Feeling overwhelmed and nervous


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Jun 18, 2013
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South West Wyoming
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Hello all-- I'm new here. Anyway... I have been shooting digital for a long time and decided to buy a cheap used 35mm SLR recently to re-learn film. I feel like a fish out of water. I literally just bought the camera last night so I haven't shot much and haven't developed anything. I have been so used to the instant gratification with digital that allows me to test and adjust my exposure that I just feel anxious with film. I'm not shooting anything important so it isn't a real issue.

Do you all have any tips for developing that "eye" for shooting with film?? Any film shooting tips would be well received.
Thanks in advance!!
I've been shooting film almost exclusively since I picked up 'the bug' 20 years ago. My Pentax was totally manual except for the light meter and I relied on that light meter a LOT for most of the past 20 years. In the last few years, however, I finally decided to really practice the Sunny 16 rule for exposure and it has made a big difference because it helps me understand how different light affects that 'eye' that you're talking about. I always noticed the light but didn't always know how to translate that onto film. I just fiddled with dials blindly while keeping my eye on the light meter needle in the viewfinder. That would get me a good exposure, but I wasn't paying attention to how I got it.

Here's a good explanation of Sunny 16: Photography Essentials: The Sunny 16 Rule

I would suggest eliminating as many variables as you can to start. Shoot on sunny days so you get used to those exposures. Use one prime lens for a couple of rolls and get used to that framing and how it meters. Stick to one kind of film so you're not dealing with how different film can behave differently even in the same conditions. Bracket your exposures (take one shot at the recommended exposure, then one shot slightly under and one shot slightly over. This is useful to make sure your camera is calibrating properly). Once you get more confident in easier conditions, then change something: change lenses or conditions or film.

And don't be afraid to hit the shutter. Being somewhat systematic can help you determine what you're doing well and what you need work on, but ultimately what you have to do is just get out there and shoot! :)
Hi, welcome to the forum. I am sure you will find a lot of advice here and my first is: DON'T PANIC ! :lol:
Let's step back a little and have one more look at your return to use of film. As you can see and I think many other people feel, film is a totally different ball game, it requires change of mental approach. With digital start is easy: click and look and photoshop, photoshop, photoshop, maybe something will come out of it. With film you have to know by instinct the relation between your exposure and the outcome before you "click". This is call "experience" and comes with the time and number of mistakes made. This costs money. The question now is WHY you want to re-learn film, how strong will be your resolve to go thru large number of experimentation and frustrations before you become comfortable with film. And what film it is, you have on mind: color or b&w ?
Head on down to a used bookstore or thrift store and pick up a book or two on photography. Shooting film or digital, they key is to find subject matter that you are interested in, and then to shoot photos of that subject matter from good angles, in interesting lighting conditions, either natural, or man-made lighting.
The best way to learn about exposure is to use a light meter. Get an old one from Ebay that you can measure reflected and incident light with. Don't worry about a spot meter until later on; you may find you'll never want to invest in one of these anyway.

My personal tip is to use colour negative film and overexpose it slightly to get the most out of the colours. I usually shoot 400 at 320, 200 at 160, 100 at 64, etc.
I've always used mechanical film cameras - you might want to just play with the camera some without film in it just to get a feel for how it works and get in some practice using it. Since you've been used to shooting digitally and seeing the images right away it might take some time and thinking about what you see in your viewfinder - try making your eye move around the entire rectangle of the viewfinder and make sure what you see there is what you want in your picture.

Generally my starting point is f8 and 1/125, and that's where I usually reset the camera when I'm done - that's just what works for me. There was an old press photographers' saying 'f8 and be there' - starting at f8 I can turn the lens either way to open up or close down the lens fairly easily from that point. I usually don't like using slower than 1/125 or maybe 1/60 handheld, and set it faster as needed.

With the ISO determined by the film speed it leave the aperture and shutter speed to decide on - I use the meter to figure out if I have the camera set to get a proper exposure, and adjust the aperture and shutter speed til I get the needle right in the middle where it indicates that the camera will be getting the proper amount of light. If the camera is 'new' enough to have a light meter that's what I usually use. Generally I use 100 ISO film outdoors and 400 speed film indoors/lower light.

You might find something helpful on Film Photography Project | An Internet Radio Show & On-Line Resource for Film Shooters Worldwide , they have videos with how to load film etc. for beginners, and have a YouTube channel and do a podcast.
What camera did you get? What lens or lenses did you get with it? Does it have a built-in light meter? If so, can you still get a battery for it? Many of the old cameras took mercury batteries for their even rate of discharge. Now they are not available. There are some substitutes available but some are more desirable than others. I would suggest an E-Bay meter that can take a current battery or a selenium cell that takes no battery. For myself I can say that I take much better pictures using film because I have to pay attention to what I am doing. For my Granddaughter's wedding last year they got over 1000 pictures to choose. I did weddings 40-50 years ago and took 36-60 pictures from which they would choose 12 for the album uless they wanted more. I also enjoy the darkroom work. I have a few digital cameras and find I never make prints from them so what is the value of having a bunch of pictures on a little card that you can't see?
The only drawback I've found to handheld light meters that I've bought second hand - vintage ones anyway - is that they're all different! every company must have developed their own system of numbering etc. Helps to find one with instructions, but maybe a newer one would be easier to use than what I've bought.
Meters are great but you have to take them and then use them.

The best advice is to remember comes in two parts: 1) that digital cameras are designed to mimic film cameras and they work about the same, just expose for the shadows instead of the highlights and 2) get a small notebook and pen to keep in your camera bag and then take notes about each shot -speed, ISO, aperture, time of day, what you wanted out of the shot and so forth.
Learn how to meter light ... and the tip about making notes is handy.
Take your time with composition. Make every shot count.
After development of the film, concentrate on being able to read the negative.
It's not good to under-expose negative film.
Try different films ... they each have their own characteristics.

... you mentioned "re-learn", so it sounds like you shot film some time ago.
Thanks everyone for the advice. To answer some questions I got a Canon Rebel EOS 2000.... so not that old. I have a few lenses that will work with this camera. I have Canon's Nifty Fifty which is my all time favorite lens, I have a Tamron 28-300, and it came with 2 Sigma lenses; a 28-105 and a 100-300. I actually don't know if it has a light meter because it didn't have the manual with it. I need to download the manual. Also, the ONLY reason that I wanted to get back to film is because there is a college course taught by an AMAZING photographer and he only teaches film for this class. His class will be black and white. Right now there is a roll of color 400 Kodak in the camera... its what the seller had to demo the camera. Obviously there are certain situations that I am comfortable shooting in where I just "know" what exposure formula works best.... these are places I shoot often. I've never used an external light meter so I will look into those and give it a whirl. I guess I just feel limited with the film speed. I wish I could find shorter rolls so that I wouldn't feel like I'm wasting film if I want to change the roll.
Also... I did shoot film before digital. I have been into photography since I was about 8. My first camera was a 110 with flash cubes, and I moved up from there eventually shooting on my moms Nikon SLR. I took B/W 35mm classes in high school as well.
Try Ebay for shorter film; sometimes you can pick up 12 exposure "student" rolls. Also, perhaps your college has a bulk loader that you could use.
If your not up to speed on developing try some Ilford XP2 super, it is processed in C41 so most drug stores will be able to process it cheap for you and it is very easy to scan
I recently downloaded a pretty good light meter application for my iPhone, called Pocket Light Meter, from Nuwaste. It shows the scene, with a red bracket, a lot like an autofocus bracket, and has three scales at the bottom--shutter speed, f/stop, and ISO. The ISO range is 102,400 down to ISO 0.8; the speed range is from f/1.0 to f/256; time range is from 1minute 44 seconds to 1/8000 second.

The speed, f/stop, and ISO adjustments work on simple touch sliders...you can dial up or down ward, and the aperture and ISO values will simply adjust as needed. It is actually an excellent light meter.

Having the nice, defined bracket overlayed on the video feed from the iPhone's camera makes this basically a reflected, semi-spot meter.

Here is a screen cap of how the app looks, made just seconds ago:

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