This month we are going old school and featuring a series of tutorials by Amanda McKinley that delve into the world of film photography! Whether you shoot digital or film, there is a lot to be said about learning to shoot with a film camera correctly SOOC. Be sure to follow along with this entire series here:
- Film Photography Tutorial: How to Choose a Film Camera
- Film Photography Tutorial: Choosing the Best Film for the Job
All right! We have our camera, picked out our film and now it’s time to share with you what cameras I use and what films work best for various situations.
On a side note, when first starting out with film, I spent a lot of time shooting manually outside so I could work on metering and practice using different light situations. According to many, overexposing your C-41 film is recommended, so I chose a couple films to experiment with. Overall, I found my favorite film is Kodak Portra 400. Depending on which camera I use, I will either meter in camera (with my Nikon F100) or use my hand held meter to check exposure (with my Contax 645 or the Mamiya RZ). I then set my exposure for a stop or two over the speed of the film. So with 400 speed film, I will rate it at 200 or even 160 depending on the light around my subject.
If you don’t own a hand held meter, have a camera where the meter inside is working, there is the tried and true Sunny 16 Rule. By using these calculations, you are able to estimate your exact settings based on film speed, lighting conditions and shutter speed. So if I were to shoot on a sunny day around high noon, I would choose a film with an ISO of 400, 200 or 100.
- On a sunny day and with ISO 100 film / setting in the camera, one sets the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to 1/100 or 1/125 second (on some cameras 1/125 second is the available setting nearest to 1/100 second).
- On a sunny day with ISO 200 film / setting and aperture at f/16, set shutter speed to 1/200 or 1/250.
- On a sunny day with ISO 400 film / setting and aperture at f/16, set shutter speed to 1/400 or 1/500.
When I shot digitally, I shied away from shooting outside at high noon. I now welcome the challenge to shoot film when the sun is right above my subject. Even with overexposing your film it’s hard to blow your highlights. The latitude you get with film allows you get all the details of your subject and the background even with overexposure. When I meter, whether in camera or hand held, I always expose for the shadows. In camera, I set my reading for spot metering. Metering this way gives me flexibility to choose where on my subject I want to take a reading from. I usually try to find the darkest shadows on my subject and expose for that.
Last year my husband and I went out to Joshua Tree State Park. We took my Olympus OM-2N SLR (metered in camera) out into the desert and shot in shade and full sun with Kodak 400 overexposed by 1 stop with amazing results. The blues of the sky and details within the shadows even with overexposure demonstrate why I love shooting film. Had I overexposed in full sun with my digital camera, I would have lost details in the sky and probably would have blown out all the highlights on my subject. Even with overexposing, my highlights still had recognizable detail!
I use my Nikon F100 when I’m in need of a camera with auto focus. Because I photograph mainly children, I appreciate having the ability to not worry about images that might be out of focus. When photographing children outdoors I always grab 400 speed film. It gives me enough flexibility in case my subjects go from shade to full sun.
My favorite camera to use outdoors is the Contax 645 with the 80mm. Images at f/2.0 are incredible and the bokeh is like butter. This camera has auto focus, however, it is SLOW, so it’s forced me to work on manually focusing on my subjects.
Every once in a while I load up my Mamiya RZ with some instant film. Luckily Fuji and the Impossible Project still make amazing instant films that speak to the very soul of a film photographer! After shooting off several packs, I have found that you really need to be careful when exposing for this film. While I prefer to overexpose my 35mm and 120/220 color films, I try to underexpose my instant film. When shooting with the RZ, I normally use a handheld meter. I punch in my ISO and aperture, then I take an incident reading to get my shutter speed. Then I take my shutter speed and dial it down even more. So if my meter reading says I should set my shutter speed to 1/60th of a second, I may actually slow down the shutter to 1/50th or even 1/30th of a second. Again, a lot has to do with your lighting conditions, so remember to take that into consideration when exposing your film. Instant film is expensive, so be careful to take accurate readings before shooting off those precious 10 images.
For low light situations, I typically gravitate towards my rangefinder. The rangefinder is not only quiet, it’s capable of being handheld without motion blur at really low shutter speeds. I do a lot of photography for my church, which has a range of different lighting. It’s backlit by large windows and lit internally with pot lights. Unless my subject is in direct light, I get nothing but shadows and dark figures. I normally shoot black and white film just so I don’t have to deal with color casts or the off colors of the lights on my subject. I really love T-max 400 since it’s low grain and ability to be pushed. T-max can get a bit contrasty the more you push it, so I try to stay around 1600 ISO when I use it. Ilford 3200 is another film that works amazingly well in poorly lit situations. I can’t recommend enough that you play around with several films to see which one works best for your preferences.
The one thing I want to push most in this series is to take the time getting to know film by shooting personal work. Personal work is the best way to learn about what you like and what cameras and films work best in different situations. Personal work also gives you the chance to get out and practice your craft. When you are paying for each shot you definitely slow down and pay more attention to what you are doing. So get out there, have fun and shoot film!!!
Amanda McKinley is a film photographer based out of Columbus, Ohio. She is married with 3 kids, 1 cat and a slightly insane Boston Terrier. You can often find her busy playing with multiple cameras and handfuls of film. Her main passion is photographing children dealing with illness, as well as documenting families, church and daily life. You can follow her blogsite, become friends on Facebook or follow her obsessive picture taking on Instagram (@amandasmckinley).