“If you want a really vintage look you should use old point-and-shoot box cameras predating the 1950s, or use expired film that is several or more decades old,” says Froula-Weber. “I’ve shot with film that’s 60–80 years old.” Shooting on film can be expensive, but when shots are limited, it can help a photographer be more deliberate about when they click the shutter — you’ll want to take more care setting up each shot. “Each click costs me money [with film]” says Mercer, “so it helps me be purposeful with my posing.”
You can develop your own film, but when you start with vintage photography, it’s beneficial to find a place that knows the technology and techniques. It’s good for a vintage photographer to maintain a solid relationship with a photo lab to help in their journey as they create old-looking images. “Definitely find a good film lab and keep good communication with them,” says Mercer. “Give them reference images to look after.”
How to run a vintage photoshoot.
Film photography is less instantaneous than digital photography. There’s a lot more time between making adjustments, taking shots, and seeing the results. So vintage photographers have to spend time internalizing what modern technology can do. “A lot of it is getting to know the camera you’ve chosen to work with,” says Froula-Weber. “You’re going to have a little bit of trial and error in the beginning.”
Because vintage photography encompasses a wide range of technology that begins in the 1800s and runs through the 20th century, it’s hard to generalize how cameras worked during those decades. But, in general, older photo technology tends to have a lower ISO than what today’s digital cameras are capable of.
“Because older film had a slower ISO, lenses, shutters, and aperture controls were designed for slower films,” says Froula-Weber. “That should be a key thing to keep in mind.” Because film was less sensitive to light in the past than it is now, photographers needed to compensate with a wider aperture, slower shutter speed, brighter lights, or some combination of all three. On a vintage photoshoot, bear in mind the particular light needs of your film and how that will affect the final product.
“Metering on a midtone is best practice,” Froula-Weber says, advice that is useful regardless of the vintage camera or film you’re using. “If you do not meter on a midtone you can blow out your image, but you could also underexpose it.” With some older cameras metering, or measuring light to gauge what aperture and shutter speed you should use, can mean using a separate, handheld light meter. Many cameras from the pre-digital era were not able to measure light on their own.