Image by Chris Chow

Brief Introduction to

Film Photography

Never shot film before and don’t know where to start? Shooting on film can be pretty confusing at first. There are a bunch of new things to take into consideration and working these out can feel pretty difficult.

Choosing a Film Camera

For most photographers with no experience shooting with film, 35mm will be the way to go. For one, it’s a less costly endeavour than medium- or large-format film. More importantly, it requires much less prior knowledge. It’s also by far the most popular way to shoot film. 


The larger frames medium-format/ the more common 120mm film captures are also ideal for large prints, such as those commonly seen in photographic art galleries. The medium-format film is usually roll film, typically allowing 8 to 32 exposures on one roll of film before reloading is needed. All medium-format cameras mass-produced today (as of 2012) use the 120 film format. Additionally, many are capable of using the 220 film format, effectively doubling the number of frames available with 120 film. Medium-format roll film is still available from specialty shops and photographic laboratories, yet it is not as ubiquitous as 135 (35mm) film.

Large-format film, despite its incredible resolution, has become something of a rarity, both because of the costs associated with it, the relative scarcity of the film and equipment, and the technical expertise that it demands.

Large-format film doesn’t come in rolls. It comes in a box of single film sheets, which have to be loaded into the camera two at a time. And even more so than medium-format, large-format film developers will be hard to come by.

Image by César Abner Martínez Aguilar

Video Guide to Film Photography

Types of Film

If you’re brand new to film photography, shooting black-and-white is a good place to start for a few reasons. It is generally more forgiving, so if you miss your exposure, you’ll have a better chance of pulling back shadows or highlights than you would with colour film. Another reason that B&W is a good starting point is that it is much easier to develop at home, an option that is not only rewarding and fun, but will also afford you more control over the look of your photos and save you money if you shoot a lot.

Black and White
Image by 烧不酥在上海 老的

Negative film has wide exposure latitude, is fine-grained and sharp, and processing is more relatively available. Negative film must be printed or scanned in order to result in a positive image. Colour negative film is the most common film you'll find on the market. It's straight-up, straight-forward film that is processed by your lab (or yourself!) in C-41 chemicals. You can easily have your film ready in just a day – it's fast and fun, great for those gotta-get-it-quick moments.

Colour Negative
Image by Florencia Viadana

Colour positive film a.k.a slide/ reversal  film is basically an alternative type of film to colour negative. If you want your shots to be bright, vivid and dripping with in-your-face colour, give slide film a whirl! It's processed in different chemicals than Colour Negative in a process called E6. However, it can still be developed in the C41 Colour Negative chemicals for experimental effects. This is known as X-Pro or Cross Processing and produces unpredictable, wild colour shifts.

Colour Positive
Image by Nathan Anderson