Just over a year ago I started my journey into film photography, so I thought it would be nice to look back at some of the advice I received when I first started shooting, how that advice has worked out for me, and indeed how, from my point of view, I would reword that advice to a beginner today.
I have to admit that I am not in the place I would like to be as I have not been able to practice as much as I would have loved to (covid), but I have made some steps ahead and now I certainly understand more about film and this fascinating world, so I hope what I have to say is of some use to some of those out there who have just started their journey.
Let’s start with two of the bits of advice I received that most stuck in my head – they were:
“When you go shooting bring a notebook and write down all the info about the images you take”
“Stick with one film/developer and learn how handle them”
Well, let me first say, I have not been very good following these bits of advice, especially the first one…
Making notes is definitely a good idea, but actually I’ve found I rarely use the notebook when taking photos. The primary difficulty I found with taking notes is that, because I am not very well organised, once I have shot 2 or 3 rolls and written down all the setting for every single shot, I then mess something up when I’ve got the negatives in hand. Maybe I’ve been able to write down all the settings correctly, but when I have got the rolls on the light table, I have difficulty pairing the shot with its settings.
And actually, I don’t get a lot out of the experience when I do. I have the settings and the results, but I no longer have the experience of the place and the light in the way I did when I was there. I also find taking notes removes something from the experience of taking photos too – I just don’t want to think about needing to do both.
As a result, my advice would still be to suggest to people to take notes, but don’t worry if you find it doesn’t work for you. If it doesn’t work for you, like me, you might find practice and repetition of processes will do you as many favours. Get out there, enjoy taking photos, and do it as much as you can. The more you go out taking photos the more you learn. And don’t be disheartened by your failures, instead se them as learning opportunities.
Maybe I still need to come up with a better way to organise myself and my photography. I do take notes at home about the development times and other information I learned about the developing process. But notes just seem more useful, not to mention easier to make in the darkroom.
The problem with the second bit of advice is obvious to me. It’s like asking a child when entering into a candy shop for the first time to only pick one sweet. Not just for then, but also for the foreseeable future too. The child is going to want to taste all the candy as much as possible, and probably all in one go!
The same is for film. When you start looking around on social media and websites, it is so difficult to stick to just one film. You would like to try all of them in different scenarios and be able to reproduce all the fantastic tonalities and effects you see in other people’s work.
So here my advice would be a bit different. I would suggest to a newbie to film to feel free to look around and try the films that hook you in, but after a while you will hopefully find the one that works for you. It might be an accident, and you shouldn’t take too much in terms of judging the results from your early rolls, but when you find one that works for you at that moment in time, it is definitely a good idea to try and hone your skills with just that film. Doing this allows you to begin to build on your style and hone your workflow too.
Obviously, in this period, you shouldn’t expect to be able to produce the perfect and beautiful shots you might see from other people with the film you have chosen. You are just tasting the flavour of what is going to come, and with practice you should see improvement happening quite quickly.
In summary, I think the answer is almost not to think too much about some of the advice you might be given. Yes, take it onboard, but in reality I think it’s good to do what works best for you. But one way or another, getting out, taking photos and practicing has to be the best thing you can do!