How to Shoot Film with a Flash


Shooting with flash on film can be tricky because there isn’t the benefit of immediate feedback. However, with the help of a few basic pointers, the task becomes much less daunting. Here are theFINDlab’s top tips for those just starting out with film flash photography:

Lindsey Pantaleo | Fuji Acros 100 | Contax 645

Meg Turley | Fuji Acros 100 | Hasselblad 501cm

  • If purchasing or renting a flash for the first time, we recommend getting a flash that outputs distances in manual mode like the Nikon SB80 or SB800. When going up and down in power, these models display how far away from the flash a subject should be in 1/3 stop increments. It’s like having a cheat sheet with you wherever you go!
  • Know your max sync speed and don’t go over it. Here are the sync speeds for the cameras most commonly used by our clients:

Pentax 645/645n/645nii: 1/60 
Contax 645: 1/90
Mamiya 645AFD: 1/125
Mamiya Pro TL: 1/60
Pentax 67: 1/30
Nikon F100 and Nikon F5: 1/250
Canon 1V and Canon EOS3: 1/250

  • Consider using a leaf shutter camera which allows you to sync your flash at all shutter speeds. Depending on the strength of your flash, it will also allow you to overpower the ambient background.
  • Set the ISO on your flash to 1/2 the box speed of your film stock.
  • Remember, the angle of coverage on speedlights is made for 35mm cameras, so you will need to do a little mental math when you’re shooting medium format. Here’s an example: You are using a Contax with an 80mm lens. Instead of setting your angle of coverage to 80, set it to 50, which is the closest equivalent to an 80mm focal length on a 35mm camera.
  • Remember that your shutter speed ONLY controls the exposure of the BACKGROUND and your f-stop ONLY controls the exposure of the SUBJECT being lit by the flash. Want to make the background darker? Shoot at a higher shutter speed. Want to make your subject brighter? Increase the power in your flash.


Want to know more? We cover all of these topics (and more) in-depth at Film School! Film School is a workshop for the intermediate film photographer who is ready to tackle difficult lighting situations, artificial light, high noon, color reflections…if it’s hard, we’ve got you covered! Our goal is for you to be ready to walk into any difficult situation and feel confident. Click here to learn more about the next session of Film School.