Getting Started With Film
If you're starting in film photography or need a refresher, I've put together a helpful page to guide you. Here's some basic info on where to learn about your particular camera, what subjects you might photograph first (people, landscapes, etc.), what kind of film to buy, and how to take care of your new gear. Some things are more important than others, so let's start with what you absolutely need to know.
Caring for your camera
Cameras don't like water. Or sand. And even though some cameras are solidly built, they don't like being dropped. Get a protective case or half-case for it. Treat your camera like you treat your phone. Wipe the outside with a damp cloth if you need to clean it. Never spray your camera with anything, especially WD-40. Ever.
You have been warned.
Invest in a blower to remove dust from mirrors and lenses without touching them. If you need to clean your lens, use products designed for the purpose. If you’re in a pinch, ball up a small piece of tissue and apply a little Windex to the tissue — don’t spray directly onto the lens. Wipe the lens with the soaked tissue. Take a clean tissue, ball it up, breathe on the lens and wipe it off. Never wipe a dry glass with a dry tissue.
How to learn about your camera
Fortunately, there's a huge number of people creating articles, guides, and videos about your specific classic film camera. Depending on what kind of learner you are, you'll have a plethora of options regarding general and specific info about how to use it. Do you need to know where to start when all you're sure about is that a film camera has a lens and needs film? No worries, Google is your friend. Try searching: “how to use a minolta srt-101,” or, “how to load film rollei 35 te” There's a huge number of generous people who have created some very helpful stuff.
First, I would recommend using a film that gives you the greatest flexibility when photographing in different light conditions. If it's a colour film you want to try, Kodak Gold 400 is a reliable, affordable place to start. Black and white? Maybe try Ilford Delta 400.
Notice the common thing about these two suggestions? They both contain 400, which is its ISO number. That number tells you how sensitive the film is to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive the film. If you're going to be shooting somewhere with abundant light, you might choose ISO 100 or even 50. If you're going to be shooting in lower light or a subject that moves fast and needs fast shutter speeds, maybe ISO 1600 is what you need. That's why I recommend a film with an ISO of 400 to start—it's somewhere in the middle, which is what you want if you're going to experiment in different situations as you start.
Start by photographing subjects that will give you a little time to think about what you're doing. You might not have the best success by photographing a fast-moving sports game on your first day. Start with land or cityscapes, your friends or family who will sit patiently for you, or go William Eggleston style and photograph still objects. These subjects will give you better success as you begin, and you'll develop the confidence to try more difficult things like street photography or sports. But where you start is totally up to you.
Choosing the right camera settings
If you've only ever shot pictures with your phone and you have absolutely no idea about shutter speed, aperture (how wide to open your lens), and ISO, when you're out, use your phone or a digital camera to guide you as you experiment. If you have a digital camera, take a photo with that first. If you take the photo using the camera's “A” or automatic mode, check out the photo's info (shutter speed, aperture, ISO). Use that info as a clue about how to set your film camera's settings. Keeping that info handy, now put the digital camera on “M” or manual mode and tinker with the settings until you get the photograph you want.
Once you're happy, use the same settings on your film camera and take the shot. Keep in mind that you can't change the ISO! You have to work with that fixed setting for now. Once your film is developed, compare your digital and film photos to see how they look side by side. You can use your phone in much the same way. Or, if you want to dive right in and do it old school, get a simple light meter and learn how to use that.
Since some have explained these things much better than I ever could, watch this great video on three ways you can get the right exposure on film without a light meter. A photographer, Eric Kim, who has written a great deal of material on photography generally (some of it good, some not), laid out these very simple guidelines about camera settings for different conditions when shooting out on the streets. Since I've recommended you start with ISO 400, these fit well. Follow them if you're not sure about things and see if they help.
ISO 400: SAMPLE SETTINGS
SUPER-BRIGHT SUNNY DAY Aperture: f/8 Shutter Speed: 1/1000th sec ISO: 400
OVERCAST Aperture: f/8 Shutter Speed: 1/250th sec ISO: 400
SUNSET Aperture: f/8 Shutter Speed: 1/125th sec ISO: 400
SHADE Aperture: f/8 Shutter Speed: 1/60th sec ISO: 400
INDOORS Aperture: f/2 Shutter Speed: 1/30th sec ISO: 400
All these tips might help you get your feet, but nothing can take the place of practice. Shoot a few rolls and don't worry about the results. After having learned photography with film back in the 1970s and 80s, and still shooting with film today, I still shake my head at some of the stuff I produce.
Working with film will make you a much better photographer because you'll be far more focused on what you're doing. It's a good idea to take notes so you remember what film you used and what your camera settings were when you made the photos. Eventually, you'll be able to take photos with perfect exposure without thinking about your settings much at all.