When I set out to explore the world of film photography I was immediately infatuated with the process. The mechanical clicks as the film advanced in the camera. The sharp snap of the shutter firing. The process of loading and unloading the film. The anxious wait after sending away my precious photos, hoping that there would be no issues and my photos would come back as glorious as I had pictured them in my head.

What did not happen, was immediate, perfect Instagram success. In fact, I had quite the opposite experience.

I’ve been a Nikon user for the entirety of my photo career (all 7 years of it so far), and very much started in digital. I went through the same process I find many of my fellow peers do, starting with an entry-level body and a kit lens, and very quickly developing GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). So, when I finally decided it was time to explore the seemingly shallow world of film photography (after all, what could film be but digital with extra work?), I had a wonderful range of lenses at my disposal. I picked up a body off eBay (for less than $40! What a steal!), and immediately attached one of my lenses. Grabbing the first roll of film I could find in my local camera shop (a 24 exposure roll of ILFORD HP5 PLUS).

The problem, as I would not be able to realize until after my first two rolls of film came back, was that modern digital lenses do not quite work with film bodies despite the modern lenses fitting perfectly onto the bodies. As anyone who is familiar with film will know, the older film bodies did not “talk” to the lenses as more modern ones do.

To set aperture, you must acquire a lens with an adjustable aperture ring. This is a crucial piece of information I was missing. I assumed (based on admittedly half skimmed Reddit posts and one call with an uninformed colleague) that the lens rested as a base aperture, which is in a way correct. But I also assumed that the light meter inside my new film camera both worked well and could read that aperture. I now know that the light meter tends to overexpose a little.

With this misinformation, I set out to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with some of my peers and began shooting what I felt were some of the best photos I had ever shot. Moody landscapes, sculptures from unusual angles, portraits of my friends I was so, so, immensely proud of. The excitement of shooting my first roll of film and sending it away filled my lungs and sat there for the week or so it took to send away, develop print and send back. I was so excited and anxious I could not wait to return home, and instead opened the envelope right in the middle of a plaza.

To my dismay, I discovered what many readers probably have already put together based on the images above. A blank strip of film. Those photos that had filled my dreams and hopes are not here. Instead, what you see here is my second roll.

I also sent a second roll of lower shutter speed photos I took at my place of work, to both shot for the sake of shooting and to experiment with low light conditions. Most of the photos from that roll also did not come through, and the ones that did, needed to be greatly enhanced in post-processing.

Instead of rolling hills and tactful sculptures being the start of my film career, I got these blurry images of water bottles and side streets. It would have been quite easy to give up here, and in fact, I took the rest of the day to mope about my stupidity. But I dusted myself off and purchased a proper lens and have not stopped shooting since.

~ Dylan

Want to share your first roll or sheet of film?

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About the author

Avatar - Dylan Scillia

Dylan Scillia

Dylan is an artist and teacher always looking to both learn and teach. He's found film to be a wonderfully liberating art form, and loves the casual and intimate nature of shooting it. Recently earning his Master's from the University of Chester, he is currently...

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  1. There’s more education in making errors than getting it right all the time. I love shooting film with Box Brownies etc. No shutter speed options on mine, but results are quite good, and it’s nothing like professional photography medium. Every time I take the film out of the developer tank there is always that moment of dredd that I overdone one of the processes (wrong aperture, wrong ISO etc, chemical, timing) but it’s the best feeling when you hold it up to light and see how they all turned out. Perfect or not.

    After a few years you learn to slow down and check all your settings on site, frame your image, you also need to look up at the cloudy sky and make judgement on the day light to your ISO… don’t always get it right, and sometimes you just cannot no matter how much you try – so you just take experiment shots… Posted some pics here.


  2. Great story – film can be full of surprises! Do you feel like an explorer, testing new combinations of gear and film? Is such a bummer when the film comes back with a problem, but, then, that increases the tension and thrill for later rolls, because you know bad things CAN happen. I recently tried developing 3 rolls of HP5 in a four-roll tank, adjusting the chemical quantity accordingly. FAIL! Well, partly. The top roll has these funky soap-suds patterns on all the negatives. Not what I expected, but it gives an interesting “Civil War”/collodion look some of the shots. I’ve been developing my own film for years and still get “surprises ” like that.. Good on you for rolling with it, working the problem, and shooting more film. Your attitude is inspiring!

    1. I think every time I shoot film I’m a bit of an explorer. You never know quite what you’re going to get, that’s part of the fun! And I love the imperfections. All the digital work out there is so overly clean and polished and edited, theres no pressure for film work to be like that!