Try film photography and see what develops

Sunday , May 20, 2018 - 12:00 AM

TX. Correspondent

It’s incredibly common to see a person on the street whip out their iPhone to take a selfie or a picture of the sunset. It’s less common to find someone walking around with a digital camera, searching for cool photo opportunities around the city.

And it is yet even more uncommon to spot an individual with a film camera wandering the streets, taking extended amounts of time and effort to get the perfect shot.

Film photography is a unique form of art, but a fading one. As cameras and technology advance, more attention is paid to the new and exciting world of megapixels, while mechanical cameras melt into the background.

This isn’t to say that one form of photography is better than the other, but simply to appreciate the grittiness and almost meticulous art of film photography.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert; I’ve only just recently gotten into taking photos with vintage cameras, but I absolutely adore it. And because of my greenie status in the world of film photography, I’m going to use my personal camera — an Olympus OM-1 — as my primary example to show how amazing this artistic medium can be.

• Step by step

The first step to taking photos with a film camera is to load your film. You know that canister that Prince Andrew puts an engagement ring in to propose to Mia in “Princess Diaries 2”? That’s what real film comes in. You take it out of the canister and load it right into the designated slot.

The next step is, of course, actually taking the photos. This is also where things differ more from your phone, where you just press the screen to take a picture, and even from a digital camera where you have a degree of control over the settings.

Rather than having the camera adjust the settings for you to get the perfect amount of light into your photo, you have to do it yourself by playing with the aperture and shutter speed.

To put it short, the aperture is like the pupil of your eye; it decides how much light the camera lets in by making a smaller or larger hole. Obviously, the larger the hole, the more light is let in, and the brighter a photo will be.

The size of the camera’s “pupil” is determined by what’s called an f-stop, represented like this: f/4, f/8, f/22, etc. F-stop can be slightly confusing, where the larger the number, the smaller amount of light is let in. For example, if your f-stop was set to f/22, the amount of light let into the camera would be very, very small.

Shutter speed, on the other hand, could be compared to an eyelid of the eye. The faster the shutter speed, the shorter amount of time the camera’s “eyelid” stays open, and less light is let in.

These speeds are represented in fractions — 1/500 of a second, 1/125 of a second, etc. — or by whole numbers for complete seconds that the shutter stays open. Shutter speed is less confusing; the larger the fraction or number, the longer the shutter stays open. A 1/125 shutter speed would be a quick-snap picture.

Only after adjusting these two aspects of the camera to the degree you want can you then take the picture. And it does seem a bit complicated, but most film cameras are like my Olympus and give you a handy dandy meter so you can see that you are getting the right amount of light in.

• In the darkroom

After all your lovely photos are taken, you can have them developed by professionals or do it the fun way and develop them yourself.

Developing the photos I take is one of my absolute favorite parts of film photography. There’s something a bit magical about actually being there and part of the process of your photos coming to life.

The actual developing is rather simple. You first go into a completely dark room with your developing tank — a canister about six or so inches tall and, depending on which you buy, can fit a certain number of film rolls into it to develop.

It’s very important for the room to be completely dark before proceeding, lest your film get ruined by the light. Once you’re sure it’s pitch black (seriously, you can’t see your hand in front of your face), then you can take the film out of your camera and begin loading it into the tank.

After it’s loaded and the lid is sealed tight, you can leave the dark room and begin the actual developing process! This involves filling the tank up with a chemical, leaving that chemical in for a while, and then emptying it out and repeating the process.

Depending on the type of film you have, you may need different chemicals and different amounts of time you leave them in.

Finally, once the process is complete, you can take the film roll out to dry and then scan the photos into the computer. You have now brought these photos to life.

And to life they do come. Looking at film photos, you can almost feel the texture within them. It’s like the difference between music on the radio and vinyl records; they have a uniqueness to them that is so completely artistic and real. And according to one of the greatest film photographers of our time, Shaun Nelson, “For the artists that use it, it’s just as rewarding as creating a masterpiece with a paintbrush and canvas.”

If you’re ever in need of a new culture of creativity, try film photography. Put yourself and time into the photos, and it will truly be a rewarding experience.

Bailey Shae O’Leary is a senior at Northridge High School. She loves writing, reading, photography and art of all kinds. Email her at


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