My First Experience of Film – by Ross Gibson

My name is Ross and I’m 14 years old. I first met Hamish at my mum and step-dad’s wedding, he was the photographer along with his friend James. A while after the day I got in touch with Hamish to see if I could do work experience at his company. This post is about one of the highlights of the week I spent at F8, shooting with a film camera for the first time.

Until now I have been using a Nikon D3300 which, for my requirements was all I needed. It has 24.2 mega pixels, a night-mode setting and many more advanced features at an entry-level price. So when I arrived on Monday and was confronted with a hefty metal camera without an On button or a zoom dial, my first thoughts were ‘How the hell do you work this thing?’ and ‘Where’s the trigger?!’ it certainly looked like a camera but I was reluctant to think it really was like one. Hamish then explained to me that this was a ‘film’ camera which ran without electricity, didn’t autofocus and required manual altering to the aperture and shutter-speed; what black magic was this!? This ‘film’ camera was a concept which was very new to me, because until now, a camera was something you point and shoot.

After having a good look at the camera, I was introduced by Hamish to a small part of the principles of reciprocity which made a bit of sense: different levels of light require a different balance in aperture and shutter-speed. To help explain the aperture and shutter-speed relationship, Hamish used the garden hose analogy; with the water being the light. The aperture is the width of the hose and the shutter speed is the length of time in which the water is running, bearing this in mind, you need to get the right amount of water through the hose. This analogy was useful to my understanding of photography and how it works.

The first night I had the film camera I almost managed to open the camera before luckily being stopped by my mum and informed of what the outcome would be.

On my phone, I then downloaded a Light Meter app to assist me in taking photos with the correct exposure, this proved to be difficult as I juggled the camera and my phone between my hands while Hamish and James casually took photos with no need for petty light measuring apps or extra time to think about which dial to turn!

My biggest problem was remembering to measure the light and change the aperture and shutter-speed without getting carried away with snapping at everything (that and also filling the roll of film). Even with all the extra effort needed to operate the camera I was beginning to prefer the manual focus and the way in which the camera generally worked.

By Friday, I managed to fill enough of the film (20 shots out of 36)so me and Hamish could begin the process of developing the rolls. We both shot a roll of HP5 film so we did rolls of film at the same time in a development tank. The first stage was to retrieve the rolls from the cameras in a changing bag so the film didn’t get damaged by the light, once this was done the film had to be winded into the spirals and placed into the Dev Tank with the lid on.

The first liquid to be drained into the dev tank was DD-X which had to be mixed so there was four parts water, one part DD-X at 20 degrees celsius; this developed the film for nine minutes and the dev tank had to be shaken for ten seconds every minute. The DD-X was then drained out and ‘Stop’ replaced it, this had to be shaken for one minute straight before the next liquid ‘Fixer’ was drained in for five minutes, shaking for ten seconds every minute. The final step was to wash the film under running water before hangings them out to dry, this was when we finally got to see our images and how they’d turned out: mine were quite dark but not too bad for my first time.

All in all, I came on Monday with an interest in photography and have left with my eyes opened to a whole new side to it and how it works, film will definitely be an interest in the future. Here are a few of my photos scanned by Hamish on his Noritzu scanner:


Thanks for reading


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22 thoughts on “My First Experience of Film – by Ross Gibson”

  1. Nice camera. I had an FE, close to that, time ago. And good results!
    Just some suggestion. Water time is never too much; after developer and stop liquid you can wash it for a while (actually I never use stop bath). Also drying can sometimes generating stains, depending upon water quality; for that proceed to a last bath using distilled water plus the wetting agent.

  2. Hey Ross,
    Nice photos. Film is a good vehicle for self-expression. Keep up the good work and enjoy your visual journey. Shoot anything that catches your eye.
    You’re lucky to have met Hamish & James and to have supportive parents. They’re lucky to have you.
    Please occasionally post articles on your film adventures. I’d look forward to reading them. Now, go out & shoot some film!

  3. Interesting article Ross! Your remarks concerning manual focus and ‘on’ switch certainly made me smile… and feel quite old! I particularly like the lorry with headlight and the tree lined path.

  4. Great article, and very promising results for a first time. I am a bit surprised though that someone who is used to digital photography, with usually a lot of files in a short time, finds it hard to fill a roll of 36 in a week 😉

  5. I am intrigued to know what the guy with the cider and measuring cylinder is doing?!? I could invent several stories to explain the scene….. but I probably better not.

  6. Hi Ross,

    Welcome to the world of film! Just two tips:
    1) If you ever do open the back of a film camera before you’ve rewound the film don’t panic! Film is so tightly wound and it’s black or at least opaque before you develop it that light doesn’t penetrate very far. If you close the back quickly you’ll probably only lose the last 3-4 exposures. The rest of your film should be fine.
    2) I save water when washing film by using the ‘Ilford method’. Basically you fill the post-fix tank with water and a small drop of wetting agent, invert for 10 seconds and get rid of the water. Repeat this process twice more for 20 seconds and 30 seconds and you should be fine. It’s always worked for me.

  7. It was great to read someone`s fist approach to film. Guess you have already been bitten by the worm film : ) NIcely done Ross.

  8. Ross this is brilliant, you make me a very proud Grandad and I think you are at the start of a lovely journey………

    1. Thanks Dan, Ross is very focused and maturing fast, he is already good company and has astounded me with his attitude and enthusiasm in such a short time. Thankyou for your input…….

  9. Awesome, Ross! When I was around your age my uncle gave me his Canon AE-1, a film camera. I took a class on black and white photography that included learning the basic operating skills and darkroom skills. The experience that summer set me down a path that I still continue today. And one that I think of in fond remembrance. learning and making mistakes and continuing the process of improving and learning again and again. Stick with it my friend. Whatever you choose to do in life, you will always be able to trace back to this time! Keep shooting….anything…Film, digital, smartphone, anything and everything!

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