How to Avoid Shooting Blank Film Photos (6 Steps)

How to Avoid Shooting Blank Film Photos (6 Steps)

Guides and Tips

How to Avoid Shooting Blank Film Photos (6 Steps)

film-photography-tips-beginner-mistake-blank-roll-avoid-36exp-rewind-exposure-wrong-colour-negative-photos-images-no-guides-portra-800-empty-underexposeure-wrong
Kodak Portra 800 (Blank roll)
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Kodak Tri-X 400 on Nikon F3

Shooting film is enjoyable when you cannot see the images instantly and wonder what image will appear. The excitement grows, and I have butterflies every time before seeing the pictures. Film slows down what we do and creates valuable memories through interaction with friends and families.

In a nutshell, film cameras work as a light-sealed box, blocking any ray of light entering it. They all work in the exact mechanism regardless of their film formats (135, 120 and 4×5) or film types. Camera lenses help us correctly focus and project the images onto the light-sensitive film. We only need to ensure the camera knows what is inside by loading the film properly and setting the correct exposures before we capture any images. Because film cameras are less advanced than your iPhone, no LiveView or live image is shown in the back of your camera. So you need to communicate with your camera through buttons, settings and light readings.

film-photography-tips-beginner-mistake-blank-roll-avoid-36exp-rewind-exposure-wrong-colour-negative-photos-images-no-guides-tahusa-correct-way-exposure-why-what-happened
Correctly exposed B&W neg film

Colour Negative Film

Negatives are loaded into your camera and exposed to light. When you shoot a negative film, colours are inverted, exposed areas look dark, and film areas that didn’t get light will become transparent.

If you get film photos back that are completely blank (i.e. fully translucent), it means that the film has never seen any light or the exposure is too dark. In other words, not enough light passes through your camera to let your film correctly present your photos. Check if you have done the following pre-check before shooting a roll of film! Following these tips could increase your success rate and makes you want to keep on shooting film!

film-photography-tips-beginner-mistake-blank-roll-avoid-36exp-rewind-exposure-wrong-colour-negative-photos-images-no-guides-tahusa-correct-way-exposure-why-what-happened-stock-types-formats
Film format and film type
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Reflx Lab 100D

Key Elements to Film Photos

Key elements to get photos from your colour negative films:

Camera

+Film loading 

+ ISO setting

+ Correct exposures

+ Film rewind inside the canister 

= Photos on the negatives

film-photography-tips-beginner-mistake-blank-roll-avoid-36exp-rewind-exposure-wrong-colour-negative-photos-images-no-guides-portra-800-empty-underexposeure-wrong-120-medium-format
Medium format film and shutter curtain

Key Mistakes / Causes

  • Wrong ISO setting 
  • Film didn’t load in the camera properly
  • Over or underexposure
  • Forgot to change the aperture of your lens
  • Camera malfunction / jammed
  • Opened the camera backdoor halfway
  • Film wasn’t completely rewound before you open the backdoor
film-photography-tips-beginner-mistake-blank-roll-avoid-36exp-rewind-exposure-wrong-colour-negative-photos-images-no-guides-portra-800-empty-underexposeure-wrong-reason-iso-setting
Kodak Portra 800 (Blank roll)

6 Steps to Avoid Shooting Blank Film Photos

6 Steps to save your film costs and avoid film photos turned out BLANK
Star represents how likely the problem would occur ( ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ most likely,  ⭐ least likely)

1. Make sure to load the film correctly (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)
    1. Gears are on the sprocket holes
    2. If gears are not on it properly, films will be cracked into chips and causing possible jamming to your camera
    3. Also, the film won’t advance, meaning after you shoot the first frame, it won’t advance to the next frame and perform the same action
    4. And worst scenario is you might have shot 36 frames, but the film wasn’t loaded properly
    5. If it remained inside the film canister, it would never have gotten exposed
2. Set your ISO before shooting (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)
    1. 99% of us forgot to set the correct ISO. E.g. you shoot at 1600, but your previous film stock is 100
    2. ISO is the only way to let the camera knows what kind of film you are using. E.g. Setting your correct grind size for your coffee beans so that the taste matches your expectation
    3. It is the main reason we got black or completely white images
    4. Don’t change your ISO halfway, all frames have to develop in the same batch and the same setting
3. Always check the light reading before you take a shot (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
    1. Set the correct ISO
    2. Check the light reading to ensure you follow what your camera or an external meter suggests.
    3. If you don’t have an in-built meter, use a meter on your phone
4. Opening film backdoor while film hasn’t fully rewound (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)
    1. Never open your camera backdoor if you are unsure, comment in this post if you are in doubt
    2. Try to check out your nearby photo labs
    3. DO NOT open the backdoor halfway
    4. Only open the door when you press the rewind button
    5. Check out this post about film jamming
5. Check if your camera shutter works (⭐⭐⭐)
    1. The shutters never (fully) open or the mirror fails to move out of the way during an exposure
    2. Open the backdoor (without film inside)
    3. Cock / advance the shutter
    4. Press shutter button it to see if it actually opens
6. Film lab problems  (⭐⭐)
    1. There could be a problem with the development process: If the lab you used had overused chemicals, screwed up their timings, or did something else not following the procedure, it could result in ruined film
    2. Film Lab accidentally overlapped your film with someone else’s film
film-photography-tips-beginner-mistake-blank-roll-avoid-36exp-rewind-exposure-wrong-colour-negative-photos-images-no-guides-tahusa-correct-way-exposure-why-what-happened-B&W-reverse-image-neg
B&W negative film images
film-photography-tips-beginner-mistake-blank-roll-avoid-36exp-rewind-exposure-wrong-colour-negative-photos-images-no-guides-tahusa-correct-way-exposure-why-what-happened-prints
Prints

If you still encounter any issues with analogue film or worry about whether you should start shooting film. Feel free to email me. I am happy to help you resolve this problem!

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