Beginners Guide To Film Photography: Everything You Want To know

Since 2016 I’ve been practising film photography, over time I’ve discovered what the best cameras are, what to avoid, where to get film developed, how to shoot manually and many of the common problems and issues a beginner might discover. I’m putting all that knowledge together today to help you start film photography as smoothly as possible.

In short, you need a working film camera and a roll of camera film. You need to then learn the basic functions, ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture (Unless you are shooting on a point-and-shoot). Afterwards, you can shoot some photos, then send your film off to be developed and later you can look at them with joy or dismay, depending on how they turn out. That’s the basics, however in this article I’ll go a little bit more in-depth, and I’ll cover a few really important aspects of your film photography journey.

Perhaps everything above was enough information, however, if you want to take some advice that will save you time and money, then you’ll definitely want to read on and start your film journey!

What Camera and Film Stock Should I buy?

So, you’ve decided you want to shoot film, but maybe you’ve never even picked up a camera before. Whatever level you’re at, this article will provide you with the tools to feel confident in taking your next steps.

It can be a little bit daunting when you’re looking at what kind of camera to get, there are so many! While your first thought might be to search ‘best 35mm camera’, or something like that, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for you at this stage.

This first question is do you need an SLR camera or a Point and Shoot, (yes there are a couple of other types of cameras, but to keep things simple, we’ll stick with these). Below you’ll be able to see the SLR camera on the left, and the point-and-shoot camera on the right.

The question is, what kind of camera is right for you? Ultimately it depends on how much you would like to learn and what kind of things you would like to shoot. If you intend to really learn photography, and how to make a picture and shoot manually then you’ll want to buy an SLR camera.

If you intend to document your life, nightlife and travel then a point-and-shoot might be better suited to you. It’s not entirely fair to say that either type of camera is the better one, they’re just good for different things. This isn’t to say you couldn’t use a point-and-shoot camera for portrait or editorial work, for instance, some photographers have made a whole career on just that, this isn’t typical though and generally, when you’re just starting out, it’s much better to see how they’re usually used first.

The question is, what kind of camera is right for you?

My advice would be if you’re shooting your daily life, you and your friends at festivals or on holiday, then just get a point and shoot, it’ll be smaller, nice and compact, probably cheaper if you haven’t got a premium one. It’ll still take great shots but you won’t need to mess around so much.

If you want to shoot things like documentary photography, street photography, portrait, editorial, landscape and just have more control over your final image, then you want an SLR camera. The SLR camera just offers you so much more, you can put a variety of different lenses on it, which will completely change the look and feel of an image, you can control all of your settings like aperture and shutter speed, which will change everything too.

More controlCan be bulkyQuickElectrical Faults
Can fit multiple lensesCan be slowerEasyLess control
Helps you learn to shoot manuallyUsually need light seals replacingSmall/CompactSome are quite bad
Good for a more professional lookCan be expensiveSome are really goodCan be expensive
Big pay off once you’ve learned how to useCan take a little while to learnMost people can easily use one
Gives you more understanding once you’ve learnedThey’re fun

Now hopefully you understand which kind of camera is best for you, I’m just going to quickly list a few cameras that are good for a small and large budget for both types of cameras.

Budget Point And Shoots

Something like the Pentax Espio, Nikon Litetouch, Olympus AF10 or Canon Sureshot, there are a lot of variations but all of these are good cameras that are moderately cheap in today’s market.

High-end Point And Shoots

The Olympus MJU II or MJU I, Nikon L35 AF, Pentax Espio Mini, Yashica T4/T5 or the Contax T2. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch but hopefully, it can give you a quick and easy idea of what to look for.

Budget SLR Cameras

I would like to point you towards the Pentax ME Super, okay, it’s not super low cost, if you search for it you can probably get it for around £80 with a lens. Otherwise, you could try something like the Minolta XGM, Nikon EM, Olympus OM10. Yes, they aren’t that cheap but below a certain price, some of the cameras are just awful.

High-end SLR Cameras

Something like the Nikon FM2n, Olympus OM4TI, Canon A1 and Pentax LX. These are all fantastic cameras, they offer even more control and you can shoot beautiful shots with them.

What type of film should you use?

Once you’ve decided what camera you’d like, the next stop is buying some camera film, if you want to shoot in colour then, I’d go with Kodak Gold or Kodak Portra 400. If you’re shooting black and white then I’d go with, Ilford HP5. Just to let you know, black and white film is usually a little more expensive to get developed.

If you want to take a look at more film stocks and what they’re good for, take a look here.

How Do I Use My Film Camera?

How to use your film camera is more in relation to the SLR camera than it is to point and shoots, for the point and shoot, you just need to load your film point the camera and press the shoot button. For the SLR, it’s more complicated (but don’t be intimidated). If you’re only interested in point-and-shoot cameras, you might want to skip this section.

For the SLR camera, you have to control the shutter speed, ISO and Aperture as well as focus the lens. On some SLRs that are aperture priority (like the ME Super), you only really need to worry about the aperture and focus.
Here’s one of my videos to help you to master your film camera!


ISO Or ASA is the sensitivity of your film to light, most film is in the range of 100-800 ISO, however, it can go to around 3200. The higher the ISO, the better the film is at shooting in low light situations, there will also be more ‘grain’ in the images.

You will need to set your ISO when you are loading a new type of film, if you look at your film and it says Kodak 200, then that is 200 ISO and you can change the ISO on your camera to 200 to reflect that. If we look at the image below, there is a white window with ‘400’ inside of it and ‘ASA’ below it, this is the current ISO setting of this camera. Every SLR displays ISO settings slightly differently, so it’s worth reading up about your particular camera.

Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed is how long the shutter is open, if you look at the image above, you can see all the numbers on the circular dial, these are shutter speeds. 1000 Is 1000th of a second, so a very fast shutter speed, you would expect to be using that kind of shutter speed in daylight rather than low light because it only needs to let the very bright light in to expose the film for a very short period of time.

As the shutter speeds get lower, they are going to be for low and very low light situations. At anything below about 1/30th of a second, you will probably need a tripod, because your own movement would likely make the image blurry.

You will use shutter speed and aperture the most when shooting because once you have the ISO set, you don’t need to change it unless you are putting in a film stock with a different ISO. Shutter speed goes hand in hand with the aperture to create the perfect exposure.

If your camera is working correctly then when you look through your viewfinder, you will see what’s called a light meter, usually on the left or right-hand side, or just at the bottom, sometimes it’s lit up if it’s a later camera and sometimes it’s just a little pointer that goes up or down as you change the settings. You need to use your shutter speed and your aperture together to try to get your light meter in the middle, in the sweet spot, where your image will be exposed accurately.


Aperture is the last but one of the most important of the 3 settings. In film photography, the aperture is found on the lens, usually ranging from something like 2.8 to 22, or something like 1.8 to 16. These are your F Stops, each time you turn the aperture ring lower, (close to 2.8 or whatever your lowest aperture number is), the wider your lens opens, so it is able to let more light in when you take a photograph. The higher the number, the less light it lets in, so at F22, you would then need to reduce your shutter speed to compensate for less light coming through the lens.

While aperture has a direct effect on exposure, it also has a direct effect on depth of field, or in basic terms, the higher the F stop, the more of the image will be in focus, so at F22, everything will be in focus. The opposite is true too, the lower the F Stop, the less of the image will be in focus, as you go down to F 2.8 or even lower then the thing you’re focusing on will be in focus and the background will be blurry. This is why people want lenses that go down to F 1.2, it’s simply the easiest way to create depth in an image.


Focus is a much simpler thing but since I’m on the subject I may as well give you some simple tips. Most lenses will show another set of numbers other than the aperture. It’ll read something like 0.5 with 1.7 above it and onwards until 30 and the infinity symbol.

All of this may look complicated but all it is showing is how far or near you are focussing and it also shows the limitations of that lens, so if the last number is 0.45m then that means you can only focus as close as 0.45m (which is really good to be fair), and at the other end of the spectrum, after 10 meters, it doesn’t matter, it’s just infinity then. With focussing, your job is to decide what you want in or out of focus, twist the focus ring to determine that, and shoot!

What Should I Actually Shoot?

If you’re not sure what to shoot but you know that you want to be creative then my suggestion is to look around you. First, great projects have been made just around the family and home life and some of the conversations that they create. Also, you may see brilliant photographers from New York or London, but if you’re from a small town and don’t know where you fit in, just try to discover what makes your way of life unique, what could be documented that people don’t usually see?

Your projects don’t have to be amazing initially but my advice is always to just start shooting, great is the enemy of good, if you spend too long thinking about how to make something perfect, as appose to doing and learning, then you won’t get anywhere.

Obviously, photography isn’t always a serious artistic venture for everybody, you may just want to have fun and that’s fine! Understanding some of the basics will go a long way for you just to make some slightly better images.

Where Can I get my film developed?

Once you’ve shot a full roll of film then you’ll want to get it developed, my advice for unloading your roll of film is as follows: For Point and shoots, some automatically rewind and some you need to do manually, if you reach the end of a roll of film and it makes a winding noise for about 20 seconds or so then you can be pretty happy it’s rewound, if not then there must be a manual rewind button.

For SLRs you have to manually rewind most of them, make sure to do this for longer than you think, you should feel it becomes slightly less tight after a while, and then you’ll know you’ve rewound it fully.

You can send your film to a number of places if you have any friends that are into film photography then I would always ask their advice and try to use a nice local place. If you don’t know anywhere at all then you can use a high street shop (in the UK that’s Max Speilmann’s), although they’re usually insanely expensive and poor quality.

My advice for UK users would be to send to or There are many many more film labs worldwide and I will be compiling a list shortly. Usually, when sending your film you need to send a note with your details and contact information, also tell them if you want your film scanned at low/medium/high, the price varies depending.

What Next?

What next? Well, after some time you might have shot quite a bit and you might have some exciting ideas, things like building a website, making a photography zine or selling prints, there are a lot of fun things that you can put together once you start exploring the world of film.

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