A complete guide to shooting 35mm film

February, 2019
I got my first film camera for Christmas in 2017 and it ignited a passion for film photography that is yet to mellow. I’d been shooting digital regularly for the previous three years and was becoming frustrated with the futile pursuit of the perfect shot.
Shooting film took photography back to being a craft and put the wonder back into the process. I now love the imperfections of each image because they are truly moments stopped in time, a one time thing. Since day one, I’ve been immersing myself in the online film community, blogs, YouTube tutorials and literature to hone my skills and I’ve picked up one or two tips along the way. In this guide, I wanted to give an overview of what the end to end film process looks like for me—from choosing a camera to sharing the final product—as well as the vendors and products I love for each stage.
Overlooking Curium beach, Episkopi, Cyprus.

Curium beach, Cyprus

Canon T70, Kodak ColorPlus 200

Choosing a film format

When it comes to film formats, you essentially have three options—35mm, medium format or large format. The choice you make here will affect the camera you buy, what film you choose and even where you get your film developed. If you’re shooting film for your own personal use, I’d highly recommend 35mm as it’s considerably cheaper and easier to come by on all fronts and looks just fine when printed up to 12x8”. If you’re planning on shooting professionally or regularly printing poster prints, you might want to look into medium and large format film.

“Shooting film took photography back to being a craft and put the wonder back into the process.”

Buying 35mm cameras and lenses

Where to buy a 35mm film camera

I picked up my Canon T70 from eBay for £20. Most people will have a family member with an old 1980s film camera stashed away in their attic and, much of the time, they’re willing to give them away for free. Other places worth checking are sites like Gumtree and Freecycle, Facebook Marketplace and your local car boot sale.

How to choose a 35mm film camera

When it comes to choosing a model, you can’t always be too picky. The most important thing to look out for is whether or not the lens is interchangeable. Something like the Olympus Mju II works like a point and shoot, whereas the Canon T70 and Canon A1 can be used with any FD lens. Neither is necessarily better than the other, it’s just a case of personal preference. Models such as the Canon T70 and Canon A1 also allow you to change the shutter speed and aperture to get more creative with your photography.

How to choose a lens for your film camera

If you go for a model with an interchangeable lens, you will often find that people sell their camera with at least one lens attached. Where listings say “body only”, the lens is not included.

If you’re buying a lens separately, you’ll need to make sure it will fit your camera. Canon 35mm cameras take lenses with an FD mount. If you want to use these lenses with your digital EOS camera as well, you can pick up an FD to EF adapter from Amazon for less than £10. It’s much more difficult to find an adapter for EF to FD, which would allow you to use digital Canon lenses on a 35mm camera. You can also get adapters to use Canon lenses with Nikon cameras and vice versa, as well as for other brands.

Focal length and aperture

When buying lenses of any kind, digital or film, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Firstly, the focal length, measured in millimetres. The focal length defines how zoomed in the lens looks, so a higher number means a bigger zoom and a lower number works well for wider shots. For example, a 50mm lens (or a “pancake” lens) is great for wider shots, but you’ll have to be reasonably close to your subject for it to fill the photo. A 18-55mm lens can be zoomed in and out and so is a popular one with many ameteur photographers. As a rule of thumb, around 50mm is great for photos of people and food. A professional photographer, on the other hand, might use a 200mm lens for events, sports or street photography. These lenses are huge and can be a chore to lug around.

The other thing to check is the aperture or f-stop. This is a measure of where the focus is or how blurry the background is. A lower f-stop will give a more blurry background to contrast with your subject, whereas a higher f-stop is better for taking photos of landscapes where you want a shallow depth of field so that everything is in focus. On many lenses, you can alter the f-stop. For example, the Canon FD 50mm F1.8 lens goes from an aperture of 1.8 right up to 22. The lower f-stop is expressed in the name of the lens.

Taking selfies in my bedroom mirror.

Milton Keynes

Canon T70, Kodak ColorPlus 200

All American breakfast at The Breakfast Club, Oxford.

The Breakfast Club, Oxford

Canon T70, Kodak ColorPlus 200

Buying and storing 35mm film

Where to buy 35mm film

I buy all my 35mm film from Discount Films Direct. I found them on Google and have always found their selection, prices and customer service fantastic. You can also pick up 35mm film on eBay.

How to choose 35mm film

When buying 35mm film, you essentially have 2 options: colour and black and white. I’ve tried both and, though I loved shooting on black and white film, I found there were occasions where I wanted to show off the colours of a place but already had black and white film loaded in my camera. Considering how easy it is to add a black and white filter on my iPhone, it makes more sense for me to shoot everything in colour and then add a black and white effect to my photos in VSCO once they’ve been developed—however, I totally get that this isn’t as ~authentic~ as shooting in black and white from the start.

In terms of specific brands and types of 35mm film, it’s really down to personal preference and a lot of trial and error. Personally, I like Kodak ColorPlus when shooting in colour and Ilford Delta for black and white (note this is traditional black and white, not C41). If in doubt, Lomography have a comprehensive guide to film and developing.

Another option you have is shooting expired film, either colour or black and white. Film, like most other things, has an expiry date after which time the colours start to change and distort. This can give fun and unexpected results and adds to the spontaneity of shooting film over digital. I actually shot my first roll of expired film, some Kodak ColorPlus 200 that expired in the early 00s, just recently so I’m still waiting for it to be developed and sent back to me. I’ll be sure to add to this post when I have the results.

ISO and exposures

There are a couple of key things to look out for when buying 35mm film. The first one is the ISO, which defines how sensitive the film is to light. So, if your film has a higher ISO, it’s more sensitive to light and you’ll need to shoot on a faster shutter speed. Choosing the right ISO is important because, as I found out the hard way, it’s quite difficult to shoot 100 ISO film inside in the UK winter. I ended up using a slow shutter speed and many of my photos came out blurry. On the other end of the spectrum, photos shot on film with a very high ISO (such as 1600) tend to come out grainy. I’ve found an ISO of 200 works well in most situations with natural daylight, both inside and outside.

The other thing to think about is the number of exposures. This one is easy as it simply means how many shots you get in each roll of film. Your choice is usually 24 or 36. I usually get 36 because I take a lot of photos but, again, it’s down to personal preference.

How to store 35mm film

When you get your 35mm film, it’ll usually be in a canister inside a cardboard box. It’s best to keep it in its packaging in a cool, dry, dark place until you’re ready to use it. I store mine in a spare camera bag, but a drawer or wardrobe would work just as well.

If you anticipate it being several months or years before you use the film, or you’ve bought in bulk, you can store it in the freezer to prolong its lifetime. Keep it in the canister and box and place it in a plastic bag to prevent moisture getting to the film. When you’re ready to use your film, let it come to room temperature (at least 5 hours) before taking it out of the box. Kodak have a more in-depth guide on the storage and handling of unprocessed film.

“It makes more sense for me to shoot everything in colour and then add a black and white effect to my photos in VSCO once they’ve been developed.”

Loading and shooting 35mm film

Loading 35mm film

The process of loading your 35mm film will be specific to your camera, but a quick search on YouTube should bring up a tutorial you can follow. I follow this one for loading film into my Canon T70 and it’s pretty straightforward. You don’t usually need to do this in a darkroom as the film will have an extra bit at the beginning that can be exposed without affecting your photos. You’ll also need to set your ISO at this point according to the ISO on your film. Once you’ve done this, you don’t need to change the it again until you put in your next roll of film—set it and forget it.

Shooting 35mm film

Again, the options you have when shooting your 35mm film will depend on your camera. On my Canon T70, there are options to change the shutter speed and aperture for each shot. Shutter speed simply means how long the shutter is open when the image is captured, therefore how exposed the image will be—a faster shutter speed will result in a darker image. I would highly recommend downloading the free light meter app Lux to give an indication of suitable settings according to the conditions you’re shooting in and the ISO of your film. As time goes on, you’ll get better at guessing. The Canon T70 also gives recommendations for shutter speed and aperture on the viewfinder when you press the shutter release halfway down. I usually go with a mixture of the two plus my own educated guess.

Brew & Brownie, York

Canon T70, Ilford Delta 400

Developing and printing 35mm film

Where to have 35mm film developed

When you come to the end of a roll of film, you’ll need to rewind it (there are lots of camera-specific tutorials for this on YouTube) and pop it back in the canister. Many UK towns still have independent camera shops where you can get film developed but they are nowhere near as common as they used to be. Snappy Snaps will often develop film but it depends on the branch as to their prices, how long it will take and the types of film they can develop. I’ve used Snappy Snaps Lincoln before and they’ve been brilliant, however the Milton Keynes store proposed a much longer wait time and higher price and could only process C41 film on site.

As an alternative, I’ve found that AG Photolab offer a fantastic service. You order online, they provide a freepost envelope to send your film in and then you have your photos back within a matter of days. Their customer service is also great.

Wherever I go, I ask for my negatives to be scanned to CD rather than printed. This is so that, if something has gone wrong and all my images come out looking funny, I haven’t wasted time and money having them all printed. I’d much rather have a look, make any edits and then have my favourites printed. I usually go for a resolution of around 18mb, which works fine for 6x4” prints, Instagram and blog photos.

How to develop 35mm film at home

Your other option is to develop your own film at home. I’ve never tried this but would love to in the future. Wild We Roam has a great video on developing 35mm film at home.

Where to have photos printed

When I get my photos back from being developed, I’ll transfer them from the CD to my external hard drive for safe keeping. I keep photos from each roll of film in a separate folder, with the name of the camera it was shot on and the date I received the developed images in the folder name.

Next, I’ll go through them and transfer any that aren’t blurry, overexposed or underexposed to my iPhone. I’ll make any edits in Afterlight and perhaps add a filter in VSCO (download all the free presets for the best selection). Photoshop Express is also great. If you prefer to edit on a desktop device, Photoshop and GIMP (free and open source) are my go-to editing tools. Once I’m happy with my photos, I’ll order prints from Snapfish. I order through the Snapfish app to get 50 free prints per month for the first year.

Curium beach, Cyprus

Canon T70, Kodak ColorPlus 200

we the curious, Bristol

Canon T70, Ilford Delta 400

Sharing your photos

Where to share film photography online

There are lots of places to share film photography across the internet including on social platforms such as Instagram, image hosting sites like Flickr or your own blog. The one thing I look out for when looking to share my photos online is a copyright policy. Even if you’re just shooting film for fun or for your own memories, it’s important to know that your photos won’t be used in a way you don’t want them to be. Flickr is great for this because it allows users to set the copyright for each of their photos individually under the Creative Commons.

How to share film photography on Instagram

Personally, I love to get involved with the film photography community on Instagram. I always hashtag my 35mm film images with #filmphotography#35mm and #shotonfilm as well as the name of the camera it was shot on (i.e. #canont70) and the type of film (i.e. #kodakcolorplus200). I would highly recommend following these hashtags to see what other users are posting and get some inspiration. When posting your own photos, if you can, mention the shutter speed and aperture of the shot in the caption; people always appreciate it.

Storing your photos

How to store 35mm negatives

Once your 35mm negatives have been developed, it’s a good idea to store them all together. Then if you need to have any re-scanned and printed at a later date, you’ll know where to find them and they’ll still be in great condition.

When I receive my developed negatives, I carefully take each strip out of the sleeve and place it into one of my Hama storage sleeves. Most of the time one roll of film fits into one storage sleeve perfectly. I then attach a sticker to the corner of the storage sleeve detailing the type of film and its ISO, the name of the camera it was shot on, the city where the film was shot, where it was developed and the date I received it (to correspond with my digital file storage). I’ll then staple the CD of the scanned images to the storage sleeve to keep everything together and place it in my box file. It’s a good idea to use a box file rather than a standard ring binder to keep out any dust, moisture and other elements that might affect the film.

This is just my personal preference when storing my 35mm negatives, Wild We Roam also has a great video on how to scan and organise 35mm negatives.

How to keep a record of film photography settings

Alongside my negative storage, I’ve started keeping a record of the settings I use for each shot in my Bullet Journal. I find this useful to look back on once my film has been developed as I can look at images I think turned out particularly well and see if they all used the same aperture or shutter speed in similar conditions. There will also be times where I’ve taken multiple shots of the same subject to see which one would turn out best. In general, detailing and reflecting on your settings is a good way to improve your photography skills.

For each roll of film in my Film Journal spread, I detail the date I started and finished shooting, the type of film and its ISO, the camera it was shot on and the lens, who it was developed by and the shutter speed and aperture for each of the exposures.

How to store developed photos

Once I’ve had my photos printed, I like to store them in a scrapbook rather than having loose prints lying around. For the book itself I use an A4 Kraft scrapbook from Amazon.

I use double-sided cellotape to stick one or two (slightly overlapping) photos per page and use fineliners and my Dymo label maker to add details such as place names, names of people and dates. I’ll also add in ticket stubs and other items related to the photos.

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