3 tips to Mastering your own Film Process

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The biggest bit of advice I can give to those starting out in film is this: be the master of your own process. One of the most frequent mistakes I see being made by beginning & intermediate film photographers is a disconnect between the decisions being made before & during shooting and the finished product. Below I’ve compiled three things that I believe are at the center of every image made. These are the decisions you are 100% in control of, so why not make them work for you? Think through these three things when photographing and I guarantee you’ll be well on your way to getting scans that you love every time!

  1. The light you’re shooting in matters.

    If you’re hoping for a low contrast look, for heaven’s sake, don’t shoot at midday when direct light can pour the contrast on pretty thick. The type of light you shoot in can directly affect the amount of contrast you can expect in your images. If you like a low contrast aesthetic look for open shade or take advantage of an overcast day. Do your best to think through the type of light you need to accomplish the contrast you’re drawn to and then go find it!

  2. Know your film stocks.

    Whoa, guys. This one is mucho important. Learning the characteristics of each film stock is just about the smartest thing you can do. Each film stock has a different color base & contrast level, and knowing what these are is going to save you so much grief when you’re shooting. For instance, did you know that Portra800 has a red/orange color base? Which means that using it to photograph already red little newborn babies is a bad idea. When photographing newborns choose something more neutral like Fuji400h, which has a cyan color base and can neutralize reds in skin tones. Or maybe you have a gorgeous red dress that you’re photographing and you want it to pop? Don’t shoot Fuji400H which is going to give you lackluster results due to it’s cyan neutralizing tendencies, instead you may want to shoot Portra160 or Ektar to really see those reds explode.

    Despite what a lot of seasoned film photographers may think, you are not married to any one film stock. Yes it’s smart to master one film stock and have it be your go to, but a good percentage of the time you need to be shooting the film stock that is going to give you the best results for that situation, whether it’s your go to or not. Know your film stocks and what they can and can’t do for you, and get the results you want.

  3. Metering & Exposure.

    Don’t skip the metering step, okay? Just don’t do it. You are smarter than your camera and being able to think through how you want to meter and expose really is half the battle. If you’re using an in-camera meter always have it set to spot metering and meter for the shadows always (you’ll thank me later). That being said while in-cameras meters can be great, they can also get fooled in tricky lighting situations a good amount of the time. If you’re serious about this film thing I’d suggest investing in a hand held meter (equipment and gear suggestions blog post to come, wink wink), it really is worth it and it does make a difference.

    Next: Exposure. The entire feel of an image depends on how you expose it, no pressure right? Each film stock has a sweet spot exposure (grab your free film stock cheat sheet here), but that’s really just a jumping off point. You can really change the look of your imagery depending on how much you overexpose. With film we almost always want to be overexposing, because of how light hungry the medium is (check out my previous post on over and under exposure here to catch a visual). But if you’re looking for a moodier vibe or want to add a bit more contrast to your images, a lot of photographers will push their film. On the flip side, those who like the bright and airy look are most likely overexposing to get as much light into the shadows as possible - really it all depends on the look you want, so do a little experimenting to find it!

Starting to shoot film can be overwhelming but if you think about these three things while you’re shooting, you’ll be able to control the types of images you’re making and you’ll avoid a lot of frustration and wasted $$$. Now get out there and SHOOT!

Melese MillerComment