5 Tips for Your First Roll of Film

Starting out in any new hobby can be daunting, let alone when you’re starting a new creative endeavour, such as 35mm film photography. This is my first article for Cameras By Max and through my articles on here, I aim to document and share my experiences as I navigate the wild and wonderful world of film photography. Here are five tips for your first roll of 35mm film. 

Tips for your first roll of 35mm film

My previous photography experience was mainly through what I learned in college during my Photography A-Level. Whilst there was an amount of film photography included in the course, it was mostly experimental 35mm film photography and creating and using pinhole cameras. Outside of that, I’ve been an avid shooter of digital photography, mostly with my smartphone, but I also dabbled with a mirrorless camera and tried my hand at some astrophotography.

I wanted to get into film photography as I wanted something that is more intentional and deliberate compared to smartphone and digital photography. I live with a housemate who is very into retro and vintage fashion and tech, so he recommended me a couple of places to start looking for my perfect camera. This is where I stumbled across Cameras By Max, and their quiz which helped me decide what kind of film camera I wanted to use. Ultimately, I chose the Olympus OM-1: a beautifully crafted and extremely beginner friendly camera which I plan on going more in-depth about in a future article. 

Reflection of person in window with Olympus OM-1

5 Tips for Your First Roll of Film

Tip 1: Choose Your Film Wisely

Whilst the film you use is not the most important decision you’re going to make for your first roll, it’s certainly one that will impact the results you get. Whilst it’s very easy to fall down a rabbit hole of trying to understand the differences and nuances of every film that’s available, I’d really recommend focussing on some of the basics first. If you are interested in learning more about the types of film, you can read our blog post here.

The main difference between films to consider is whether you want to use colour or black and white. Black and white film is cheaper that colour film and also more easily available. Sometimes costs for developing black and white film can be higher, but only by a few pounds. Black and white film is a great way to discover how light affects your film and learn more about the way that film behaves. Cameras By Max include a free roll of black and white film with all their camera orders for this reason!

Remember that this roll will likely be in your camera for at least a whole trip, as you’ll have 24 or 36 shots available to you in your roll (or 48 and 72 in a half-frame camera.) Once you’ve decided whether you’re going to be shooting in colour or monochrome, check which ISO (or ASA) film you want to shoot. This is also referred to as film speed

Personally, I’d recommend a 400 speed film; this will give you a lot of freedom to shoot in differing light conditions and is one of the most common film speeds available. Some examples of 400 speed film include Kentmere Pan 400 (black and white), Ilford HP5 (black and white), Portra 400 (colour), and Kodak Ultramax (colour). 

Another common film speed is 200 speed film, which is often used for bright days and holidays. The most common colour 200 speed films are Kodak Gold and Kodak ColorPlus.

Once you’ve shot a few rolls of film, if you want to diversify and experiment, feel free to go wild! 

Tip 2: Make Sure Your Film Is Loaded Correctly

Now you’ve chosen your film, it’s time to get it in your camera. This is arguably one of the most important parts of the entire process. If this doesn’t go correctly, you’re going to be supremely disappointed at the end of your roll, when you get it developed and you realise you’ve not taken a single picture. This happened to me with my first roll, and luckily I realised within a few shots that something just didn’t feel right.

I watched the rewind knob as I snapped a photo, and realised it wasn’t turning as it should. I opened the back of the camera, and realised that I hadn’t loaded my film correctly. I tried again, and even advanced the film with the camera back open to ensure it was loaded. This likely cost me a few shots of film on my roll, but I would much rather only have 30 photos than none at all.

Read our blog post here on how to load film correctly every time. 

Tip 3: Focus Your Efforts

Now I have my film, I know it’s loaded correctly, and I’m ready to shoot. I can shoot anything that this big, wide world has for me. The opportunities are endless. If you’re anything like me, this can feel absolutely overwhelming. I was almost paralysed with choice of what to photograph for my first roll of film. This is when I decided I should focus my efforts and shoot a roll of film that has a theme.

I chose my first theme to be “Corners”, because it gave me the chance to photograph both inside and outside, and force myself to focus on something quite niche. It meant I was actively looking for interesting compositions that I could justify as fitting my self-imposed brief, and giving me permission to be more creative with my photography.

If you’re looking for some inspiration for your next roll of film, I thought I’d provide you with 10 ideas that you could use:

  • Only photograph things that are within 10 minutes of home
  • Take a photo every day, no matter where you are, at the same time each day
  • Find beauty in the mundane
  • If you have a hobby, photograph aspects of that that people might not consider or be familiar with
  • Use a roll of film photographing friends and families living rooms, or bookcases
  • Portraits from an unusual perspective
  • Photograph a local market
  • Take a photograph every time you find something that appears out of place
  • Tell a group of people the same joke and photograph their response
  • A roll of self-portraits using unique reflections 
Prompts for your first roll of film

Tip 4: Take Your Time

Film photography is an art form that really forces you to take your time and pause. With digital photography, you can just let your camera do all the hard work. If the photo doesn’t come out correctly, within a few seconds, you can try again, and you can delete any images without a thought.

With film photography, you have a set number exposures in your film, and once they’re used, they’re used. Chances are, if you’re using a manual film camera too, like my Olympus OM-1, there is no automation at all. You have to manually set the shutter speed and the aperture to make sure your exposure will be correct. This all takes time, especially as you may have to check which settings are best for each individual photo and its lighting conditions. 

I personally have been using a light meter app on my phone to help me ensure my photos are correctly exposed, and there are a plethora of free options on both the App Store and Google Play Store. You don’t need a light meter that costs hundreds of pounds to get started. This all takes time and effort, but it’s all needed to ensure you’re getting the most out of your photographs.

You can also use the Sunny 16 rule, which is a valuable piece of photographic information that allows you to expose correctly without a light meter at all. You can read our full blog post on sunny 16 here

Tip 5: Enjoy Yourself & Embrace Your Mistakes

Your first roll of film is always going to be special. It’s the first commitment to a new hobby and it’s the foundations that all of your other film photography endeavours are built upon. 

Photography is an art, just like drawing or sculpture; it will take time to hone and focus and find your style and your preferred workflow. This is the time to make mistakes, to learn from and improve. If you get your developed scans back and you only like 2 or 3 shots, that’s 2 or 3 more photographs you’re proud of than you started with. 

Nobody comes into any hobby as a pro, nor should they. I’m a firm believer that the fun is in the journey, not the destination. Have fun when photographing, and don’t beat yourself up if things go slightly awry.

Do you have any more tips for a beginner film photographer as I find my feet in this world, or have you used any of my prompts for your next roll of film? Please do share them with me! You can find me on Instagram @AnalogueByDan.

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Article written by: Dan

Dan is a beginner film photographer. When he’s not helping out at the Cameras By Max HQ, he’s found writing short stories and reviews on his own website,  WordsByDan.com. He is sharing his experiences exploring and learning film photography here, and he now never leaves home without his Olympus OM-1. 


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