Introduction

Whether you’re stuck indoors due to the global pandemic, or other reasons, there are plenty of ways to keep busy and to keep your photographic senses sharp. We’ve already covered some general photographic ideas for isolation as well as ways working photographers can keep busy. But what about old school analog shooters?

What follows are nine ways film photography lovers can stay occupied and have fun, all from the comfort and safety of your own home. Activities range from building your own cameras, to making your own strange film stocks, to learning to develop and print at home. Let’s dive in!

Build a pinhole camera

Building a pinhole camera is a classic Photo 101 exercise, but one that truly conveys the beauty and simplicity of “painting with light.” The Internet is filled with tutorials about making pinhole cameras from everyday materials. The most basic generally employ an aluminum can as one’s light-proof container, a piece of photo paper as the light-sensitive material and a small hole in the can as the aperture and lens. A simple piece of gaffer’s tape can function as the shutter, controlling when exposures begin and end.

For a more refined pinhole experience, many brands offer build-your-own kits ranging in their sophistication and complexity. Also a brand called Lensless offers a very cool line of wooden pinholes with different focal lengths, image size formats and made of different wood types. We’re also big fans of the Solarcan (above), a single-use pinhole meant to capture multi-day exposures of the sun’s path in you guessed it, a large can.

Learn to develop B&W film at home

Whether you’re new to developing B&W film or you have some experience, home developing is a fun, easy and reasonably inexpensive hobby. It’s also the kind of activity that’ll likely help you better appreciate the magic of photography and the nuances of chemistry.

We’ve put together a complete guide with everything you need to known to get started, including which supplies and chemicals to buy, how to clean up, how to digitize your negatives and other best practices. Read it below:

Developing film at home: everything you need to know to get started

Set up a home darkroom and make some prints

While we’re on the subject of developing B&W at home, why not make some B&W prints with your freshly-dried negatives while you’re at it? Home printing is almost certainly easier and cheaper than you might think.

Our pals over at the analog blog 35mmc.com have put together a handy guide to home printing on a shoestring budget. They even address concerns like: printing in a small space (such as an apartment) and how to best source equipment on the used market. You’ll also find some very handy tips for improvising darkroom gear with ordinary household items.

Read: How to build a darkroom for cheap

Digitize old negatives / experiment with sandwiching negatives

Whether you’re a former film shooter sitting on a box of aging negatives, or a modern analog maverick with current work in need of digitizing, scanning film can be a very rewarding, though often time-consuming activity. It can also be approached in many different ways. One of the most popular methods involves digitizing using a flatbed scanner and film holders. Epson’s V600 series is one you’ll hear mentioned often by film shooters because it is both affordable and fairly easy to use.

For quicker results, you can try photographing negatives with a macro lens on a digital camera with a diffused light source behind the negative; there are quite a few solutions out there for how to best mount/flatten one’s negatives when using this method. We personally think Nikon’s ES-2 film adapter works fairly well, and we’re also fans of the Pixl-later.

Another way to breathe some fresh creative life into old (or new) negatives is to experiment with sandwiching them together when digitizing. This can lead to some fun and funky results.

Turn your house/apartment into a camera

Photo: Brendan Barry

Sure, can-sized pinhole cameras are fun, but why not turn an entire room in your house or apartment into a giant pinhole? Photographer Brendan Barry is no stranger to turning odd things into picture-making machines and in the tutorial below, he’ll show you how to create a larger than life camera and capture the results, all without leaving the confines of your home.

Considerations like which room to use, what kind of lens to employ and how to create a positive print are all covered at length. We just hope you’ve got some extra cardboard lying around to cover your windows!

Build a 35mm film camera

So we’ve covered making pinhole cameras both from household items as well as turning your house itself into a camera. Both these methods look to capture an image on light sensitive paper. But what if you want to build a camera that can capture images on film instead?

Given the complexities of any working film camera, there aren’t many useful tutorials out there for how to build one from scratch. But worry not. For a hands-on experience that’ll teach you the basic mechanical functions of how a film camera works, look no further than Lomography’s Konstruktor Camera. This affordable kit will take a few hours to put together and the final product is a fully-functional 35mm camera that’s actually pretty fun to shoot. There’s even a flash-compatible model.

For more on the Konstruktor, including samples, check out this review on Popphoto.com from several years back.

Hunt for a new analog companion

Gear acquisition syndrome is real and we in no way are trying to encourage those with enough cameras to add to their collection. However, if you are genuinely in the market for a new analog friend, we’ve put together two guides listing 20 of our absolute favorite film cameras.

These two lists include both medium format and 35mm cameras. It’s also worth noting we’ve tried our best to only recommend cameras that have a reputation for reliability and that are fairly priced on the secondhand market. So get ready to hunt through Ebay, here are the 20 best film cameras worth buying right now…

Analog gems part 1: 10 excellent, affordable film cameras

Analog gems part 2: 10 additional film cameras worth buying right now

Track down some unusual film or make your own

It may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but in many respects, we’re living in a golden age of film experimentation. For starters, the second-hand market is awash with tons of expired film to shoot with, often for very cheap. And brands like Lomography offer an impressive catalog of strange film stocks (we personally enjoy the Lomochrom Purple). There are also plenty of smaller, boutique brands making fun and whacky films.

For those of you already with a freezer full of film, try soaking a few rolls in everyday household liquids. For instance, the image above was from a roll soaked in pickle juice. Just be sure to give said roll a thorough soaking in fresh water and dry it before running it through your camera (and keep those processes light-tight). It’s also a good idea to give your film handler a heads-up about how you’ve treated the film, or better yet, develop the rolls yourself.

Give your well-used gear some TLC

It’s important to keep your analog cameras in tip-top working order. And while there are many repairs we would never suggest you try, like anything involving wiring or disassembly, there are plenty of smaller repairs and bits of maintenance you can do to increase the life span of your cameras.

One of the simplest repairs involves replacing the light seals and bits of foam inside the film door. You can pick up a generic pack of light seals / foam off places like Ebay for very little money. Another simple repair involves using rubbing alcohol to de-corrode electronic contacts and/or remove stuck-on grime from the camera body. And for those who are a bit more confident, cleaning or replacing a film SLR’s focus screen can go a long way towards improving usability.

The wrap

And there you have it, nine fun ways analog shooters can continue to keep busy in these strange times. Think of these activities as forms of self care, because for many of us, photography and photography-adjacent projects help us tap into a sense of calm and peace. Sure, shooting film won’t end the global pandemic. But at least nurturing your love of analog can help distract you while you remain safely at home.

Got any more fun film photography ideas for isolation? Drop them in the comments below and we’ll consider adding them to this list.

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