How to Put Film in a Camera
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read

In the modern world of digital photography, many consider old-school film cameras a dying breed. Those who still use these old school film cameras, however, can attest that there is just nothing else quite like a photo taken on physical film. Shooting on film gives you consistent, high-quality images that automatically have that classic and subtle grain that digital photos can still only vaguely recreate.

Learning to shoot on a 35mm film camera is a very different experience from taking photos with a digital camera. Besides needing to initially load the film into the back of your camera, you’ll also need to manually advance the film after taking each exposure and then wind the film back into the roll when you are done shooting, before opening the back of the camera again.

Before we get started, you will need to learn how to properly load your 35mm camera. Loading 35mm film for the first time can be a daunting task. If loaded incorrectly, you run the risk of ruining your entire film roll. Fear not; this step-by-step guide is here to help!

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Open The Back of Your Camera

Back of Your Camera

First, you will want to open the back of the camera. On most of these 35mm analog cameras, you will find a rewind knob that will open the camera back. Lift the rewind knob until you hear or feel a click. At this point, the back of the camera should spring open.

(Some cameras may have an open switch to open up the back of the camera instead of the classic rewind knob.)

Prepare and Load The Film into Your Camera

Remove your film from the canister. New film rolls will have a bit of film sticking out of the side. This is called the leader, and this is the piece of film you will use to get the roll started in your camera. Place the film inside the chamber, which could be on the left or right-hand side of your camera. Make sure the leader is coming out on the opposite side of the chamber.

Now that you have your film correctly positioned, pull or push your rewind knob to secure the film roll on the left side.

Secure and Advance the Film

Securing and advancing the film is the most crucial part of this process. The leader needs to be pulled to the right side of the camera and properly secured to ensure that the camera will wind your film through each time you take a photo.

First, you may want to wash your hands. You will be trying not to touch the face of the film at all, but in case that happens, the less sweat or oil on your hands, the better. Once your hands are clean and dry, pull the leader into the right side of the camera into what is called the take-up spool. To do this, hold the film firmly but gently at the top and bottom, taking care not to fully touch the film face.

Insert the narrow end of the leader into the take-up spool. You may need to stabilize the film with your left hand, as your right hand is inserting the leader into the take-up spool to ensure a smooth advance.

Holding the leader in place, line up the holes on the edges of the film with the prongs on the spindle of the take-up spool. While gently holding the film in place, use your right thumb to advance the lever on the top right of your camera. This should lock the film into place and ensure that you can smoothly advance the film while shooting later.

Make Sure Your Film is In Place

Film is In Place

Check to make sure that the prongs on the take-up spool are lined up properly and will catch the film to advance after each photo you take. You may use the rewind knob to reel back any slack in the film. This will also tighten the film and hold it into the camera so that you can easily close the back.

Once this is done, advance the film slightly. To get the roll started and register the correct number of photos taken on your analog camera, you will advance the film as if you have taken three photos. (These photos will not actually be taken, and this is simply to move the leader of the film out of the way to expose the actual film for picture-taking.)

The rewind knob should turn every time you advance the film. If this is not happening, you may have left too much slack in the leader, or the film has not properly caught the prong on the take-up spool. There should be a window on the top of the camera to let you know how many photos you have taken, which will advance as the film is advanced.

Use the Right Film

One of the many factors to consider when shooting with an analog camera is selecting the appropriate film number for the lighting conditions you are shooting in. Similar to a digital camera’s ISO, the film ISO refers to how light-sensitive the film is. Whereas with a DSLR you can easily change the ISO in the digital settings. With film cameras your ISO, or light sensitivity, is determined by the film itself.

As a general rule, if you are shooting in dark conditions, use a faster film speed, such as 800 ISO film. If you are shooting outside or in daylight, you can use a lower ISO film speed, such as 400 or even 200. Using the wrong film speed can result in over or under-exposed photos.

Select the Correct Settings

After you have selected the appropriate film for your photoshoot, you will need to adjust the camera itself for this film speed. Most analog SLR film cameras will have a dial with numbers such as 200, 400, and 800 on the left side of the camera, just below the release, which opens the back of your camera. This is the film ISO. Adjust the numbers so that they match the film speed.

Do You Need a Dark Room to Load Film into a Camera?

You do not need to learn to do this in the dark. This is what the leader is for! You can load film in the light because only the leader should be exposed. Try to avoid loading your film in bright daylight if possible, but don’t stress too much about loading your film in a well-lit room. Just be sure that once the film is advanced, the back of the camera stays shut.

Rewinding and Removing the Film

After you have shot through your whole roll of film, you will then need to rewind it back into the canister. First, press the film release button on the bottom of the camera. It should be a tiny button just below where the film canister is inside the camera. Directly above this, on the top of the camera, is your rewind crank. Fold the crank out and turn it in the direction of the arrow. You should feel some resistance as the film is being manually spun back into the film canister. Continue rewinding until you feel the film release. Now it is safe to open the back of the camera and remove your film to be developed!

Rewinding and Removing

Take your time with each step in this process. With digital photography, mistakes are easily fixed and (usually) cost nothing. With film photography, one mistake can cost you your whole roll of film. That being said, film photography is a great way to hone and sharpen your skills ( as a photographer. Visit the photography section on Daisie to learn tips and tricks from a global community of photographers.