7 Things I Learned in the First Month of Using a Film Camera

I’ve been learning to shoot film for almost a year now (it doesn’t seem like it!), but these are some basic things I’ve learned in my first month of shooting with a film camera. It is rewarding but challenging, to say the least.

I have tons of technical stuff to learn, and I hope one day I can write more about the technical side of photography, but until then, here are my initial thoughts on shooting film!

1) There is No Crying in Film Photography (But Seriously, It’s Okay to Cry)

“Get used to it,” my husband, Bill, stated to me as I destroyed my very first roll of film, Portra 800, to be exact. 

We had spent all morning taking pictures around Jekyll Island. As a newbie to film photography, I was very proud of some of the shots that I got: a fishing boat gliding down the river, a beautiful black cat cooling off on a hot summer day in Georgia, a hallway of mirrors at the Jekyll Island Club Resort, and some of the most picturesque cottages on the island.

Before taking my last shot on the Leica M6, Bill warned me to let him know when the camera got to 36 exposures.  

Despite questioning all that in my mind, I didn’t pursue the conversation further and quickly left him to his 4×5.

We were at the Crane Cottage, one of the many cottages on the island that is part of the Jekyll Island Club Resort. I walked to its courtyard, thinking this would be a lovely last shot to take – no one was in sight, and there was a beautiful fountain with lovely flowers nearby dotting the landscape. I wish I stayed a bit longer to enjoy the solitude.

Luckily, I took another image of the Crane Cottage courtyard with the Hasselblad 500cm, so not all was lost!

After framing what I wanted, I took the picture and eagerly walked back to my husband to get assistance taking the roll out of the camera. This was my first vacation using a film camera, and I didn’t trust myself in handling the film.

Upon handing the camera back to him, he realized something was wrong because the film counter was at 40 when the roll only went up to 36 exposures. When winding the film back, he could immediately hear that the film went back into the canister.

“It’s gone,” he said. 

“What do you mean it’s gone?” I frantically questioned. 

“The film is gone. It is done for. You just lost all your images,” he informed me. 

Immediate tears sprung to my eyes. Yes, I cried about this. 

Bill tried to explain what happened, but I had none of it. I told him to let me be for a moment to process how I felt. I had just lost my entire roll of film with all my images from that morning.

The entire roll!

I thrust the Leica back to Bill and said I was done with that, even though I knew full well that it was a user error and not the camera. 

Bill calls it the “Cadillac of cameras.”  Would you want to put a new driver in a Cadillac? Maybe, but I guess it shouldn’t be me!

I took maybe eight pictures of this cat on film, and they were all lost on that roll. So, even though this image is not great, I am glad I shot an iPhone image for my memories. I am a cat lover, and if I see one on vacation, I need to snap a shot!

I didn’t want to try shooting again with the Leica that day, and I haven’t really since then. Great camera, definitely user error, but I still feel that sting of losing my first roll. 

Once I recollected myself, I decided to redo some of my pictures. So, grabbing the Hasselblad 500cm, we drove back to all the places we had stopped before to see if I could recapture some of the images. I was able to recapture a few, but it wasn’t quite the same. Plus, running around in the Georgia heat in the middle of June was no fun!   

“Get used to it,” I was told. I have now lost my first roll of film, and it stinks. It is almost like breaking up with your first love (okay, maybe not quite as bad), but it is still very sad. But I know it won’t be the last time I lose a roll of film. This is something I am going to try to keep in mind when that day comes.

So, if it happens to you, remember you are not the only one!

And for me, it’s okay because now I have another excuse to return to Jekyll Island to take more images!

One of the images that I redid at Jekyll Island. Shot on Hasselblad 500cm.

2) It’s Okay to Take “Not So Great” Photos

Let’s be honest. My pictures aren’t that great right now, and that’s completely fine! I have MUCH to learn, and that is okay! It’s super cliché, but I must constantly remind myself that not every expert was an expert at something initially. That person was probably terrible at something when starting a new thing, too.

Photography has many terms and technical aspects, and I often feel overwhelmed understanding and remembering them. I still have difficulty figuring out how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO relate to one another (that “exposure triangle,” you know). 

I also tend not to use the terms correctly. Wide aperture, small aperture, higher aperture value, lower aperture value…wait, what?

I am constantly reminding myself that it will take time and practice! But I will improve, and I know it.

 So, if you feel the same way, keep taking pictures because you will improve, and it will all make more sense along the way!

It’s one of the worst pictures I shot early on. It is mostly in shadow, and there is not much that I can fix. Shot at Helton Creek Falls in North Georgia.

3) Your Roll Will Survive if You Drop It

My husband played a mean joke on me. We were in the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and a bug landed on my hand while I was putting a film roll back into my bag. 

Since I didn’t know what the heck landed on me, I immediately flung my roll onto the ground to shake it off my hand. A passerby, I imagine, would probably think I was throwing stuff deliberately on the ground for no apparent reason.

My husband said, “Well, all your images are blurry now…”

 I demanded, “Wait, what do you mean?”

I repeated myself, increasingly getting frustrated, “What do you mean my pictures are blurry now?” 

He busted out laughing and said it was just a joke. He explained that the images wouldn’t be blurry from dropping it.

I did not find this funny, nor was I fully convinced. I think I asked at least ten times later that day, “Are you sure the roll is okay?”

He immediately processed my film the next day as he was getting tired of that question. But what can I say…it wasn’t that nice!

Now, I am not AT ALL saying to drop your roll of a skyscraper, but if you happen to drop it while loading up your camera or putting it away, it will be okay! 

My image survived the drop! Shot on Ektachrome E100.

4) YouTube is Your Friend

I traditionally don’t watch a lot of YouTube. I would rather read a good book than watch a video on my computer or phone screen. However, I have respect for the vast amount of knowledge that is shared on YouTube. And let’s face it, sometimes you need to see something to learn it. 

Right now, I am taking a hands-on approach to learning the basics of film photography. YouTube has been beneficial in explaining essential concepts and showing them in a visual context. I am terrible with technical stuff, so I appreciate videos that break down complex concepts. 

If you want to start learning some basics of photography (other than practicing on your camera), I suggest starting with YouTube. Search what you want to know, and I am sure you will get many results. I feel so lucky sometimes to live in an age where we have this type of information right at our fingertips!

5) Tripod: You Love It or You Hate It

As I type this, I can confidently say I loathe the tripod. I really do. I find it something that will help you take great pictures, but I hate carrying the thing, getting it out, and setting it up. Also, I have little patience for it. This might be laziness on my part, but can anyone relate?

To me, it’s a necessary evil. But I suppose sometimes you put up with stuff you don’t like to get something you want, e.g., a lovely waterfall shot. 

I am still learning to respect its function, but it’s hard. Once I get acquainted with it and see the fantastic shots it helps me produce, I am sure I will develop some sort of friendship with it. 

I will leave it at this, though: if anyone comes up with a better invention instead of the tripod, I promise you, I will be your first customer to buy it!  

Oh, tripod…

6) Go Digital If You Need To

I am striving to keep my pictures mostly film, but I’ve realized that an iPhone or a digital camera is just handy sometimes, especially with learning. It can be challenging to learn on film as you don’t see your results immediately unless you develop your film shortly after.

Right now, I carry my Canon EOS-1N, affectionately named Neko. Neko’s digital friend is a Sony a6600 called Alfie (so original, I know). At this point, I am getting backup pictures on the Sony a6600 and sometimes with my iPhone. Not only is it my insurance policy and a way to keep photos for my memories, but it also allows me to see how changing an aspect of the exposure triangle affects my images.

For example, if you have a lower aperture value, you will get a more shallow depth of field. So, if I have my digital, I can play around at the moment to see how an image will display by changing my aperture value.

While I can do this on a film camera, I can’t really see the final result until the film is developed. It is useful when learning film to have a digital camera to understand the composition. There is no shame in using digital!

7) Try For One

This one is frustrating to write because I struggle with it so much! I am still trying to trust myself and my camera. We recently went to Brasstown Bald to get pictures, and I took 16 photos of the same thing: the sunrise. 

The sunrise was so beautiful, and I needed to capture its beauty. I knew I would be highly disappointed if I didn’t get the shot.

Taking many pictures (almost the entire roll) felt like another insurance policy that undoubtedly one image would come out good.

This is one of the many sunrise pictures I took at Brasstown Bald. Shot on Lomography 100.

While I am happy with all the sunrise pictures, I know there is no reason to take this many, and I wasted the opportunity to take photos of something else! Plus, let’s face it…some film is expensive, and I can’t always do this.

So, right now, I am trying to break this habit and try for one (okay, maybe two…). I can’t promise it, though.

What did you learn at the beginning of your photography journey (film AND digital)? Please share and comment below!

Leave a Comment