Quick Tips for Shooting 35mm Film (Beginners)


I am a documentary film photographer and have been shooting 35mm film for about 2 years now. I wanted to put together some quick and concise tips for beginners, that consists of helpful things that I have learned from my own experience practising this form of artistry.

If you want  to know the ins-and-outs of how film cameras work and really get into the film vs digital debate, then this is not the article for you (sorry!). The internet has an endless supply of articles and videos addressing these things in great detail, so I have decided that it would not be a great use of this space, or our time, to get into the nitty-gritty myself.

Getting started  

Okay, so first things first. Why is it called 35mm film?  The film stock is called 35mm because the width of the film is 35 millimeters (mm). Yep. That's it. Simpler than you thought, huh?

Picking a camera

Getting your hands on a film camera doesn't have to be such a complicated feat. You don't even have to buy one yourself. I have found that many people have family members or know people that have old film cameras tucked away and forgotten about somewhere in the house. If, like me, that isn't the case for you, you can buy one - but you don’t need to break the bank! I've found working and fully tested 35mm cameras with an included guarantee/warranty ranging from £30 - £150.

I would recommend doing lots of research before you buy anything. There are loads and loads of different types of 35mm film cameras out there. I now have two 35mm cameras; a Canon A-1 and an Olympus Mju II.

The Canon A-1 is an advanced level single-lens (SLR) camera with interchangeable lenses, manufactured in the 70s. You adjust the focus on this camera manually and you'll need to be ready to learn about ISO, aperture and shutter speed. (Warning: this will be a scary experience at first, a lot of the information went waaaay over my head initially, but don't worry! This is a very popular camera and so there are loads, and I mean loads, of videos explaining all of this stuff online).

I absolutely love the Canon A-1 and it was the first film camera I learned to shoot with. I really love the photos that I've managed to produce with it. Taking photographs with the Canon A-1 requires you to be very present in the process of shooting. For example, if you forget to advance the film by pulling the lever back after you’ve taken a shot, you may be delayed in shooting the next shot. And trust me, that panicked scramble to wind the lever back when you’re trying to catch a special moment can make you cry!

Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Camera: Canon A-1
Film: Fujicolor C200 35mm 36 exp
© Mary Ojidu

Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Camera: Canon A-1
Film: Fujicolor C200 35mm 36 exp
© Mary Ojidu

Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Camera: Canon A-1
Film: Fujicolor C200 35mm 36 exp
© Mary Ojidu

The Olympus Mju II was manufactured in the late 90s. It's a compact point & shoot with autofocus and built in flash. This camera is lightweight and the film advances automatically, which makes it a much easier camera to use. I love taking it to events, because it fits in any bag (even a small clutch!) and the flash means I can take great photos in the dark. In comparison, the Canon A-1 requires you to purchase a separate flash unit (and it doesn't fit in a clutch bag. Sigh.)

Location: London, United Kingdom
Camera: Olympus Mju II
Film: Fujicolor C200 35mm 36 exp
© Mary Ojidu

Location: London, United Kingdom
Camera: Olympus Mju II
Film: Fujicolor C200 35mm 36 exp
© Mary Ojidu

Location: London, United Kingdom
Camera: Olympus Mju II
Film: Fujicolor C200 35mm 36 exp
© Mary Ojidu

You can buy 35mm film cameras from eBay, online vendors or charity shops etc. I would recommend, if purchasing a used camera, that you make sure it's a fully tested one (the seller will state if it is). This may not be an option if you're buying from a charity shop.

Please don't rush and purchase the first camera you see! Definitely shop around and compare prices. Also do some research on other 35mm cameras because I've only mentioned two and there are a lot of great and reputable brands and models out there.

Choosing film stock 

Next it's time to choose your film. I always use Fujicolor (full details in caption of photos featured above). Again, I recommend you shop around. There are loads of reviews online about different brands e.g. global favourites like Kodak. It really depends on what you want out of your photographs. 

I personally love the way that Fujicolor film captures colour. This is one of the things that I really look to accomplish when producing a photograph - lots of vibrancy and colour. 

Shooting 

I recommend, especially if you're using a camera like the Canon A-1, that you read the camera manual. These can be found online if you buy a second hand camera that no longer has its original box.

Watch YouTube videos!! This is a great way to see a physical demonstration of what you should be doing. You can literally copy what you see the photographer doing in the video e.g. how to load the film into the camera etc. An example of a great channel is Wild We Roam

Once you're ready to go, just have fun and don't expect perfection! I've learned that improving your skills in regards to shooting film, really comes down to good old trial and error. I remember the first roll of film I ever shot came out half blank but I soon learned what to do to avoid that outcome in my next attempts.

Developing the film

I use a photography shop on my local high street because it's affordable for me. However, you may want to learn to do it yourself, or send the rolls to an online company, or you might find a friend who can do it for you. 

You can get them scanned and transferred to you digitally or you could get prints made if you want to give them as a gift or have them hanging up all around your house! 



Location: London, United Kingdom
Camera: Olympus Mju II
Film: Fujicolor C200 35mm 36 exp
© Mary Ojidu

Finally, make sure you have fun and try to enjoy the process. Take the time to express yourself, document family and friends, plan shoots, create concepts and capture moments.

- Mary Ojidu a.k.a @maryimages/@maryxvi