Lessons I Learned When I Bought My First Film Camera

Lessons I learned when I bought my first film camera - filtergrade

Even before I had purchased my first film camera, I always had a love for film. The whole process. Loading the film into the camera, firing the shutter, using the film advance lever, scanning, developing, the whole nine yards.

I think the reason I was so captivated by film, like many others, because it was so hands on, so old-fashioned, and so real. You can’t fake film. It’s either good or bad. Yeah, there may be some fixes you could make or little adjustments to make the image better when developing, but all-in-all, you need to know what you are doing with film and you need to learn through trial and error.

Before you go out and waste a bunch of time and film, here’s a few tips to help you out.

All photos © Moloney Creative Agency.

St. John USVI using Nikon FM 35mm Film Camera - Lessons I Learned When Buying my First Film Camera - FilterGrade Blog

(Photograph by Matthew Moloney. Shot using a Nikon FM 35mm Film Camera)

Learn Everything You Can

Regardless of my dismay, I set out to buy my first film camera and learn everything there was to learn about this inspirational art form. I think the biggest thing that I learned while teaching myself film photography was that I have so much to learn. I’m just now starting to get into a type of photography that started over 100 years ago and I feel so far behind. So why start now and how do I even compare to these other great film photographers?

I kept asking myself this for quite some time until I had realized that those questions don’t matter. It doesn’t matter where you start and it doesn’t matter who else is shooting – the only person that matters right now is you. You need to learn every bit of knowledge you can; from friends, from YouTube, from books, from other sources on the internet, from anywhere!

Ford Mustang using Nikon FM 35mm Film Camera - Lessons I Learned When Buying my First Film Camera - FilterGrade Blog

(Photograph by Matthew Moloney)

Take the Leap

Later that week after doing some research online, I went out to a local camera store in my area, and bought my first film camera – a Nikon FM 35mm. It felt so good to finally own one of these masterpieces. In fact, I was so excited to get shooting I went straight to the nearest CVS and picked up the first roll of Kodak film that I spotted.

One of the first lessons I learned in film photography happened that day. I learned that excitement and adventure are the first steps to passion. The “fear” of not knowing how good or bad you’ll be, but being so excited that you don’t care is what drove me to become so passionate about film photography.

Nikon fm film camera 35mm - Lessons I Learned When Buying my First Film Camera - FilterGrade Blog

You’ll never be proud of your work, or even get started for that matter, if you are stuck on the question of what if I’m not good compared to others? I told myself, ‘I don’t care if they all come out overexposed, blurry, double-exposed, or just look terrible, I just want to start shooting film.’ I wanted to see what I could produce using this art form because I had seen so many others create excellence using film.

In a sense I wanted to be like these film photographers that I had looked up to for so long, but now that I began shooting film, I wanted to be so much different. Granted, I still had so much respect for these photographers like Ryan McGinleyJulien Boudet, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Vivian Maier, Clement Pascal, and many others, I just wanted to be something different, something unique.

From then on I had learned that if I wanted to be different, I needed to shoot from different angles, capture different subjects, look at things from a different perspective, and use foreground and background in new ways that I hadn’t done before. To do this, I started shooting just about everything I saw. I knew that I wouldn’t know different until I saw it.

“I knew that I wouldn’t

know different until I saw it.”

Manhattan Bridge using Nikon FM 35mm Film Camera - Lessons I Learned When Buying my First Film Camera - FilterGrade Blog

(Photograph by Matthew Moloney)

(note the signs at the bottom of the image* – see how the text is in reverse? that’s because I didn’t know the right way to scan my images at first. Make sure to face your film strips face down on your scanner so that your images are not inverted like this when you are scanning*)

Becoming One with the Developing Process

I began getting my film developed using an awesome company called The Darkroom. They offer developing and scanning services for a low cost all from the mail box. I definitely recommend them if you’re getting started with film because they’ll save you a lot of hassle.

I used this company’s services for a few months, but the costs started to add up. I had gotten to the point where I needed to develop and scan more film, but wasn’t willing to continuously dump money into this art project – a feeling many of you have probably felt before. I kept shooting, but I stopped developing my film for a while. I was getting antsy to see what the photos, but I knew that if I was going to get serious about film, I would need to start developing and scanning for myself. I needed to know the whole process and go 110% on this craft if I wanted to get better and keep progressing.

One morning I woke up and said today’s the day. I went on to Amazon and bought everything that I had in my cart (everything I needed to develop film that I hadn’t had the guts to purchase yet). I was nervous and excited but I took the knowledge I learned from shooting film and applied it to this – you won’t know how good or bad you are until you try it first.

So, in the middle of the night, I developed my first roll in my makeshift darkroom that I had created. The process didn’t take too long and it actually wasn’t too hard. The developing chemicals that I had bought included an instructions sheet on how to develop film and with the tutorials I had watched online, I knew I would be good to go, but, I was still nervous and couldn’t wait to see what I came out with.

I let them dry in my bathroom (where there’s not too much dust) for the night and when I woke up I grabbed my film and started scanning right away. I was so surprised – they came out amazing!  I was really afraid they I had developed them wrong, allowed some light in, or made a mistake while developing, but nerves aside, the photos came out really well. When I finished scanning the roll I felt so proud, so relieved, so ready to shoot more.

For more on my developing processes, check out our YouTube tutorials here:

Passion over Patience

During this whole process I learned and taught myself so many lessons. The most important thing I learned though, is that if you think you are passionate about something, go out and try it and see what comes of it because it could turn out to be something you hold onto for the rest of your life.

I hope this inspires you to go and do something you’re nervous about. Take the leap and see what comes of it, you never know what you’ll create.

Florida using Nikon FM 35mm Film Camera - Lessons I Learned When Buying my First Film Camera - FilterGrade Blog By the Docks on Long Beach Island, New Jersey using Nikon FM 35mm Film Camera - Lessons I Learned When Buying my First Film Camera - FilterGrade Blog St. John USVI using Nikon FM 35mm Film Camera - Lessons I Learned When Buying my First Film Camera - FilterGrade Blog

Thanks so much for reading, feel free to share this article with your friends and fellow photographers. If you’d like to read more about film photography or have any specific topics you’d like covered, feel free to reach out on Instagram @matt_moloney.

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