35mm Film Tips


Creating images on 35mm film has been a staple of both amateur and professional photography for several decades. Film offers a great deal of creative latitude, archival quality, and artistic control for the photographer. It is flexible, easily obtained, and the costs are low in comparison with digital. Processing can be as simple as dropping the finished roll at the local drugstore, and film pictures can be processed into a digital format by most processing outlets--giving digital quality images without digital prices.

Film Speed

One of the great benefits of 35mm film is that it comes in a range of sensitivities. Film speed, also known as the ISO rating, denotes how sensitive a piece of film is to light. When exposed, a high ISO film will react more quickly to light than a low ISO. Most retailers will carry at least 200 and 400 ISO film; these are sometimes labeled as "outdoor" and "indoor." 200 ISO is less sensitive to light, and it is less likely to be overexposed in full sunlight. However, film can be purchased in ISO ratings as low as 50 with Fuji RVP, and as high as 6400 with Kodak T-Max. Most camera shops will carry high and low ISO films, some of which are delicate and must be refrigerated. A photographer can then confidently prepare for any lighting conditions by knowing how to choose the correct ISO.


Just as there are different film speeds, different films are designed to be sensitive to different types of light. The three categories of 35mm film which are most common are color reversal film, color positive film, and black and white film. Color reversal film is also known as a "negative" or "color reversal" and is the most commonly used consumer film. This film is coated with cyan, magenta and yellow dyes. Each dye reacts to a specific wavelength of light. These cyan, magenta and yellow dyes are reversals (color opposites) of the basic color spectrum of red, green and blue. When printed, the image is reversed into the "positive" color spectrum and the image appears as normal. Color positive film is commonly known as slide film. In this instance, the dyes on the film are red, green and blue, creating a true copy of the scene on the piece of film. Once a slide is developed, no further processing is used to alter the colors as it is then displayed by light and magnification. Slide film has a greater latitude for error than color reversal film. The last common variety of film is black and white. This comes in two types; E6 and C41 processing. These refer to the types of process used to develop the film. E6 is specific to black and white film only and is "true" black and white film; C41 processing is completed in the same way color film is processed. This difference can result in hues and overtones which the photographer may choose to use to their advantage. Black and white film, when printed, creates a monochrome image.

Care and Feeding

While film advances have been made since the introduction of roll film, film is still relatively delicate. It must be handled with care in order to preserve the quality of the images. As film is light sensitive, the photographer must make sure that it is never unduly exposed to light. This can range from techniques such as loading the camera in a darkroom to simple acts such as making sure the film is fully rewound before opening the camera back. High ISO films have a thinner film base and are much more sensitive than other films. These films need to be handled with care and loaded very delicately, or they will tear. When choosing film, check the expiration date on the box. Expired film may lose some color sensitivity or have an unwanted color cast. Storing film in a cool, dark place such as the refrigerator will extend its shelf life.

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About this Author

Gwen Wark is a freelance writer working from London, Dublin, and New York. She has been a published writer since 1998 with works appearing in both university and local publications. Her current writing projects include SEO, web copy, print and advertising features. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in history from Rutgers University.

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