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Getting into Different Styles of Film

Having gone down numerous rabbit holes for gear, youtube channels, film stocks, etc., I hope to log within this post a few tips to serve as an intro into each bracket of film photography. As always, this is only my opinion and I do not consider myself a professional in these categories. Only a mere aficionado.

 

To begin, there are numerous types of photography that we could cover... Editorial, Wildlife, Architecture, Sports, Astrophotography, etc. But I believe these could be somewhat abstracted into overarching categories:


Portrait Photography

Landscape Photography

Event Photography

Street Photography.


Every subtype can be shot with a similar style or some combination of the above categories (e.g. travel photography would fall under landscape and street). I also highly encourage taking time to look back at your own photos and do a case study for whatever area you are looking to improve in.



Portrait Photography

Playful Creativity

Portrait Photography can be a unique pursuit of the creative. In a studio, it's great to experiment with lighting, positions, motion, props, etc. There is also the classic photo of the subject sitting in front of a backdrop. There are no wrong answers. Be bold. Be creative. The third photo here is an example from Lexie Hand where I actually think blurring the photo adds some motion and character to the shot.


Mood Board

For portrait sessions, I do recommend creating a mood board. Have you ever had someone ask you a question and you just blank? Sometimes when you have just a short amount of time to shoot your subject, it can feel the same way. Creating a mood or vision board for what you're looking to capture can help you direct your energy and make the encounter flow more easily. Especially if you're not used to portrait sessions.


Medium Format

While it's not necessary to shoot portraits on medium format, there is what is called "The Medium Format Look". In comparison to 35mm, the larger negative produces a more enhanced bokeh through the effect of a narrower depth of field when shooting at lower F-stops. This is most often referenced with an 80mm lens (which acts like approximately like a 50mm for a 35mm camera - reference this comparison). If you have been looking for excuses to get into medium format, or shoot an old medium format camera you have, grab a friend and take some portraits.


Capture More Than Just Your Subject

Tough as it is, capturing your subject is more than snapping the photograph. This is what I think the best photographers can do. They connect with the subject to allow them to be themselves and express themselves even while being in front of a camera. It can sound pretentious to try and capture the 'essence' of someone in a single picture, and not every photo shoot aims to do this, but I believe that idea puts you in the headspace for an empathetic approach to photographing your subject.


Absolutely love this portrait of my late grandfather. It's not heavily artistic. But in a happenstance sort of way does capture the essence of who he was.


Again, just getting creative with lighting in a studio setting


A simple, clean, classic looking photo.


This gentleman's electric personality as a painter permeates through.


When I asked to take his portrait, he replied that he wanted a picture of himself looking at his phone as that captures a bit of who he is.


An entirely impromptu portrait that again tries to mix in creativity along with a chic style.


Sometimes my favorite portraits aren't necessarily so orchestrated. Taking a photograph when someone is in their own environment already creates the comfort for the subject to just be themselves.


My attempt at a street portrait.


Lastly, the self-portrait is underrated. We photograph all around us and it is sometimes necessary to capture yourself as well. It can be fun to experiment and try quirky ideas.


Landscape Photography

Hurry Up and Wait

For a lot of landscape photography, it is about getting up early, getting to location early, framing long before pushing the shutter button, and then waiting for the shot. Sometimes you get to the location and the sun is at a slightly different angle or the view isn't as ideal and you need to move position. Getting there early gives time to location scout the terrain, allows you to anticipate your next move (or next shot), and it gives you enough time to think about exactly what you want to capture. So, don't hit the snooze, get there long before golden hour starts, stay up all night til dawn, do what you have to do to capture the shot.


Overexpose

This could go for all of film photography, however, I find it especially applies to landscape photography. Often times you're capturing a wide range of light and film excels at handling overexposure. The converse gives this crunched look to the whole image that I think really makes the quality suffer. It just loses minute details which is often the aim for landscape photography.


Array of Lenses

When shooting street or portraits, most photographers stick with a nifty 50 or 35mm lens. When shooting landscapes, a wide-angle lens is normally the choice. But having a longer lens on hand can be helpful as your subject is most likely far away. A longer focal length can also enlarge the background of an image. For example, this could be done to enlarge the moon in a landscape photo. Obviously, this isn't a necessity when shooting landscapes but it could give you alternate perspectives and expand your creativity.


I can't deny the simplicity of this photo, but I adore the colors.


Entitled 'The hundred-acre wood', the crooked bird house among the stones transforms the regular photo into something from a storybook.


A great example of the Hurry Up and Wait. I almost didn't even get to capture this. Detailed more in this article: Shooting the Northern Lights.


Here I wish I had even overexposed by one more stop. I feel the details get somewhat lost in the darker shadows.


Far from a perfect photo, I do love just how this photo truly captured the landscape as I saw it.


Event Photography

Slice of Life

This isn't for all events, but it is particularly applicable to weddings and similar events. Everyone envisions what they want their wedding to be. Choosing a photographer is so important in order to match that vision. I can't speak for what your vision may be, but I think it's time to move away from the traditional, 'Instagramable' photos. Away from drone footage and overly posed, artificial photos. Move toward something that captures the mood of the day. I've seen having point-and-shoot cameras or polaroids at each table be such a natural way to capture photos of the guests and what the day was like. Think of flipping through old family albums rather than what you might post on Instagram and you'll find the memories will be so much more tangible.


Flash or No Flash

There are times for flash and there are moments the flash will wash out the color in the room. I recently went to a wedding where the couple had a disco ball. The photographer used flash on almost all the reception photos. In each photo, the disco lights had been washed out and the room felt more like a conference room. However, if you carry a point-and-shoot (like an Olympus xa2 or a Contax T series) and use flash, you get those iconic flash film photos of people. But before you do, try and think about the lighting, the room, and the atmosphere when attempting to use flash.


35mm > Medium Format

While there is this craze for Medium Format, it is not always necessary. In the professional world, a medium format sensor is used to shoot billboard photos, images to be displayed on Times Square size screens, etc. And it is true, the larger negative has its advantages, but when shooting event photography, most often times a 35mm negative is enough. This also eliminates having to carry a larger, heavier medium format camera for the duration of the event. It also means getting more photos per roll which are cheaper and don't require you to switch out the film as much. I detailed this in a previous article: 35mm > Medium Format.


Preparation

Similar to what I was hinting at with landscape photography, here a little preparation goes a long way. Sometimes it's checking out the location the day prior to see where to shoot or at what time to shoot in each room or to get inspiration without the pressure of time and people waiting on you. Preparation might also be thinking how to handle any procedures for the shoot, or figure out parking beforehand, or how to navigate difficult inter-relationships with clients or agents or unions. They say failing to plan is planning to fail.


This and the following photo are rather out-there first attempt at wedding photography.




During a first look, the groom's unbridled smile is a small moment I think means a whole lot.


This photo of an engagement just means a lot to me.



Street Photography

Start Small

I use street photography as a means of exploring and capturing the beauty around me. There seems to be this trope that it's daunting to do street photography. And it can be, yes. However, I would urge you to just start small. You don't have to dive off the deep end and shoot people you pass on a crosswalk or get in someone's face to capture a photo. Take photos of the city, of a trail you're on, of wherever you are. If you want to include people in your photos, I started with shooting behind people. There are a lot of backs of heads in the first few hundred street photos I took. Start small. Capture the beauty around you and go from there.


Zone Focusing

A go-to for street photographers. I don't always zone focus, but on bright days, it can be so easy to just set your camera settings and allow your creativity to work without having to think of the details. I won't go into detail about what zone focusing is but I have linked two good youtube videos here:




Hand Metering

This is a handy trick if your camera has an internal light meter. Most of the time your internal light meter will be Center Weighted - this takes a centered weight average of the brightness of what is in view within the viewfinder. In order to get a good reading, place your hand in front of the camera in the same light that you want to expose for, use the internal light meter reading of your hand to then get your settings for the photo you wish to take.


Challenges

When starting out in street photography, in order to develop how you see the images around you, try and use a challenge to hone in your photographic eye. One of my favorites is the minimalist challenge of large space, small subject. But there's a ton of iconic ideas: leading lines, the golden ratio, get to a higher vantage point, etc. Even shooting black and white can narrow your focus and make you think of just the composition.


Street doesn't have to be in the city. Here in the least likely of places, I saw this encounter among friends.


This is actually a recent photo of a back of a head. I think it still works. But again, there is a lot less pressure when you aren't looking into the eyes of the person you're photographing.


A musician in the park.


Again, street photography doesn't have to be of people.


However, I do love seeing moments of humans being humans


Absolutely adore this photo. Probably because I've been in this kid's shoes.


Each photo brings me back to that day and the beauty within each.


I don't think this photo is anything spectacular, however, it does bring about a peace in me.


Taken in Brooklyn at Pier 2. This is among my favorite street photos.


New York truly has such a wide range of street locations. If you are looking to grow your skills, there is no place better.


'happy birthday kid'


More abstract. I love the colors here. Or color rather. Such a soft light.


'sun dial city' - an example of getting a different vantage point



Conclusion

Well if you've made it this far, congratulations. I hope I've been able to just hint at ways to get started in these broad categories of film photography. And just a reminder that most people don't know what they're doing and that you can always break the rules. The important this is to explore your own imagination and create something out of nothing. You got this.

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100% great read!


-Aaron May

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