Shooting Film

I jumped on the bandwagon of film (sort of).

All “the kids” seem to be doing it and after one night of falling down a hole of tutorials on Youtube, I ordered a film camera and a few rolls of film to play around with. My plan was to pack it for the trip I went on to Nantucket with Ashley. After posting on Instagram, I was getting a few comments/DMs about what I used so I figured I’d do a longer post with all the deets. We shot about 33 frames together, and I’ll share my favorites at the end of this post.


I would still categorize myself as a beginner although I do have a fair bit of experience with film and photography overall. That definitely gave me a slight leg up, but nothing that other people couldn’t catch up to in a few days with practice.

My grandfather was a professional photographer and my dad always had a few great Nikons around the house. (We have next to no videos of us as kids because we didn’t have a camcorder but the photos of us are all so good and cute!) I got my very own Nikon camera (film since it was like 1999) in elementary school and I loved that little guy. In fact, I brought it on a vacation where I had glitter sunscreen… which meant that my camera was pretty much covered in glitter permanently from my sunscreened hands and a face 😂

I did go to a photography summer camp one year too where we learned how to use a camera, went on “field trips” around Tampa, and then developed our own film in a dark room. It was so cool and I swear it left a lasting impression on me. (It was actually exactly twenty years ago now that I’m thinking about it because it was the same year as the World Cup! We had people over to our house to watch it in the middle of the night and then I went to the camp. Ha!)

Then I was on the yearbook staff from seventh grade through my senior year where we learned even more about photography… Not necessarily about how to use a camera, but art direction, framing, leading lines, etc.

And now as a blogger, I have a closet of cameras and although I have a professional photographer who shoots my outfit posts, I can use a camera myself. This year I also took a photography course online that one of my high school friends put together to brush up my skills. (It’s “technically” for moms taking photos of their kids BUT the fundamentals of how to use a camera and set up a good shot and then edit it nicely are all in there!)


Didn’t go to summer camp or yearbook staff or haven’t operated a camera beyond your phone’s? No worries. Youtube can literally teach you how to do anything. From figuring out what to set your aperture to how to load a roll of film, there’s someone out there who has created a video for you!!

Recommended Youtube video: Peter McKinnon is a very technical and skilled photographer and videographer (his videos are great!), but he did a video about Shutter Speed, ISO, and Aperture. Once you get the hang of the relationship between these three, manual mode will be much more accessible.

Recommended Youtube channel: Dusty “Moose” Winans’ channel is the best at breaking down camera basics. He shoots with a Nikon, but it’s a good starting point no matter what brand of camera you’re using. I learned so many great tips from him and I think he does a really good job at explaining things.

Recommended Youtube series: Shelby Church’s videos about photography are definitely the most relatable for me. She covers quick hacks, iPhone tips, and even tips for being in front of the camera.

Canon AE-1 Program

An iPhone shot of Ashley with the camera!


CAMERA + LENS: After doing some research, I ended up going with the Canon AE-1 Program. The AE-1 cameras were some of the most popular film cameras ever. Many schools even use it to teach students photography basics. Because it was so popular, they’re also relatively easy to find and not terribly expensive. (Your parents or grandparents may have one tucked away.) I found mine on Amazon. I also went with a 50mm lens (also known as the “nifty fifty”), but my next lens purchase will be a 35mm.

FILM: Unlike digital, it is important to think about what kind of film you want to shoot with. A digital camera can be adjusted for all kinds of lighting situations and then you can edit photos in post-production with filters to give them different vibes. With film photography, you have to start with the environment you’re in + the vibe you’re going for. I went with Kodak Portra 400 because I like the fine grain and felt like it would be nice and universal for all kinds of photos I took while on Nantucket.

ACCESSORIES: Not really necessary, but I did end up buying a strap for the camera.


After doing just the one roll of film (the first I’ve shot in probably 15 years), I have some thoughts. Practice with a digital camera first. You can play around on manual mode with a digital camera and get INSTANT feedback. You can switch between two different f-stops and see the difference right away. You can also play around without worrying about wasting frames or paying for terrible shots. SHOOT AWAY!

You also don’t have to jump into a manual camera. Here are a few super easy ways you can shoot film without having to think too much:

Disposable Cameras // I don’t think there’s any shame in disposable cameras. In fact, they can be a really fun and simple way to capture memories. You can pick a few up, right in your favorite drug store (they’re usually behind a lock and key).

Point and Shoot // My parents still have a few of these sitting around in junk drawers, but they’re also great options. (They might just need a new battery!) These will allow you to start shooting immediately…. no need to overthink the basics, it’ll do it for you. While you won’t have as much control over the look and feel of the artistry, it’ll give you a simple, great photograph.

Polaroids // These are back! (And in my opinion, proof that millennials don’t kill everything 😂) What could be simpler than these? You don’t even have to take them to get developed.


This is going to assume you’re shooting with a manual camera. If you chose one of the above options, just get out there and have fun.

Again, Youtube // It had been years since I operated a film camera and I was so nervous to ruin my film before I even got started. (And worse, only find out when I got back the developed photos.) For every step of the way, I was pulling up Youtube videos. From loading the film to setting the ISO, I referred to my trusty teacher: Youtube.

Light Metering // I downloaded the “Lightmate” app for my iPhone to help make sure my photographs are properly exposed. Because I was shooting with Portra 400 film, I had my ISO set to 400 for every photo and then it was a matter of selecting the aperture and shutter speed I wanted. (Not sure how it works? Youtube is there for you!)

Focus // My Canon is manual focus which honestly was the hardest part for Ashley and me to master. It seems like it should have been simple but I have a pretty bad double vision issue that only gets worse when I’m relying on one eye. A few of the photos came back perfectly lit and exposed…. but blurry. (Hilariously so for some!)


There are a few places you can send your film away to. The Dark Room, for example, is highly regarded. I opted to support my local photography shop (Madison PhotoPlus). I chose a matte finish and really love how everything came out. They do offer a digital option, but it only comes on a CD-ROM… and despite having five computers/laptops in our house between Mike and me, none have a CD reader anymore. So I ended up just scanning the photos myself with my printer.


I think smartphone cameras just keep getting better and better. And with apps like VSCO, you can get a film look with the click of the button. While I will continue to experiment with film, I think ultimately you just can’t beat the convenience of shooting with a phone camera. Even Annie Leibovitz says to go for an iPhone. The best camera you have is the one you have on you after all! It did inspire me to be better about printing photos, regardless of what medium they were captured with. iPhone, digital, instant. There’s something so nice about holding a physical copy of a great shot.

Okay here are my favorite pictures 😉

This was the first one I took!!!

This is where the 50mm lens comes in handy. The depth of field on it is beautiful for portraits. It also doesn’t hurt to have a classically beautiful subject!

The Peter Beaton Hat Studio is charming on and off film. It’s tiny so I had to back myself up right against the opposite wall. (The 50mm lens is a prime lens, meaning your “zoom” is your feet!)

Island cars are just the best.


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Allie N.

These are awesome photos, Carly! Thanks for sharing so many tips. You’re inspiring me to pull out my DSLR again.

Anthony McCraw

Thanks for sharing all the great information, Carly. Photography can be intimidating – especially with all the technology today. I appreciate you breaking it down and giving some of your insight from all your experience with film. Cheers!


These are great! My favorite is the last one – feels so classic.

Definitely filing this post away for later when I decide to get serious about photography.


Loved your take on film photography in this post! Although I’d say you’re way more advanced than a “beginner” :). I have a similar history with photography… I took classes in school and developed my own film as well as my parents having old cameras lying around the house (I learned on an AE-1!). I loved that you shared your thoughts on film and your photos turned out beautifully!

Dan Carroll

I was a news and theater photographer in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I used to manage the darkroom at the newspaper and the darkroom and photo studio in college. It’s so nice to see the enthusiasm for film again. I just stared shooting film again and also picked up the Canon AE-1 with three FD lenses. I also process at The Darkroom and as a side note I used to live in San Clemente California where the lab is located. I’m an old surfer. One other side note is that my wife used to spend her Summers in Nantucket. Her grandfather was the Congregational Churchs pastor and her grandmother owned the little boutique there called The Hub. They have both passed on now but my wife used to love visiting them. I believe we have our funeral plots there. Funny though because I’ve never been there.

Oh and love your photos.

Danielle Green

I adore film photography. I majored in photography which forced me to take so many film/digital photo classes and I just could never get over how magical it is to shot & develop your own photos!
It’s not for everyone though, no one in my film classes ever liked film, the process or the result. To each their own I suppose. Side note: your pictures turned out amazing!

Lindsay Sacca

You have some great tips for shooting film as well as some great shots.
In high school I took photography, and we learned how to shoot as well as use the dark room, and I wish I remembered more/paid more attention. I have an old Nikon film camera around somewhere, although I always shot on automatic, was never brave enough to try out the manual settings. There is a magical quality to film, and there’s something really fun about not seeing the images until they’re developed. I love your shots with the lighthouse!


I love this post! I’ve had a passion for photography ever since I got my first disposable film camera back in elementary school.

Cameras have definitely changed over the decades but there’s something so exciting about film cameras. You have the nostalgia factor that comes with using film, and there’s a certain quality the photos have that is definitely a throwback. But you also have the excitement and anticipation of waiting to get your film developed to see if anything good came from it. On top of that, you add in the fun of learning to take photos with a manual camera and combined, it adds a whole new appreciation for the art of photography!

I took a photography class at college and it really opened my eyes to what goes into creating a great shot. The class didn’t teach me how to use my digital camera (like I was hoping it would) but it did teach the basics of lighting and composition. The first third of the class was focused on digital photography, and looking back I realize it’s because when you’re first starting, it’s best to make mistakes and learn with a digital camera so that when you get to shooting with film you’re more familiar with composition and you waste fewer resources. The last two thirds of the course were spent learning about film photography and I loved it!

This post has reminded me just how much fun shooting with film can be! I agree that the best camera is the one you have, which often means a digital/cell phone camera, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But everything that you mentioned loving about film makes me miss it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and all the resources for tutorials! I’m definitely going to take the plunge back into film now!

Your photos turned out great! I can only imagine how good your film photography skills will be with more practice!

Would you ever consider taking a film camera on a vacation to a place like Paris? When flying, it just seems like it could be such a hassle to deal with extra photography equipment, but I imagine the photo opportunities could outweigh the negative side of traveling with more gear. If you ever do consider taking a film camera on a plane, I’d love to see a post about your experience!

Again, thanks so much for sharing your tips! I hope this inspires more people to try film photography!


My dad is super old school, and will always have a film camera on him, so it has been fun to still learn about film from him (he used to work with a fashion photographer!).
The first picture here, with the sail boats, is stunning! Like I would enlarge it, and frame it! Absolutely beautiful!!! I am impressed!

xx Libby


This is such a refreshing post to read! Your photos are beautiful and everything you’ve written here is so informative! I have my own film camera that I bought several years ago that I’ve never used and this is inspiring me to pull it out again!


Carly, I just wanted to say thank you for being so open about photography, sewing, needlepointing, etc. I so value your willingness to share what you’re learning and it encourages me to branch out and try new things!! The time and detail you put into your posts is unmatched. Hugs from Oklahoma.