I love shooting film, especially on vintage range finders. While I don’t get to shoot film as much as I’d like, there is just something about it that makes me happy. Maybe it’s because shooting film forces me to slow down and think about my focus, the relationship between my aperture, shutter speed and film ASA (ISO), even the light itself.

For me, shooting film is like solving a puzzle one frame at a time.

Digital cameras have done a lot to make photography more approachable, and I’m not saying they’re bad or you shouldn’t use them.

In many cases, features like automatic ISO and fast autofocus can help you focus on getting a great composition or capture a decisive moment.

That said, I still think it’s important to learn to do it yourself before letting your camera take over for you. There is a reason why film photography is still taught in art school. Digital cameras don’t just magically figure out what settings to use, they are just solving a simple equation that anyone can do in their head in a couple of seconds.

So slow down, shoot less and think more. Photography is about telling a story, the more time you spend on a shot the better the story you’ll be able to tell.

How to get started

If you’re not sure how to get started, here are a few tried and tested tips and tricks to force yourself to get a little more creative.

1. Shoot in manual

Honestly, I think everyone’s default shooting mode should be manual. While it might be a little daunting at first, once you understand how your lens’s aperture, shutter and ISO work together to create a brighter or darker image, shooting in manual becomes a lot easier and a whole lot more predictable.

If you’re new to photography and are scared of shooting in manual, just try it. Remember, your shutter speed, aperture and ISO are all connected. Set any two of them and your meter — that scale at the bottom of your viewfinder that goes from -2 to 2 — will tell you how to set the third. Learning to shoot in manual, as cliché as it sounds, its the one sure-fire way to take better photos.

2. Shoot with primes or a set focal length

Shoot with a prime lens or set your zoom to a set focal length and stick with it. Forcing yourself to shoot at one focal length can lead to some interesting results, and more importantly, it will force you to move around and stop shooting from one spot.

Now you might be tempted to go out and pick up a fast 35mm or a nifty 50 and those are perfectly good options, but I actually recommend picking up a prime lens that closely matches your favorite focal length first.

To find out what focal length you use most, open a couple of your favorite photos — I’d start with about 15-20 — in an app like Lightroom and take a look at the metadata. If you find that you’re shooting most of your photos between 70mm and 105mm you should consider picking up an 85mm or 100mm prime.

Or if you want to switch things up, you could pick up a lens on the opposite side of the spectrum like a fast 24mm or 28mm lens. This will force you to break your habits and get a little more creative with your compositions.

3. Turn off burst mode

It might just be me, but I tend to leave my camera’s drive mode on high-speed burst all the time. This is great when I’m trying to capture a moment at an event or snag a pic of my dog at the park, but it also means digging through sometimes hundreds of photos looking for a gem.

By switching your camera to single-shot mode, you are essentially committing to timing your photos more deliberately and this means slowing down and paying closer attention to what’s going on in the scene.

4. Set your ISO and stick with it

This is one that I don’t recommend you do all the time, but if you really want to treat your digital camera more like a film one, setting your ISO and sticking with it is a great place to start.

Back in the day, unless you were rocking a medium format camera with a swappable back whatever ISO — or in the case of film ASA — film you had loaded in your camera was what you were stuck with until you finished the roll.

Set your ISO to 100, 160, 200, 400 or 800, whatever the light demands and stick with it for your shoot. Most importantly, when you find yourself in a position where there is just too much or too little light don’t give up, step back and think about how you can work around the problem. Can you move your subject in or out of the shade? Can you light them with a street lamp or the light from a neon sign? You might be surprised by the results.

5. Limit yourself to 24 or 36 frames

I’ve never been that big a fan of this one. I’m a firm believer in shooting more not less, but limiting yourself to 24 or 36 frames — the number of exposures on a roll of 35mm film — can be a good way to force yourself to think more critically.

If you do it right, most of those 24 or 36 shots should be keepers.

6. Focus manually

Modern autofocus is amazing, especially on today’s mirrorless cameras, but it’s also a crutch.

If you’re really bent on slowing down and being more deliberate with your shots, try switching into manual focus.

While it might seem inauthentic or even a little like cheating to use focus peaking or other focus aids, it’s not. Getting sharp focus in the earliest days of photography wasn’t any easier than today, so camera makers got pretty good at building focus aids into their cameras.

7. Close or tape up your LCD

If you really want a handicap and don’t want to shell out for Fujifilm’s new X-Pro 3, you can always flip your camera’s display in or cover it with masking tape.

This isn’t so much about making you more creative as it is about focusing on what’s in front of you, rather than staring at the back of your camera checking to see if your last shot was sharp.

Plus it makes you look a whole lot more confident as a photographer if you’re not chimping after every shot.

8. Switch to black and white

Now this one is a weird one, but hear me out. One of my favorite camera hacks that always seems to help me focus on my composition is to switch my camera to black and white.

Note: This one really works if you’re using a mirrorless camera or shooting using live-mode on your DSLR.

If you do try this, remember to shoot in RAW. As long as you do, all of the color data you’ve been ignoring in camera will still be there when you import it into Lightroom.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below:

  • Have you tried any of these? Did they help you take better photos?
  • How do you foster creativity?
  • What are your tips for capturing better, more creative photos

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