
barry cook
4 years ago

what films do you use rodinal for?

Juha Sompinmaeki
4 years ago

Nice. My favourite black and white film has always been Ilford Delta 100. It’s really nice and smooth with very fine grain.

1 year ago

This is great advice for the newbie. My personal recommendations for people starting out in black and white is either Ilford HP5+ or Kodak Tri-X. Both are excellent films that give pleasing results and are very forgiving of mistakes. Of the two I use HP5+ most often but I just ran a roll of Tri-X through my trusty Olympus OM-1 and am eagerly anticipating developing it, perhaps tonight! I’ve also just put a fresh roll of Kosmo 100 in my camera. Once you’ve become familiar with the film, then start trying new emulsions. A great source for oddball films is… Read more »