There’s nothing that compares to shooting on film if you want high-quality images with a cool, retro feel. Shooting 35mm film is a different experience altogether from taking photos with a digital camera. If you’d like to give film photography a go, first you’ll need to know how to load a film camera. Our step-by-step guide will show you exactly how to load film into a camera.
Loading 35mm film for the first time can seem like a complicated process, but you’ll get the hang of it after a couple of attempts. It pays to take care when loading your film, or you run the risk of your images not developing correctly. But don’t worry – we’ll show you how to load a 35mm film camera in 5 simple steps!
Not sure which 35mm film to go for? I reviewed 12 of the best 35 mm films here!
How to Load Film into a Camera: Basic Steps
It can be a bit tricky at first to load film into a film camera, but you’ll soon master the art of loading film. Follow these steps on how to put film in a camera, and you’ll be ready to take some amazing photos!
Step 1: Open Up Your Camera
The first step is to open the back of your camera. On most cameras, there’s a rewind knob which will open the camera back when pressed. Lift the rewind knob until it clicks, and the back of your camera should spring open.
Some cameras have an open switch to open up the back of the camera, instead. If you’re not sure how to access the film chamber on your camera, refer back to the manual or look it up online.
Step 2: Prepare Your Film
Take your film out of the little container. You’ll see around an inch of film which is called the leader. Place the film on top of the film chamber on the left-hand side of your camera, with the film leader poking out towards the right.
Once you’ve positioned the film correctly, pull up the rewind knob or push the film into the film chamber to load the film. Don’t move onto the next step until you’re sure that it’s correctly in place. You should clearly hear it clearly click into place and settle into the film chamber.
Step 3: Secure the Film Leader in Place
This step is critical when loading film into your camera. The leader needs to be secured properly in place for the camera to wind your film through each time you take a photo.
Firstly, pull the film leader across the camera towards the slot on the right, called the take-up spool. Do this by holding the 35mm film gently at the top and bottom of the film, because you don’t want to end up with grubby fingerprints spoiling your shots.
Push the narrow end of the leader into the take-up spool, steadying it with your fingers at the same time. You need to make sure to insert the leader deep enough into the spindle so that it is taken up.
Step 4: Wind the Film Forwards
The next step involves a bit of coordination. You need to hold the leader carefully in place with your left hand, lining up the sprockets on the spindle. Next, with your right thumb, find the film advance lever on the top right of your camera. You might also need to hold the shutter release button on or near the lever.
Advance the film slightly, so that the spindle takes up the film and starts to wind it up. Repeat this one more time with the film advance lever so that you have a good length of film wound around the spindle, securing the film into place.
Step 5: Close the Camera and Take Some Photos!
The last step is to close your camera – but only once you’re confident that the film is correctly loaded into place. The back compartment should click firmly closed. Now, you just need to wind on the film to avoid using the exposed film at the beginning of the roll. You can do this by pushing on the shutter and turning for several clicks. Stop when the counter displays ‘0’.
And that’s all there is to loading film! Take each step slowly on your first attempt, and don’t rush. You don’t want a small mistake to ruin your film.
So, now you’re ready to start shooting! Taking film photos is a fantastic experience, so experiment, get creative, and enjoy!
Note: Remember to change the ASA to match the current film. If you were shooting with ASA100 film and now changed to ASA400 you will need to change it before you start shooting.
Film Photography Tips
Use the Right Film
You need to select the appropriate film for the lighting conditions so that you get the best results. If you’re shooting in dark conditions, use a faster film speed like an 800 ISO. But if there’s plenty of natural light, you can use a lower ISO film speed. 400 ISO is a good film for all-day shooting.
Select the Correct Settings
Before you start shooting, make sure you set up your camera with the right settings. Think carefully about the optimal ISO speed, aperture, and shutter speed for the images you want to take. It’s worth taking a few minutes to get your settings right in the beginning – you’ll see a marked improvement in your shots when you do!
Can you load film in the light?
You can load film in the light, as only the leader should be exposed. The film cradle has felt around the edge to prevent too much light from getting in while you switch films. But try to avoid loading your film in bright daylight if possible. You can simply turn away from the sun or shield your camera from the light with your hands.
The Wrap Up
Every photographer should experiment with film photography at some point in their career. It really is a unique experience and an opportunity to create beautiful, retro photos. But if you’re not sure how to load film, just follow these easy steps! If you get stuck on something, feel free to shoot me an email or a comment and I’ll try to help you out!
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Check out our guide to the best film scanners if you’re looking to scan your newly shot film.
New Zealand travel photographer based in London, UK. He was taking photos from a very young age in the backcountry of New Zealand before moving abroad. Since doing so he has taken workshops and tried to help get as many people into this art as possible. Featured in NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz and many photography publications it’s safe to say he loves his photography!