What can YOU learn shooting film for 6 months?

About one year ago i started -and never ended- my onecameraonelensoneyear project.

As i said, i never ended it because for many reasons (mainly for my university studies) i couldn’t continue it, so in the end it turned out to be something like one camera-one lens-SIX MONTHS project 😉

But even if it never ended, i can say loud that it helped me A LOT to grow as a photographer!


First of all, what am I talking about? Many of you will be familiar with this kind of projects, but many others maybe won’t so I will explain it in a fast and simple way.

I knew the one camera-one lens-one year project from THIS enlightening blog post (i suggest you to read it! But if you are lazy just keep reading this post); it mainly says that if you shoot with a Leica with only one lens with only one kind of film for one year, it will be your teacher and something magic will happen: YOU will become a better photographer.

Yes, YOU that are wasting your time reading this crap right here right now. 😉

Sounds crazy, sounds mystical but actually I can say that it works.

I will try to explain why.



Of course it’s not mandatory to own/buy a Leica to do this. Not everyone can/wants to buy it. You actually just need one fully mechanical film camera, better without light meter, with one lens of the focal length that you like as 28,35,40 or 50. Neither I could afford a Leica M, so i bought a very cheap Leica IIIc from 1939 that had almost the age of my grandfather. Then i needed a lens. After some researches on the internet, i ended buying a very cheap Industar 22. It’s a russian copy of the mighty Leica Elmar, so it’s a 50mm (5cm to be meticulous) lens with maximum aperture of 3.5. The film choice was really easy – i had at home about 10 rolls of Kodak Tmax400 so I decided to use this kind of film.


This is why I did it, according to the first blog post of onecameraonelensoneyear:

“Finally i did it!

After thinking a lot about it, today i decided: i start my one camera / one lens / one year / one film !


I spend a lot of time buying and selling cameras,  thinking about film versus digital, and so on, instead of going out to shoot!

From today i will try to look at the light,to  improve my composition, to learn all about my film and my camera.”

So basically i was affected by GAS (Gear-Acquisition-Syndrome that maybe YOU know) and I wasn’t totally happy with my photographic skills so I also wanted to improve my photography.

Maybe like YOU, I bet.



Starting the project was easy. I had a “new” camera – probably the best I ever owned – that felt GREAT in the hands and made me feel like a real photographer, with a new lens.

All i needed to do was going out to shoot. And with these positive feelings was really easy.

-So i forgot about every photographic gear based forum-website-shop that i used to check; i HAD to use that camera for one year and i didn’t need to buy anything else.

So f*ck the new megapixels, the bigger sensor, the creamy bokeh, the high-ISO and all the non-important things we use to care about.

This may seem obvious but this point made me focus more on photography and have more free time.

So if i was online, i didn’t check the review of the latest shiny-rockin’-amazing camera; i started to check  new/old photographers, to study their images, to buy their books.

This obviously helped me in composition.

-Shooting with a really SLOW camera will change your photographic style.

I mean, to use a screw mount Leica, you need to:

1.Read the light – with an external light meter

2.Set the appropriate f-stop and shutter speed according to your ISO.

3.Focus on your subject with the rangefinder path.

4.Fill the frame with the viewfinder.


This may sound easy, but it’s not.

If you try to photograph with this settings, unless you shoot landscapes you will miss a lot of shots. In street photography you usually don’t have the time to focus on your subject, switch with your eye to the VF and shoot – your subject will be gone.


So you start to think about hyperfocal focusing (i won’t explain it fully now).

You put a little aperture, 8 or 11 according to the light, and then put the focusing point in a way that makes everything in focus from for example 1,5 meters to infinite.

This sounds good since you won’t mind about focusing if your subject is inside that range. You become faster. You continue practicing.

But if there is little light? Usually you can’t put f11 in the afternoon with an ISO 400 film and keep a decent shutter speed.

So you start to zone focus. It’s like hyperfocal, but with bigger apertures. For example with f4 you know according to your lens barrel that you have in focus from 10meters to infinite. Or from 1 meter to 2 meters. So basically you put the aperture you can according to the best shutter speed you can have, and you focus without using the RF, just moving the lens barrel to the distance of your subject.

You gain faster shutter speeds.

You start to know your camera and your surroundings.

You also become able to calculate the correct changes between f stops and shutter speeds, like f4 1/320 is the same of f11 1/40 and stuff like this.

You become more confident in yourself, you open your mind and realize that you don’t always need all the automatism we are used to.

You start to like this kind of SLOW shooting.


-Then you go back home, you develop and scan your film.

You like some images but they are not great.

Everything looks so boring in your b&w pictures.

You don’t have the pop of a great bokeh, you don’t have catchy colors.

You just have what you put in the frame.

And not always since you start to know what parallax error is when your subject’s head are cut out of the frame.

-So the next time you go out to shoot, you focus more on composition.

Should I shoot it with a lower angle? Is this element inside the frame important? Should i go two steps backwards to include something more?

You keep asking this kind of questions while seeing through your VF, you slow down a little bit more, but your composition improves and you like the new roll you shot more than the previous one .

So you are still slow.

Then You start to anticipate: your guts starts to know what can be a interesting subject or an interesting scenario, so you set everything on your camera and just wait for him in the place you want across the frame.

Your photos becomes better and better, and you start to like your composition. Composing becomes a more natural process, you don’t ask yourself the usual questions, your brain does it in a millisecond.

-You understand that the photo you like most from your rolls have a  beautiful light. So you start to walk endlessly to find a good light. You start to look at the shadows. You understand if that light is good or not for a portrait and so on.

You start to understand the importance of exposure.

You have to expose for the shadows to get the best results.

So you consistently improve your photographic skills.

You feel good for this and for what you learned.



Those are the 10 best things I learned after 6 months of shooting film.

1. Gear doesn’t matter. The masters of the past did their amazing and world famous picture with fully mechanical cameras, slow lenses and very slow film. They were just extremely good in doing what they did. They knew everything about their instrument and they did the best with it. That’s all. Stop thinking about upgrading your camera or your lenses: this won’t make you a better photographer. Just find a camera that you like and stick with it. Focus on your photography!


2. Exposure is underrated. Today, when we start with photography we usually start using a camera with a l0t of automatism and this often includes autoexposure modes that in the beginning you don’t understand at all, so you just shoot with the exposure that the camera suggest to you. Well, photography in greek means “writing with the light” and this quote can’t be more true: to get the best out of an image you have to understand the light of the scene and expose it properly, knowing the limits of film or digital medium that you are using. Of course you don’t need to know the zonal system to expose properly a scene. Just pay attention to the light.

3.Film and digital are different. Period. No one of them is better than the other one. They are just different. I will make an article about this later.


4.Zone focusing and hyperfocal. Two really useful technique while shooting down the streets. Those techniques help you to be faster and to focus only on your subject and frame almost without worrying about the focus.


5.Composition is a hard art. There is no magic formula for it. Yes, you may know the rule of third or the golden ratio that Bresson used a lot, but you need to use it in a fraction of second when your opportunity arise. The best thing to improve composition is to look to great photos and  movies. Try to understand why you like that frame. Repeat it. Copy it. Use it. Then destroy it!

6.Developing and printing b&w film. Having to stick with only one film, you have to know it at 100% to get the best out of it. So you will understand of much you can pull and push it. You will understand which developer is the best for that film shooted with that settings in a day with that light. You will understand the differences between using a R09 or Microphen and so on. So you will improve  your development skills and i maybe you will even start to print b&w film at home as I did during my 6 months.


7.Anticipate! Anticipation is one of the most important secrets of street photography. The difference between a good and a bad streepher is that the good one instantly recognizes a possible scenario and a possible subject for a good photo and tries to make the best out of that situation.


8.Beautiful light=beautiful pic. It’s quite mathemathic. A nice scenario filled with a beautiful light only needs a decent subject to create a good photo. If the subject is unique and at its right place, it will be a great photo. Shooting film will help you to see the light. You will become crazy about it. You will love it.


9.Focusing. Focusing on one definite project will help you to become better. We are always worried by a lot of stuff. But if you start a project and you trust in it, you will have to focus on it and you will stop worrying about unuseful stuff like film vs digital or leica vs zeiss lenses or DSLR vs Rangefinder.

10.Introspection. I think that what you photograph reflects in some ways who you are. So photographying without variables (no new camera/lenses/softwares) will make even more obvious why you shoot, what do you want to communicate with photographs and what’s your philosophy about photography.



If you REALLY like photography and you want to improve your skills, just do it.

A new year is starting and it could be your best photographic year until now.

So just start, practice and have patience: good things will come with time.

It will be hard so don’t give up!


I hope you liked this informal, non technical article. It’s intended to be a sum of the experiences i had with this project.

Any questions?Doubts?Use the comments!

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15 thoughts on “What can YOU learn shooting film for 6 months?

  1. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing this. It contains lots of good advice. You should do a blog post on “zone focusing and hyperfocal” as I would like to learn more about it. 🙂

  2. Well done Giorgio! You have a good eye, and you summarise some pretty powerful insights you gained from this project. Good inspiration. I am thinking about what I might apply from this for myself. Thank you

  3. Great Post, Giorgio!! That’ à such a great truth about leaving out the constant craving fir new gear, new featured and concentrating on photography only with the most restricting gear possible (i.e. a Leica III and one Lens).

    This will really help the aspiring photographer along.

    Thanks for this post!

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