My first roll was quite recent, in February of 2020, which feels like years ago now. At the time, I spent a lot of my time wandering in London – I’d regularly pick a spot I want to go see, but without any real activity or goal in mind, I’d wander while listening to a podcast or music for hours.
While I’ve always been interested in photography, an expensive and unfruitful toe-dip into the world of DSLR’s in my early 20’s put me off pursuing anything further, and phone cameras have progressed to the point that its not worth lugging around a separate camera, right?
I was becoming more and more frustrated with the limitations of my phone — stunning image quality and sharpness just aren’t satisfying when the depth of field is so restrictive that anything across the street is borderline impossible to frame properly.
After a bit of research, and some late-night searching on Etsy, I found a Praktica LTL3 with an 80-200mm lens for ₤40, and snatched it up. All I needed was some film.
After some testing and playing around with the camera, I put it in my bag and took it to work with me the next day — I was going to meet some friends in Covent Garden for a drink after work, and figured I’d be able to pick some film up along the way, load it up and show it off over a pint.
After a frustrating walk down Oxford St, where it turns out no-one stocks any 35mm film, I gave up and went to the pub, where, after more than a couple of beers, my bag, with camera enclosed, was stolen, whisked away in the night by an enterprising individual. While everyone did as much as they could to help, my bag, camera, and all of the excitement of the past day were gone.
Not to be discouraged, after a few days of feeling sorry for myself, and as I came to the conclusion that I was never going to see my bag again, I got back on Etsy and started searching for a rebound camera. I found it, in the form of another Praktica — a slightly older LTL, but with a big 200mm lens, which I thought would match up to the one I’d lost (it did not).
I came home from work a few days late to find the little slip under my door which meant I’d have to take a brisk walk down to the post office if I wanted to get my hands on my new toy without waiting until the weekend. Determined not to repeat my previous mistake, I slipped into my local Snappy Snaps, mere moments before they locked the doors, and breathlessly picked out a roll of film — my first roll of Kodak Gold 200.
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I left, now powerwalking to make it to the post office before closing, and picked up the little brown box, hugging it close to my chest, and tapping my pocket compulsively to make sure that the hard come by film was still there too as I practically ran home in excitement. I unpacked the camera, attached the lens, loaded up the film… and realised the lens wasn’t a zoom like the old one and was in fact a 200mm prime. Luckily, a quick excursion to Camden Market turned up another 80-200mm, and for only 5 quid.
I was finally in action, and started shooting around home. Unfortunately, I generally only had time to shoot at night, while the days were starting to get longer after winter, I didn’t have much time outside of work to wander and shoot. My biggest lesson from my first roll was to trust the light meter. Especially shooting 200 iso at night, I lost a lot of my photos to the darkness, and a few were underexposed to the point of not even being able to identify what I was trying to shoot.
A spur-of-the-moment bid on eBay scored me a 28mm prime lens as well, and I had a new deadline – a trip to Japan which I desperately wanted to take the camera on. I didn’t want to take a totally untested camera with me and burn through film without knowing if I would get anything back, so I rushed through the last few frames, and once again snuck into my local Snappy Snaps at closing time to get them in for development the night before I was due to leave.
I bought some more rolls of film, packed my camera into my bag, and hopped on a plane, still not knowing whether anything on the roll would come out. As I landed in Helsinki –- my layover on the way to Japan –- and turned off airplane mode, my phone binged, and the files were there in all their underexposed glory. While I was slightly disappointed at losing almost half the roll to darkness, I was also extremely happy that I had rushed my film in the night before; this was exactly the lesson I wanted to learn before arriving in one of my favourite and most photogenic places in the world, not after
A couple of the frames are still right up there as favourites in my catalogue –- the Asos building lit up at night and a luckily timed Sunset over Oxford Circus are shots that I think actually benefitted from being shot a bit dark. I don’t think the thrill of seeing those couple of perfect shots shine through in a roll will ever go away, and I look forward to continuing to chase it.
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