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Street Photography with Film – What I Learned in 1 Year 8 Months

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

A guest blog by @Amirul Johari

Introduction to Film

I remembered the first time I bought a 35mm film camera, the end of 2018: a used beginner film camera, Konica MT100. One day, while walking inside "Pasar Karat," in the hidden department of Petaling Street Market, my eye caught in a pile of broken electronic, depleted device battery. I took it, bargain a little bit, paid around rm15. Then the film camera sat in my wooden bookcase for a long time.

Then I try to shoot it back at the beginning of February 2019, after mesmerized by a photo taken by my fellow street photography friend, using point and shoot film branded Pentax, with consumer film, Kodak Colorplus 200. The friend was Che Wan Zuharuddin, my mentor for street photography and the most underrated photographer in Malaysia.

They're a mixed feeling on my first roll. I try to shoot a black and white film, D8 PAN 100. There was a double exposure, which gives me a good impression of how accidental photography makes one kind of art. Konica MT100, at least for my copy, have a light leak that I discovered more when shooting the color film later on.

© Amirul Johari Accidentally double exposure| BB, KL 2019 Konica MT100 |D8 PAN 100

Just Shoot! Don't Think! Point and Shoot (P&S) – Gateway Drug to Film

On the second and third roll of film, I notice a light leak spreading throughout my photo. I made a few passable frames, and only one I adored after some basic editing (cropping, contrast, highlight, brightness adjustment)

I never constrained myself from editing my film as long the audience could catch a sight of what I wanted to show. The light leak can be artistic, depending on how you implement it in your photo. I see great artwork using the first frame (estimated quarter part of the frame cover with a light leak) done beautifully.

© Amirul Johari An accidentally light leak | Konica MT100| Kodak Colorplus 200

When shooting the photo above, after waiting for to finish devscan, I was quite surprised by the result. Never I know that the camera has light-leak, but somehow – accidentally photograph occurs- The kid mural connecting with the light. Yes, exciting street photography all about connecting.

Still, the desired to create a "clean" film photo such an evocative. The search for a perfect P&S film camera continues. I get myself an Olympus Mju II, an overrated – overpriced a little piece of a plastic compact. Then, I have tested many P&S film camera from Canon Prima, Konica Big Mini, and Pentax Espio. For me, they are made equally for consumer use, but if you creative enough to utilize the essential function of the camera, you may create a masterpiece out of it.

As a tool to capture the street's facets, I have to admit the most of point and shoot check out my shooting needs. Compact and small, fast auto-focus and a bright, flashy flash.

© Amirul Johari KL, 2019 | Olympus Mju II | Kodak Colorplus 200

Kuala Lumpur is blessed with tropical weather, and the weather like a women's emotion, full of uncertainty. Morning is scorching hot, then in evening raining cat and dogs. I love capturing the chaos of the city's citizens running away from the rain. With the use of P&S Shoot Film, I can quickly shoot without any complicated setup. I always find that fascinating,

The flash on the P&S Film Camera can give a color popup and "light-up" the subject. For me, this is important for pinpointing your photo's main attraction to audiences, especially in a night – as the meaning of photography itself – capturing light, not limited to natural light only.

© Amirul Johari Rain in KL, 2019 | Konica BM302| Fuji Superia 400

Out of nowhere, the ridiculous spontaneous mind of mine loads one film inside a P&S Film Camera, holds an umbrella and shoots away! I have selected a few frames, but this is the one that I love the most. The subject, staring and the rushing in the rain gives a different feeling to the photograph.

© Amirul Johari Bukit Bintang, 2019 | Olympus Mju I | Kodak Gold 200

Sometimes if we look closely enough, everything in the street connecting each other. Similarity or juxtaposition is there ready to be shoot

By referring to a photographer who used film as their medium, e.g., Daniel Arnold, I get to have this visualization in my mind. At least for me, it's important to have mental imagery before go out and shoot. Subconsciously, after endless of scrolling Instagram for inspiration – important to follow photographer that influence you the most, all those images will live rent-free in my head.

© Amirul Johari Mersing, Johor 2019 | Nikon L35AF |D8 PAN 100

I try to bring my film camera anywhere, even on holiday. If you have any opportunity to make extraordinary photography, why not? The photo above I took while in a boat, it's wobbly. A P&S Film Camera a great tool to capture what I saw and happened in a glimpse. I like to capture a different perspective; in this case, the concept of "forced perspective" is applied.

P&S Film Camera an enabler for me to be at that particular moment. The best thing about its compactness, and I can bring it every day and anywhere. The only problem, it's more of trial and error, and the automatic settings won't do you justice sometimes. Plus, yeah, electronic stuff does have end-of-life. I have many broken P&S film camera that kaput hidden away in my storage – To sayang to throw out!

© Amirul Johari Selayang, Selangor 2019 | Olympus Mju II |Kodak Colorplus 200

Human do moves in pattern and synchronized in a split second. Look longer at one scene, and the environment progresses second by second, time by time. Daily life always moving at its pace, so will your camera catch-up when you hit the shutter?

Go into all manual mode / hard mode – SLR and Rangefinder.

After endless try and shoot with P&S Film Camera, the best is to up one the level. In my experience, street photography already a strenuous (but doable) genre to shoot; imagine going for manual and with film – you unable to see the outcome straight-out-the camera.

So how to shoot with all manual settings street photography with the film? Most important is understanding exposure. It's good to learn exposure triangle, zone focusing, and sunny 16 rules. All the information is widely available throughout the internet. Having a lightmeter, physically or by your smartphone apps, sure helps along the way. Then, practice and do shoot a lot.

The first SLR camera that I owned was Nikon F2 coupled with Nikkor 35mm F2.8. The camera was extraordinary well made all-mechanical SLR, and so freaking bulk and heavy!

Using an SLR nor Rangefinder Film Camera, you are not invisible in the street, with that bulky camera hangout around your neck. P&S Shoot Film Camera can be a ninja, a discreet shooter, and people won't care too much for "toy-camera." Nevertheless, that bulky, heavy piece of metal sometimes can become a conversation to a stranger. People do recognize the "old camera." The talk eases the process of street photography in public spaces or cultural events.

© Amirul Johari Selayang, Selangor 2019 | Nikon F2 35mm f2 | Kodak Colorplus 200

With SLR Film Camera, once you get the hang of it, all the manual settings become quick, and you need to compose through your viewfinder and hit the shutter and the right moment. Plus, your image output will be far better.

© Amirul Johari Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2019, Ampang | Olympus OM1n 50mm f1.8 | Kodak Eastman 5219

The setting for SLR Film Camera became a more straightforward task from time to time. You'll know what shutter speed, aperture to use, then left with focusing. Zone-focusing helps to get a sharp tack photo with repeating adjusting focus. Then, most vital, how you communicate with the subject – without realizing your hit the shutter button at the right moment. The film you used with the combination of lens sure will help give the "mood" to your photography. Still, the primary key is the content of the photography.

© Amirul Johari Thaipusam, Batu Caves 2020 Canon F1N 28mm f2.8 | Kodak Gold 200

Shooting in a crowd – especially in culture event have been a staple. There, we able to relive yearly culture event and capture the history – as time by the time everything changes. Shoot with film, give it a certain feeling to the photo – organically and close to the real event. I tend to shoot film, without saving a frame – as long the particular moment captured, my eyes will be glued at viewfinder with my index finder ready to shoot—to show my perspective to the whole wide world.

© Amirul Johari Bon Odori 2019, Shah Alam Nikon F2 35mm f2 | Kodak Ultramax 400

Backlight sure intrigued me. When it's the sunset, hit the lady in kimono, holding an umbrella passing by me, instantly I already know what to capture. Underexposed to 1 stop, or two stop help bring out the silhouette, with the backlight shines to the umbrella.

© Amirul Johari Kuantan, Pahang 2020 Leica M3 Canon Lens 50mm f1.8| Kodak Colorplus 200

Daily life somehow seems more exciting if you look closer. The light, the people, the environment hits different notes when you try to see another way. Light does feel extra special on film. With the right film, even the consumer film, you still can make a great photo out of it, as long you can "read the light."

The harsh light and shadows one of the favorite elements for me to capture. The digital camera's live view does help a lot, but with SLR or Rangefinder Film Camera? Besides the underexposed setting, reading the light, the imagination – pre visual the outcome image in your beautiful mind brings out more to your photograph.

© Amirul Johari Chowkit, KL 2020 Rollei 35s| Fuji Superia 400

A spotlight subject appears and disappears in harsh light striking to capture upon. The similar color red pops up, and the geometrical shadow complements each other. It differs from "what you see, what you get" and more to "what you imagine, what you get" – a bending reality kind of photograph – at least for me.

Shooting film manually – spark a stimulating creative outlet. I need to figure out what the best manual setting across SLR and Rangefinder Camera – yeah there a distinct difference between them.

I have more control over my outcome – with sacrificing the quality of the photography --- on what I want to show I possible way.

© Amirul Johari KL 2020 Leica M3 Hexanon 50mm F2| Kodak Ultramax 400

KL has a dull color palette that very hard to photograph compared to the other city around the world. However, with a keen observation, a bit of luck, and a set of skill, you may find something bizarre happened, ready for photography.

Last frame, but not the last roll

I never thought that I eventually to change the medium of photography - as I believe that every medium is just a tool what matter is the photography him/herself. I would say I'm in the wrong time to join the film bandwagon as the price is skyrocketed day by day.

Nonetheless, I'm glad to try and stuck with film as my primary medium now as it's pushed me creatively and to try and error endlessly without the loss of excitement. I can maintain my style of photography with adaptation through a different medium. I want to explore and experience more! As time being I happy with the choice film I used, mostly consumer film and an eclectic selection of try and error film camera.

I shoot on rangefinder film camera now, but still go back to P&S Film Camera per basis == yes, you can make a great photograph with any camera – as long you know how to utilize it.

I hope that the film photography scene flourishes and continue to make a mesmerizing artwork beyond any genre and format, not just a hype nor trend nor a fashion statement.

Amirul Johari

© Amirul Johari KL 2020 Canon P 50mm f1.8| Kodak Ultramax 400

Tt's not a waste of frame to take a selfie with a film camera, right?.


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