Tips + Techniques

10 Film Photography Tips for Documenting Home Life

May 22, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

© Joe Tobiason

By throwing your own shadows into your images, it's a way for you to say "Hey I am in this photo and in this moment."

At the height of the COVD-19 lockdown, Seattle-based wedding and non-profit photographer Joe Tobiason and Tacoma-based wedding and elopement photographer Benj Haisch set a goal: to document life during an unprecedented time using film. While they both shoot digital for work, they also shoot film, a lot of it, for their personal work. And they really want to remember this unusual time in life, one that existed for each of them while quarantined under their own roofs. And though there are the obvious costs of using film, Tobiason and Haisch devised 10 film photography tips that they say are especially helpful for working with the medium while not taking a huge chunk of money out of your wallet.

Why film, you ask? “It feels more nostalgic,” says Haisch. “With digital, there is a need to immediately upload photos, but film allows you to just “put the camera up to your eye, take the photo and move on.” Here are ten practical tips you can implement right away:

1. Just Get Started

Benj Haisch uses a point-and-shoot to document with film.
Benj Haisch, ready to go.

The easiest way to get started, says Haisch, is to use a film camera you already have. “I started with a Contax T2 point-and-shoot style that’s small and pocketable and gives you less of an excuse not to take a photo. Point and shoots have a lot of amazing features and you can take them everywhere.”

2. Focus on One Element of Your Subject

Focus in on just one element of your subject, not their entire being.
Digitized with Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2. Photo © Joe Tobiason

“As you’re taking photos to tell stories of your family or dog or whatever, don’t think you have to encapsulate their entire being into one photo,” says Tobiason. “If you can that’s great but you don’t have to. For most part, just focus on one element. For example, when my daughter is working really hard, she sticks her tongue out. So I try to focus on just that element. Or if she has boots on that she likes to jump around in puddles with, I like to zoom in on just on the boots.”

3. Use Black-and-White Film

Black-and-white film is easier to shoot in lower light
Photo © Benj Haisch

“Black-and-white film is oftentimes easier to shoot in lower light (like when you’re stuck in your home) by doing things called ‘pushing it,’ which allows you to have more flexibility,” says Haisch. “But it also obviously takes the color out of the equation.”

Most color films and film you buy at the drugstore, says Haisch, and are going to be daylight balanced, which he says is great until you have to start turning on the lights in your house and which are typically tungsten balanced. “Then you are going to get some weird color shifts in between the lights in your house that are way warmer than the light the film is made for (outdoor lighting). Black-and-white film will negate both of those issues so you can take a scene that has both indoor and outdoor lighting and if you take the photos on black and white, they are going to look a lot cleaner and and more cohesive.”

4. Fully Utilize the Good Light in Your House

“Let’s face it, there are definitely houses out there that have that perfect Pinterest light all the time, but that’s not my house and I kind of doubt it’s your house too,” says Tobiason. “That said, there are moments when the light is great and really pretty in my house, usually between 1 and 3 pm, that comes in really nicely by the entrance near the kitchen or coming through these side windows we have.”

So, for example, if Tobiason is trying to take photos of his daughter, it’s usually during those time frames and in those spots, when he can have her play or hang out in that light because he knows it will result in more striking images.

A film photograph of a little girl standing in a ray of window light
Digitized with Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2. Photo © Joe Tobiason

5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Flash

“Don’t be afraid of using flash on film,” says Haisch. “Though we so often work to avoid using this tool, the flashes on Eighties-era point and shoots were really well designed to fill in the light needed to make film negatives look great,” he explains. “For my digital work, I would never encourage using the flash on your camera, but on film, it just looks really good.”

6. Put Yourself in the Photos

An image of Joe Tobiason holding his young daughter photographed with a film camera
Joe Tobiason and his daughter. Digitized with Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2. Photo © Joe Tobiason

Come up with ways to get yourself into your film photos (ways other than asking someone to take the photo). “The easiest way is to use a self-timer,” says Tobiason. But think creatively, too. Another way is to use a mirror. We have one big mirror in our living room and I love incorporating it into our photos because it’s a way I can be a part of the images.”

If you’re outside, he adds, try throwing your own shadows into the photos. “Maybe it feels a bit weird and looks like it’s a mistake, but it’s a way for you to say ‘Hey I am in this photo and in this moment.’ And it’s one more way to create something I want to remember.”

7. Don’t Worry About Perfection

As digital photographers, says Haisch, we all have the ability to look at the back of the camera, set it up and do a bunch of different takes. “With film, I find that I sit in the moment a lot more and take one or two photos and then just let it be. I am not trying to make art or something for a client, but rather I am just trying to document life and what’s happening in it. It doesn’t need to be perfect.”

A film photograph of a small boy peering out the window of a home
Photo © Benj Haisch

Maybe my kid is making a weird face or the lighting or composition isn’t perfect, but I have that documented as a memory and that’s what I am going for—making a really meaningful photo for myself.”

8. Don’t Let The Cost of Film Prevent You From Clicking The Shutter

Yes, film is expensive, says Tobiason, but he also advises not to let that fact deter you from shooting with it. “That will prevent you from diving into moments you don’t want to miss,” he says. “Obviously you need a budget and to plan for how much developing will cost but when it comes to actually shooting, use the photos you have to tell the stories you want to tell and to capture the moments you want to capture.”

9. Use Modern Elements to Place the Photos

Haisch suggests using elements of things that are happening in the current day and the current time to place within the photographs so you can have a reference point as to when that photo was taken and what was going on within it. “A lot of the point and shoots I use have the option to imprint the date directly on them,” he says. “I at least imprint the date on one photo per roll to have some idea of when that photo was taken, how old I was, how old my kid was and what was going on in the world when I took it.”

10. Don’t Get Your Film Developed Right Away; Have Patience

Tobiason’s last film photography tip: Don’t get your film developed right away. “I know if feels a bit counterintuitive,” he says, “but time helps you connect to the images even more.”

This is obviously good for the wallet, too, as it delays the costs until you’re more stable financially but, he notes “that is some of the joy of this. You may have forgotten some of the photos you’ve taken or the ones you haven’t forgotten makes you even more excited to see—that delayed gratification is so much more powerful when you do finally see the photos.”

For more great tips, check out Tobiason and Haisch‘s YouTube channels. And watch their full video on tips for shooting film here.