How I Keep Photography Simple (Film Edition)

Recently I described how I keep my digital photography approach simple and as straightforward as possible by simplifying lens choice, camera settings, adjustments whilst shooting, editing and processing.

Let’s look at how this is different (and how it’s similar) when I’m shooting film.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film

Broadly, I have two approaches.

First, shooting without a light meter, with an all mechanical camera, which I wrote about a while back.

The second approach is, not coincidentally, very similar to how my digital approach has evolved.

Let’s break it down as before.

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Fujica ST701, Asahi Super-Multi-Coated-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 film

1. Simplify lens choices.

My five years of experimenting has drawn a few solid conclusions, not least of all that my favourite mount is M42 and my favourite M42 lenses are Asahi Takumars.

With film I have very few cameras now, and if I’m not shooting fully manual with my Spotmatic F, I’ll pick either a Pentax Program-A or one of two Contax – 139 Quartz or 167MT.

With all three I need an M42 adapter, and shoot manually stopping down the lens. Exactly the same as with the DSLRs. Whichever I choose, the Takumars make most sense.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8, York Photo 100 film

2. Simplify settings. 

This is easier than with digital, I mostly use ISO100 film, sometimes ISO200 and shoot maybe a third or half stop overexposed. Then I just go with Aperture Priority (Av) mode. Um, that’s about it.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film

3. Simplify adjustments.

I focus with the lens wide open, then usually stop down two or three stops, depending on the lens, and the light. I balance the depth of field I see in the viewfinder with the shutter speed, ensuring I don’t go too slow and end up with camera shake.

Occasionally I’ll have to move my shoulder strap because it’s slipped down a little. Um, that’s really about all I adjust once the film is loaded.

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Asahi Pentax ES, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak HD2 200 film

4. Simplify editing. 

Once the film is processed and scanned to CD, I just browse through and discard any that I don’t like or don’t think work. Then I’ll do it again, and maybe one more time, until I’m left with just the best. This might only be one or two shots per roll, a great hit rate for me is say six shots.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi Takumar SMC 55m f/2 lens, Rollei Digibase CR200 cross processed film

5. Simplify processing. 

Processing is non-existent, I let the lab take care of it, then just use the scans on the CD they provide. This is for two reasons. Firstly because I tried scanning my own film for a few months and it took a crazy amount of time I didn’t want to spend on it. Second, I just like the unpredictability of film, and the excitement of getting the scans back and not knowing which shots (if any!) have turned out well and will put a smile on my face.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 lens, Tudorcolor XLX200 film

You can see that my film shooting process is considerably more straightforward than shooting digital.

It genuinely surprised me how little I had to write for this post.

And yet it is this simplicity that has hugely influenced my digital shooting, and helped me evolve it to where it is now.

When I first started shooting film it felt a whole other world to what I thought digital was.

But the experience of shooting film for around five years has helped me understand what is most important to me about photography overall, and how these days I can shape my digital experience to be very close – in both the experience and the final results – to the one I discovered and fell in love with with film.

Of course I’ve also realised that shooting digital doesn’t mean having to use an ugly bloated plasticky everything auto body with an equally horribly plasticky everything auto zoom lens. 

I’ve not given up on film, but I have far less a need for it now.

Who knows where I’ll be a year from now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll still have at least a handful of Takumars and a Pentax body or two.

How do you simplify your film photography process? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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12 thoughts on “How I Keep Photography Simple (Film Edition)

  1. Interesting that you set the exposure to be a little overexposed. I have found that – film and digital – I like to underexpose by a bit. That’s maybe because I mostly do street photography, which I think suits the moodier feel especially on B&W film.

    I also do one small adjustment when I get the photos scanned before I put them online, which is to change the gamma correction setting so it doesn’t look all washed out. I don’t mind doing that too much, doing a little editing like that helps you look more closely at your own images.

    1. Hi Sam, thanks for your thoughts. My reasons for overexposing are mainly because I use colour negative film most of the time, and the ones I use are all +3/-1 in latitude.

      Colour film underexposed doesn’t look great for my tastes – grainy, washed out and dull. So by leaning toward overexposure with these films I’m more likely to get in the middle of the film’s latitude. Plus a touch of overexposure tends to give slightly more saturated colours with these films – something else I like about the look of film.

      I have no idea what gamma correction is, I’ll have to look that up!

      1. Thanks for the tips, I’ll try a roll your way for sure. Maybe with a bit more saturation I won’t even need to adjust the gamma!

  2. I continue to struggle with simplification. I am triangulating on the systems I will lean on for real work, but I still really enjoy just shooting a new-to=me camera just to experience it. So I usually have two or three of those sitting here with film in them. I’ve liked to do this since I was a boy and I don’t see it letting up anytime soon!

    1. Jim what do you mean triangulating – you have three systems?

      I do know exactly what you mean about trying a new (old) camera just for the experience and challenge of it. I used to do it all the time! Especially with compact cameras. I think now I’m largely over that phase in my photography. I do still have it to some extent with lenses, but my wishlist now is very small, maybe three or four lenses.

      If that’s what you enjoy, then why not continue?

      Somehow for me the idea of having just one fairly small kit of cameras is now more appealing than having/trying dozens a year. Kind of feels like settling down with one person after years of casual dating!

      1. I use the word triangulating very loosely. I just mean that I am in the process of figuring out which systems I’m going to get behind.

        Oh yes, absolutely – I’ll keep doing what I like! The only reason there’s any level of hesitation here is that holy cow do I not have space for more cameras! And while buying them on eBay is easy, selling them again on eBay is not and I tend to put it off.

      2. Yeh that was an influencing factor for me in settling on just Pentax. I don’t like clutter generally, and having cameras and lenses start to spill over into other areas in my room just started to drive me crazy.

        It’s just about manageable now, but I could still do with purging a little more!

        Also I just don’t like having stuff I’m not using, and it just gathering dust. I want all my photographic kit to be in constant rotation and getting a regular workout.

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