By Rohan Mattu
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
A generation born into the ease of the digital age is looking for something to put time and care into. Analog photography is a practice in patience.
“I think younger folks who were new to film photography, new to its character, its native qualities of ‘wait and see’ find this exciting, even deviant from the instant gratification of digital photography,” said Brian Miller, owner of Full Circled Fine Art Services.
curve for analog photography can be intimidating in the wrong town. Luckily,
Baltimore has a few choice resources for anybody looking to plunge into the
world of film.
Finding Your Tool
The first step can be the most daunting: finding a 35mm film camera. Any film camera will be at least 20 years old, and that means it can be difficult to find a working camera on a budget.
Expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $100 for a reliable starter camera.
Most common cameras take 35mm film, which is the most common format or size of photography film. It is suggested that beginners start with 35mm, but down the line many photographers get involved with medium and large format film.
Before tearing hair out comparing camera specifications, remember the photographer makes the photo — not the gear. The sheer options for beginner cameras can be overwhelming, but sticking with the big five from the seventies is usually a safe bet: Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus and Minolta.
Before going anywhere, talk to your parents first—many young photographers inherit old gear from their family. Chances are, dad still has a camera from the eighties tucked away in the attic.
If you can’t find anything in the family, online purchasing seems like the obvious option, but it is always better to hold and inspect a camera before purchasing.
With some patience, spectacular deals can be had at thrift shops such as Saver’s at 1925 Joppa Rd. in Parkville, or Value Village at 3424 Eastern Ave. in Highlandtown. Cameras, often with cases, pass through frequently in thrift shops for as little as $20.
“I found both of my daily cameras at a thrift shop,” said Chris Miller, a recent Towson University graduate. “They have been really good to me over the past four years.”
A little more money can buy the convenience of a camera that is ready to shoot off the shelf. Service Photo at 3838 Falls Rd. in Hampden sells various serviced and inspected film cameras, and the shop has been in Baltimore since 1948.
“Within the past few years I’ve seen a lot more 15 to 20 year olds coming in and buying film equipment,” said Lauren Holt, an employee of over 20 years at Service Photo.
If you didn’t pick your camera up at Service Photo, you’ll need to stop by anyway. Service Photo is the only store in Baltimore that sells a wide variety of film. Buying film in person avoids often inflated internet pricing and shipping costs.
In a pinch, a limited selection of film can be found at CVS pharmacy or trendy shops such as Urban Outfitters—but isn’t it better to support a local business?
Films of varying brands and types are referred to as film “stocks.” The most popular and common film stocks include Kodak Portra, Fujifilm Fujicolor, and Ilford HP5. 35mm film comes in two different sizes: 24 and 36 exposures. One exposure equals one photo.
Different films have unique qualities in color, saturation, and dynamic range (the difference between the darkest and lightest tones). Even in the age of digital photography, there are many film stocks to choose from in both color and black and white.
An ISO rating is the level of light sensitivity a film has. The higher an ISO, also known as film speed, the more sensitive the film is to light. An ISO of 400 can work in a wide range of lighting situations—a perfect starting point for beginners.
Your favorite photographer might shoot with Portra, but don’t reach for pricey professional film yet. Because each photo will have a monetary cost, beginning with cheap film makes it easier to make mistakes as you learn and get comfortable with your camera.
If you’re starting out with color photos, Kodak UltraMax 400 is the best bet. UltraMax can be bought for as low as $3 for 24 exposures. If you want to start with black and white, Kentemere film can be bought for as low as $4 a roll for 24 exposures.
In the end, the only way to learn what film you like and begin developing a style is to start shooting.
“The way I really got into it was that I just started shooting,” said Mike Tan, who started analog photography four months ago. “I bought my camera from a friend and threw some film in there.”
Processing your Film
After reaching the universally satisfying feeling of winding a film roll back into its canister, it is time to get the film processed, or developed. There are two facilities left that process film in the area after Techlab in Towson closed its doors.
Not only does film need to be developed, but photo negatives have to be either printed or scanned to actually see them. For amateur purposes, digitizing photo negatives by having them scanned is the most economical route to finally see your photos.
N ational Photo at 612 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville processes only color film, and at $10
dollars a roll, it is far from cheap to develop here. In addition, professional scans are $5.99 per roll. This puts you at $16 a roll to see your photos.
Alternatively, Full Circle Fine Art Services at 33 E. 21st st. in Mount Vernon charges $5 a color roll, and $8 for black and white film. However, scanning costs $8 a roll.
developing and scanning can easily cost more than a roll of film itself, there
is a way to save big time—self scanning. An entry level flatbed scanner capable
of scanning can cost anywhere from $100 to $200, but it can quickly pay for
“I go to Full Circle to have my film developed and then scan them myself,” said Tan, who posts most of his analog photography to Instagram. “It’s a lot cheaper but it takes time.”
Sharing the Shots
Some shoot strictly for themselves, but there are dozens of paths for those who want to share their photography with the world.
The Reddit analog community /r/analog has over 400,000 subscribers. The 35mm hashtag has over 19 million posts on Instagram. These websites are two of the best places to share work and quickly network with other Baltimore photographers.
While short lived, the Baltimore On Film Instagram account offers a glimpse into the city’s vibrant photo scene, as well as the photographers’ love for their city. .
“Once I started shooting I made photographer friends so quickly here,” Miller said. “There are so many people in Baltimore using film and they’re all so happy to work together and share their stuff.”