How to Take Pictures Like a Pro

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How to Take Pictures Like a Pro

Although the digital camera revolution has taken the world by storm, there is still something unique and pure about taking photos with a camera which uses photographic film. Unlike a digital camera, film cameras have no screen to show the picture after it has been taken, so photographers have no way of knowing how it will look until the film is developed. For this reason, good camera technique and good camera equipment are essential.

Types of Camera

There are several types of film cameras to choose from, with different features and strengths, all of which will impact on the types of photographs which can be shot. It is generally agreed among professional photographers, however, that the SLR – single lens reflex – camera offers the widest range of options for photography.

Single Lens Reflex (SLR) Camera

SLRs are one of the most versatile film cameras available. They use a mirror and prism system to focus light through the lens onto the film; this is a highly accurate technique and with the correct film, the resulting photographs have depth, colour, and clarity and they capture natural light in great detail. SLRs also allow the photographer to look directly through the lens itself, seeing exactly what will be present in the finished photograph. Some modern compact cameras have a viewfinder which is slightly off to the side of the camera body; what the photographer sees through this will not be what the resulting photograph shows due to this slight off-setting of the viewfinder in relation to the lens.The SLR was the most advanced and professional photography system in use from its inception in the 1930s up until the 1990s, when digital cameras came onto the market. Despite the popularity of the digital camera today, SLRs are still in demand with professionals and serious amateurs as they are customisable, with interchangeable lenses, films, and flashes. SLRs also have far greater shutter speed, meaning photographs are taken instantly and without the need to wait for autofocus or digital components to move before the photograph is taken.

SLR Lenses

Photographers should ensure they understand the capabilities of any lenses and that they will fit the lens mount of their camera before purchase.


Wide-angle lens

Shorter focal length, but includes more of the view within the frame than normal lenses.


Prime lens

Standard lens, often called a 50mm lens, with no zoom but captures exactly what is seen through the viewfinder. Versatile for outdoor, landscape and portraits.


Telephoto lens

Longer focal length and includes a smaller portion of the view visible within the frame, making that portion seem closer and bigger.


Macro lens

These are used for extreme close-ups such as photographing very small objects. Many also zoom out to infinity, however, making them good all-purpose lenses that, once adjusted, can photograph any scene.


Special purpose lenses

These are used for tricks with photography. Examples include soft-focus lenses and fish-eye lenses


Autofocus lenses

Most modern lenses for SLRs now include an autofocus option. This can be turned off when photographers want manually to focus differently from the autofocus suggestion, for example to deliberately blur an image


F-stops and Light

The f-stop feature on a SLR relates to the size of the aperture on the lens and the amount of light it lets in onto the film. Too much light and a picture is over-exposed, flattening and washing out colours. Too little light and a picture is under-exposed, making it dark and difficult to see detail. F-stops get bigger as the aperture becomes smaller, meaning that the higher an f-stop, the less light will be allowed through the aperture. Understanding f-stops is key to taking great photographs in all light conditions. F-stops also relate to shutter speed. The lowest f-stop lets in the most light and the longest shutter speed exposes the film for the greatest amount of time. This means that this combination of f-stop and shutter speed would be used for night-time photographs, when the maximum amount of light has to be let in through the aperture onto the film. Good photography books will explain features such as f-stops in greater detail.


There are many camera accessories that can help
a photographer produce high-quality images. Camera cleaning kits should be an integral part of any photographer’s set up and used regularly. Keeping equipment in optimal condition and handling film delicately are of paramount importance in helping a photographer create professional images on film. As well as this, access to a range of lenses, as discussed, is also important. Other accessories to be considered include tripods,which are of especial help when filming at low f-stops and/or long exposures, and
hand-held or bolt-on flash guns for additional light when shooting indoors or in low light levels.

Types of Film

Camera film, along with the quality of a lens, is the other most important part of taking pictures like a professional on a film SLR camera. In simple terms, films are fast or slow. Fast film is best suited for action shots, shooting movement, or shooting in low-light conditions. Images on fast films can appear grainy. Slow film requires a longer exposure, meaning it is suited to shooting static images, portraits, landscapes, and skies. It has a finer grain and deeper colours than fast film, but cannot shoot movement, which becomes blurred.
Photographers should remember that once a film is installed, it cannot be changed until the whole roll has been used. Great care should be taken in choosing a film speed and, if in doubt, speeds in the middle are always advisable for taking general, all-purpose photographs. Most ISO speeds of film come in both colour and black-and-white. Whilst colour films are by far the most popular, black-and-white images can induce strong emotions in viewers. They can be particularly effective at weddings, when used to photograph babies or children, or for use with particularly moody land- or seascapes.



Slow film, requires long exposure, suited to static objects such as landscapes which can be filmed over a long period. Finer grain and better colour rendition than fast films.



Regular consumer film, suited to good lighting conditions.



Regular consumer film, well-lit subjects required.



Regular consumer film, good all-round and indoor film.



Regular consumer film, good all-round and outdoor or lower light film. Good for photographing general movement and/or sports.



Fast film suited to low-light or high speed subjects. Does not have the breadth or depth of slow film but captures movement and action with strong clarity.


Other film types are available, but these become increasingly difficult to manage are generally only employed by professionals. A strong familiarity with the above films is recommended before moving the other very slow or fast films that are available.

Film Development

For the truly immersive photography experience, photographers can choose to develop
their own prints at home. Space and equipment are needed and development requires the use of some caustic chemicals, so care should always be taken. Home development can be a technical process and photographers ought to be aware that it might not go according to plan first time, so it might be best to shoot a roll of film of no importance and develop that first. It is always important to follow instructions to the letter when developing film and use the correct equipment and consumables for optimal results.

Photographic Presentation

Appropriate presentation of photographs can be as important and inspiring as the subject in the picture. Photo frames should always complement the image and never overwhelm it. A picture containing a lot of white may not always benefit from a white or silver frame, for example. Instead, it could just make the whites of the photograph look dirty and detract from the power of the image. Ornate frames can detract from the content of the photograph, so experiment with several options to find the best match. These days, frames of any sort can appear out of fashion, so photographers should spend time making their decision.


Film photography may be becoming less popular, but it is far from becoming obsolete. With the right equipment and knowledge, photographers can still create stunning photographs using film technology. Practice is one of the surest ways a photographer can enhance their skills, as well as research into the film and camera combination which were used for some iconic pictures – Marilyn Monroe's flared white dress, for example, or Mohammed Ali's knock-out punch photographed from above. Experimentation with a similar combination can then be undertaken for a photographer to discover what works best for their chosen subject matter.

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