In the forecourt of Preston’s Northside Food Hall is a white vending machine, but it doesn’t hold soft drinks or chocolate bars. Inside are packs of 35mm and Polaroid film, and there’s an attached box where you can drop rolls off for developing – one of half a dozen around Australia provided by camera store, developing lab and workshop space Film Never Die, based in Melbourne’s CBD.
That it exists at all points to a shift over the last few years: despite digital cameras getting slicker, smaller and more powerful, people are increasingly turning to film.
“There’s a big market of people who have a piece of equipment – a Polaroid camera or a film camera – passed down from their parents or grandparents, and they want to discover the novelty of shooting film again,” says Film Never Die co-founder Gary Wong. “And also the big push from a lot of celebrities using disposable cameras [makes] it look cool and hip.”
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Wong started Film Never Die in 2011, reselling Polaroid film on eBay. He finds its appeal lies in its simplicity. “Shooting with film is about removing the complexity of the different settings,” he says. “'How can I get into the moment and take a photo, look at lighting, look at composition and get back to just the fun of taking photos?’”
Film Never Die runs photography classes, but really all you need to get started is a camera and a roll of film. Wong’s got a few tips.
It starts with the camera
Film cameras are their own rabbit hole but, mostly, you’ll be choosing between two types: point-and-shoot and SLR (it means single-lens reflex, but most people just say “SLR”). The former is best if you’re looking for an easy entry-level camera that doesn’t require much technical know-how.
“A point-and-shoot is easy because you don’t have to think about the shutter speed and stuff,” says Wong. “You can set it on auto mode and [take] some party snaps or go hiking. If you want to [take] a good portrait with nice depth of field and have finer control, an SLR would be the way to go.”
How to choose which film stock to use
This is where things really diverge from digital cameras. While your choice of camera can dictate the kinds of snaps you take, the film you load it with can also a make a big difference to the final shot.
“In colour, the film that’s good for skin tone is Portra 400,” says Wong. “There’s film that’s good for night-time like the Umi or Cinestill 800. For black and white, Ilford and Kodak can give you very fine grain and good detail.”
To get down to the very basics though, Wong recommends just buying a cheap roll, trying it out and seeing what happens.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what you like, because everyone’s different and art is such a big space. There’s no right or wrong.”
Load your camera up – and start shooting
Beginners might roll their eyes at this advice but it holds true: sometimes, you just need to get out there and do it.
“The bad news is, you need to practise a lot to get good at it,” Wong says. “Imagine the great artists: they don’t just paint one painting. They paint thousands of paintings.”
Once you’ve taken some shots and seen what your choice of film and camera produce, then you can start to refine your set-up like the pros.
“Then it’s about your camera – what can your camera do? What’s the limitation? And then you can say, ‘Okay, I think I’m seeing too much grain and the image is not as sharp’, and then maybe you need to use a better lens.”
Learn from others in the game
With Film Never Die, Wong has fostered a community of local film enthusiasts, all eager to meet other photographers, learn more about the craft and sharpen their skills.
Besides regular film developing and basic photography classes, Wong likes to take budding photographers out into the city on excursions, as he’ll be doing with a series of upcoming photo walks in partnership with The Glen Grant.
“We’ll go make some friends, shoot some film, have some fun and end up in a venue where we could do some photo chatting and get to know each other,” says Wong. “And maybe do some whisky tasting as well.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The Glen Grant and Film Never Die. Learn to shoot on film, meet other photographers and enjoy a whisky cocktail at a series of free photo walks, running from August to October.