“Do a project, it will be fun!” they say… whoever they are. Every year in January the idea of “doing a project” idea comes up for most photographers and every year I’ve started one… Every year until 2018, I had never finished a single one.

So what was different with 2018?

I’m not entirely sure, maybe because it was done on film. Yes, a complete 52-roll project! I still can’t believe I actually accomplished it, but the one thing I took away from the project was how much I grew as a photographer. I learned how to develop and scan my own work, I learned that taking a camera with me everywhere was not hard to do and I learned to take the shot even if it’s not magazine- or gallery-quality material (snapshots can be family treasures, too).

Maybe the learning kept me going and the personal growth kept my project alive?

Ok, so now what? What is next? Maybe I could do a project with friends? That is a problem because nobody I know in real life shoots film in my area (rural Alberta, Canada). However, I can find lots of like-minded people online. With today’s technology, the miles bring us closer and the distance isn’t an issue. Look at the growing online film community, it’s pretty amazing.

When January rolled around I put the idea out in the Negative Positives Facebook group hoping that a couple of people would want to join me in shooting a project I’d had in mind for some time: The Frugal Film Project. Never in my wildest dreams would have I guessed that we would end up a group of sixteen around the globe.

We started out as acquaintances in January, it is now April and we have become friends, sharing things from how our days have gone, the weather and of course, other photo gear and processes we are interested in trying or learning. It has also provided a place to talk about our photography… It is a small but diverse group, with members spanning the globe, different gear, film stocks and processing, even some alternative processing. They are an insanely talented group of people! So what is this mysterious project and how was it born?

The Frugal Film Project is aimed at every photographer, from those on a budget, those just starting out shooting film and those who just want a challenge. I once read something David DuChemin wrote and the quote stuck with me, actually it made me think a lot: “It is not about the gear.” and “Shoot an old Pentax Spotmatic and one B&W film for a year and see what happens.”

Now I know David shoots digital these days… but that quote really hit me. He was entirely correct, it is not the camera that makes the image, it is the photographer. The camera is just the tool they use to do so. Those thoughts were a little bit of the inspiration for the Frugal Film Project, the other was I have quite a few “cheap” film cameras and some of them totally blow me away with the quality of the images they produce.

Also when I was learning to develop film I was using the cheapest Kodak 200 film I could get and found that in reality. it was a very good film. Yes, an expensive top-notch camera is nice to use, but a cheap one can also produce creative and very good work as well. So what if we set a budget and shoot that cheap gear for a year? What might we accomplish?

If a solo 52 roll project taught me so much, imagine what a project with sixteen photographers can do? What a mind blowing thought!

The “rules” for the Frugal Film Project

  • Your camera, lens and any other gear you want to use must cost under $50, including tax or shipping.
  • Your film of choice must be locally sourced, the cheapest you can find. In the event you can’t buy film locally you may buy online.
  • You must use that film for the entire project.
  • You must shoot one roll per month and the deadline for submission is the 14th of the following month.

These are the only rules!

Keeping things simple and easy is normally the best policy, plus it allows us all to be more creative and explore the limitations of our chosen gear.  Next thing to decide is how many times per week and how many photos to share. Since some of us are shooting medium format in very old cameras… we decided six images were a good number and three times a week one member of the project’s photos would be shared.

Since I already had the blog on my website that was soon going to empty after my 52 roll was complete, there was a venue ready and waiting for the project!

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What some of FFP members have to say

Matt Jones says, “it’s quite interesting being restricted to one cheap camera and one cheap film, it really forces me to stretch my creative muscles in new directions.”

Brian Havican says, “Digital is for work… film is for my personal wellbeing.”

Sam Warner says, “We all have multiple cameras, and we usually choose which camera to shoot based on what we’re shooting. But what if you had to use your skills as a photographer to shoot all subject in all conditions using only one camera? Could you do it? That’s the challenge I enjoy most about this project. I plan to use my camera of choice for many different kinds of photography including street photography, portraits, landscapes, architecture, long exposure, etc. I’m curious to see just how versatile this camera can be.”

Marius-Andrei Voicu says, “Photography helps me release any stress that I may have. It’s like therapy.”

Monette Cruz says, “I work in an oncology unit, as much as I loved working there. It can be a physically and emotionally challenging place to work in. Photography has always been my escape.”

Graham Binns says, “I am going to enjoy pushing my skills as a photographer to try get many different kinds of photographs from a camera that only has a 2 shutter speeds and a bulb mode. The fact that I have to submit 6 shots per month when I only get eight 6×9 shots per roll is a nice added challenge to push my skills. I am also going to home develop and to say at the point when the project started I had been shooting film less than 12 months is another added challenge but so very enjoyable. I hope I don’t mess up and have a blank roll one month! I am going to experiment with trying to tape on some sort of filters the lens, which may end up being sunglasses to try and get a few more stops, should be fun! End of the day I enjoy it so much, I love it.”

William Lehman says, “I have been the family snapshot guy my whole life. This project is my first real attempt at being ‘serious’ about doing something beyond that. Learning how to use a camera to create a portrait, tell a story or express an emotion pushes me to pay closer attention to the people and the world around me. And really, I could not have asked for a better group of people to try that with.”

Jason Konopinski says, “Photography has become a way for me to tap into what’s going on in the world around me and tease out stories of people and places. Falling through the lens allows me to be in deep connection and conversation with myself, my abilities to create, and my communities.”

For my part, I have found this project to be somewhat freeing… I don’t need to worry about choosing a film, because I have restricted myself to just one film stock. Camera? No problem… there is one choice, it has limitations… but with some thought, I can make it work anywhere. Lens… only one choice, the nifty fifty, easy. Too dark… pop on the Speedlight.

That’s my entire kit; it is more about how to shoot what I want than what I’m shooting it with.

Also, the interaction with the group members is priceless. So stay tuned for an update mid-project! Official membership in our project is closed right now, however, if you feel you want to participate, we have thought of that too! You will need to follow the same rules mentioned above and have an Instagram account. Just hashtag your images with #frugalfilmproject and you could be featured on our page.

You can find the Frugal Film Project website here and see just what comes out of these cheap cameras and film and also find out more about the members of the project.

~ Sherry

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About the author

Sherry Christensen

I'm a photographer and farmer in western Canada and can be found on a rural road with a camera on the dash of a dirty old farm truck. Will shoot pretty much any camera at least once and loves experimenting with new film stock. Enjoy the adventure found everyday.

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  1. OK, I thought that I didn’t have any cameras that would qualify price wise, but I do. My Choices: A Kodak Duaflex and an Old Canonet (that I bought from a Goodwill store). Both cameras work and I think I can manage to stat posting in June. Which camera would you choose. Suggestions appreciated.

    1. that is a great question! I guess it depends on which film format you want to work with, 120mm or 35mm. You would also need to know your shooting style, are you a shoot on the go type of photographer or one who plans their shots? Both cameras would be fun to use… my suggestion would be, run a roll through each and pick the one you think would be the best for you!

    1. its actually a great way challenge yourself and learn how each emulsion performs. You also just concentrate on your subject instead of what you are putting in your camera!

  2. Nice idea. I did one film but a different camera, decade-by-decade from 1890s to 2000s last year which was fun. But your project makes me realize that the most fun I had was in my early vintage collecting days, when I would take the crappiest bakelite camera I could find and simply try and make it produce something useful.