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In a previous article I addressed three mistakes that novice (and sometimes experienced) film photographers commonly make. While I don’t typically subscribe the practice of dwelling on mistakes, they do posses inherent educational value.
Mistakes are inevitable, but one way to help mitigate them is to give yourself the best chance possible at succeeding. This ideology applies to all aspects of life, but what steps can film photographers specifically take to ensure creative success?
Here are four easy to follow guidelines that will help make you a better film photographer.
1. Use Skill-Appropriate Gear
If you’re just starting out in film photography or testing the waters to determine if you might want to continue along the analog path, the smart move when it comes to acquiring gear is to start simple.
Film cameras are cheap these days. You can pick up a more than adequate camera and lens combo at a very attractive price. The Canon AE-1, Pentax K1000, Nikon FM — these are just a few of the cameras commonly sought after by beginners.
If you’re in the market for a Leica M6 you’re doing too much. Cool your jets and master the basics. Get good at what you’re doing. If later you feel your work warrants such an upgrade, then go for it I suppose.
Just remember that better cameras do not make better photographers.
I’ve mentioned this a time or two. If you want to get good at something you’ve got to always be doing it. This is another reason it’s good to start out with a simple camera, as you will be more inclined to use it.
Practicing with a film camera presents cost-related obstacles that are of no concern in digital photography, where you can insert a memory card and shoot and delete and reshoot with reckless abandon.
Reckless abandon is probably not a phrase film photographers are comfortable with. Each frame of film has a price attached to it, so practice should involve learning not just the technical aspects of exposure but also the wisdom of shot selection.
3. Take Notes
If you’re anything like me when I was first presented with this idea you probably let out an audible groan. I get it — now you’re being told to write things down? More analog work doesn’t sound fun.
Remember: film cameras don’t record exif info to film like digital cameras do to image files. If you want to know your settings for any given film photo, you need to take note of those settings before you press the shutter button.
After your film is developed you can go back and compare your settings with the final image. This will help you learn some of the exposure nuances of both the film and your camera, and help you determine what you did well and what you can improve on.
4. Expose For The Shadows
Film tends to prefer overexposure rather than underexposure. In other words, you should meter for the darkest part of a scene in order to retain as much detail as possible in the shadows.
To be sure, there will be times when you don’t want or need to expose for the shadows. Low contrast scenarios, certain films or a desired look might be reasons you disregard this edict. But in order to learn the fundamentals of exposure and acquire a grasp on the nature of film, it’s good general practice to expose for the shadows. Your highlights will be just fine (they can be controlled in development or tweaked in post if necessary).
These four tips alone won’t make you a master photographer, but they will help you acclimate yourself to the fundamental procedures of film photography and this will open the door that leads to the creative success you're seeking.