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Photo credit: TAN CHUNG HONG

Four things all film photography beginners should know

With these tips, even your beginner film photos will turn out great.

Celeste Lim

Yogurt lover with a Spotify playlist for every mood.


Published: 16 April 2021, 12:11 PM

It should come as no surprise that film photography has been trending among youths. 

With their signature grain and unexpected surprises, film photos can inject personality into any Instagram feed.

Although the hobby is popular, film photography is not as accessible or convenient as its digital counterpart. After all, it is both expensive and tricky to navigate – which camera and film should you buy, and where can you get the film developed?

To find out what film newbies should know before they begin their film journey, I spoke to Tan Chung Hong, 28, who runs a film scanning service grainsandsuch.

 

Chung Hong has been shooting with film for seven years. PHOTO CREDIT: TAN CHUNG HONG

 

1. Choosing a film camera

While some may caution against buying second-hand equipment, Chung Hong advised getting a film camera from someone who has used it before. 

He said: “I highly recommend getting the cameras from individual sellers, whether it’s your friend, a parent or a Carouseller. Buying from shops or online shops is possible, but nothing is more certain and reliable than getting it from a fellow film shooter.”

Of course, you should always view the camera before purchasing it, and you should not buy something too cheap unless you are certain of its condition.

 

If you plan to buy a camera from a shop, bring an experienced film shooter along to assess the condition of the cameras. PHOTO CREDIT: JASON LEUNG VIA UNSPLASH

 

For photography newbies, Chung Hong recommends a point-and-shoot camera, which typically costs between $100 to $200. You simply need to load up the film, and the camera “does everything for you” as you take pictures.

For those who have photography experience and know how to manipulate a camera’s settings, he recommends a single-lens reflex camera. Since it is made up of a camera body and accompanying lens, it should typically cost over $250.

 

Never leave your film camera in the sun for a prolonged period of time, as intense heat can cause the coating in the lens to haze up. PHOTO CREDIT: TEMBELA BOHLE VIA PEXELS

 

“There’s no need for something too expensive until you’ve decided that you want to invest in film photography in the long run,” said Chung Hong.

2. Choosing between film

Film can be found in film labs or on Carousell, but as its prices fluctuate a lot, you will have to do some digging for a good deal. A 1x35mm roll for 36 shots should usually cost $8 or more.

You should start with colour film, which is more “forgivable” than black and white film, as the scanner helps to remove dust, scratches and other imperfections. 

Chung Hong said: “The film also has a higher colour dynamic range, so you can accidentally overexpose the film and the colours are still pleasing.”

 

Chung Hong always overexposes his film by one stop to be safe, as well as to make the colours pop out more. PHOTO CREDIT: TAN CHUNG HONG

 

You can begin with ISO 400 film, as it is a mid-range ISO that is forgiving in low-light conditions, and you can over-expose the film without compromising on the shutter speed.

Film expires faster when exposed to heat, which is prevalent in Singapore, so Chung Hong suggests prolonging the shelf life of film by “storing it with your ice cream” in the freezer.

When done with your film, you can recycle the container that it comes in, as well as reuse the film canister as a keychain.

3. Film photography in Singapore

Travelling to less urban areas, as tall buildings or windows can alter the colours in the shots.

Chung Hong usually shoots between 10am to 11.30am, when Singapore’s sun isn’t a “phlegm-like yellow”.

 

Chung Hong also enjoys shooting between the first and last two hours of the day, as he believes they are the best times to take photos. PHOTO CREDIT: TAN CHUNG HONG

 

As long as you avoid poorly-lit conditions (unless you have a flash) and set your camera properly, the colours in your shots will likely be nice. 

To improve your photos, make it a habit to go slow, and memorise your camera settings and the surrounding conditions for every picture. Chung Hong even knows of some people who note this information in their phones every time they take a shot.

 

After framing up, Chung Hong waits for a passing soft white cloud to diffuse the strong sunlight before taking a shot. PHOTO CREDIT: TAN CHUNG HONG

 

He said: “Everyone makes mistakes when trying out film photography for the first time. The key is to think back and recall what you did so you know why these mistakes were made.”

4. Where to develop film

It’s important to never develop film at home, even when it is an available option.

“Getting film professionally developed not only assures quality but also gives a peace of mind, because it is a legal requirement for labs to obtain proper disposal with chemical recycling companies,” said Chung Hong, who has been running grainsandsuch for two years.

 

Your final image is the result of the effort of two people: yourself, and the scanning technician. PHOTO CREDIT: TAN CHUNG HONG

 

For those who want their developed photos in less than an hour, you can opt for express services at minilabs.

However, if you are looking for someone to pay more attention to the scanning process and get the colours right, you can mail your film to boutique scanners.

For $10 or more, boutique scanners will spend more time getting your film developed and scanned to the right colour profile. As such, the waiting period can be between four to seven days.

 

Chung Hong recommends going for the $10 medium resolution (16 base or 3000×2000), as it is four times more detailed than the regular $8 small resolution (four base or 1500×1000). PHOTO CREDIT: TAN CHUNG HONG

 

After the photos have been developed, you should keep your negatives instead of disposing of them. This will reduce your contribution to plastic waste, and prevent the negatives from leaking harmful chemicals.

As you embark on your film journey, Chung Hong recommends following local film photographers like @_nguan_ and @ray_n__ for inspiration.

He added: “While people usually complain about how sterile Singapore may look in photos, there are gems and unique compositions out there that are worth a shot – literally – if you spend time exploring and mastering the light.”


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