I want to practice composition, or the basics of photography in reality. From what I've read, some people say shoot color, or only shoot black and white to learn composition right.

From my personal opinion as a beginner, I think if I want to practice composition and play with shadows, angles, etc. shooting in black and white is cheaper and I can practice it more.

I would like to hear your thoughts about what would be the wisest option in terms of practicing composition and photography skills in general.

Also I'm a big fan of color, if you can recommend me a cheap color film it would be great.


6 Answers 6


If your goal is to practice composition and work with shadows and lighting cheaply and efficiently, then you should shoot digital, not film. You will get more immediate results, and the ability to make changes at the time of shooting. As far as color vs. B/W is concerned, you can make changes in post with color filtering to understand how different color filters affect the B/W results.

However, if your goal is to practice film development, B/W will be cheaper and easier to learn than color film.

  • 21
    \$\begingroup\$ @SWAT You will very quickly spend much more on film and processing than you would on buying a digital camera. If you don't have a digital camera, buy one. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 9:30
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @SWAT It is good to note that it is not necessary to have a new or fancy model. Something like a Nikon D60 from 2008, with its large APS-C sensor, can be not just an adequate but an excellent tool. I did a quick search on my local classifieds site, and they seem to go for ~50€ without or ~100€ with kit lens. While that is indeed a lot of money in some parts of the world, the cost of buying and developing film, or setting up your own lab, will quickly exceed it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SWAT If you have a smartphone, you can also use that to practice composition etc. Sure, you will want to buy something better soon, but you can still learn with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – jng224
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BobMacaroniMcStevens The "should" here implicitly assumes that time and money matter, which is generally the case for most people. It is objectively the case that digital is much cheaper to practice composition with, even if OP does not currently own a digital camera. The cost of film and development will quickly swamp that of a gently used enthusiast digital camera. Beyond the cost, it's also much faster to learn composition with digital because of the instant results. The "should" here is also prefaced with an "If" that clearly spells out the conditions, so I don't really see the problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – J...
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 19:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SWAT If you're serious about learning photography and if you're really such a beginner, then it will be worth it for you to buy a digital camera - you will spend much more money on film and development than you will on a used digital. And if you ever want to share your photos, you'll need to invest in a quality scanner, which costs more money. If you can't afford a digital camera, you really can't afford to shoot film. \$\endgroup\$
    – J...
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 14:22

Composition and lighting can be practiced with your phone, making it by far the least expensive option. The phone or GIMP gives you editing as well for free. To me the killer app that makes you get a camera instead of a phone is a narrower field of view, but I have tunnel vision. For others it is depth of field control. The phone does pretty well in low light, but very dark scenes are better with a big camera. Unless you are after one of these it is hard to justify a camera at all. Even if you got the film camera for free, the film and processing is an ongoing cost. The postprocessing software can take your photos to black and white in many ways, giving you more flexibility there.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Most phones are kind of a specialized case - ultrawide cameras that do strong, and sometimes a bit nondeterministic, automatic in-camera post processing. Worth learning too, of course. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 5:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @rackandboneman: I wouldn't call them ultrawide, but it depends on the phone. In any case, you can see the composition on the screen. Although I shoot raw when I am going for art, I am not sure that I have ever needed that instead of the jpeg the camera would produce. Both cameras and phones are very smart when it comes to rendering photos in a way that pleases the mass user. If one has different taste one needs post processing, but that can be done and I think is quite useful. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ This assumes everyone already has a smartphone capable of reasonable image capture. On a photography website you might as well say "just use one of your high end DSLR/mirrorless ones". A second hand compact digital camera (even one capable of raw) would be a lot cheaper than a smartphone contract, or buying one. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 9:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere you can pick up a used smartphone with a good camera for next to nothing, probably free if you get lucky. You don't need a contract either. And basically everyone under the age of 50 already has one anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – eps
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere I can get an iPhone 6S with a camera easily good enough for the OP’s needs for <£100 up front, no contract. I highly doubt a working second hand DSLR could be found for that much… \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 16:14

I've been there: I learned photography using film, and I recall, for example, shooting a test roll of 12 with the same subject with different flash setups. I had to carefully take notes, even sketches, for each exposure, and plan a set of things to try before getting any feedback.

Buying film was an expense. Developing it took time and effort, and a contact sheet (rather than printing all of them) gave a small window onto the results that I could view with a magnifying glass (and further inspection of the negative using a loupe, but it's negative so harder to understand).

With a digital camera, I typically shoot hundreds of exposures, and can even use auto-bracketing. If I get a bunch of junk I can just delete it all and it costs nothing.

When learning a technique, whether technical or artistic, I get immediate feedback on the results. For matters of overall exposure and composition, the built-in screen and embedded tools like histogram and zebra stripes is enough. You can take a picture, fiddle with the settings, and try again, and home in on the correct settings in a few shots. Likewise for overall composition and gross lighting. For more nuanced high-fidelity inspection of the results, the camera might support linking to a computer to show the last shot, or in any case transferring the images is much much easier and faster than developing film!

Furthermore, the dynamic range of the digital camera is larger than that of film, so you don't have to, for example, get the intensity of multiple flashes exactly right to balance the fill light and subject face lighting. The overall lighting effect might be easier to adjust in Lightroom than it would be to adjust one of the flashes and shoot again!

In short:

  • Fast Feedback of results
  • better feedback without needing expensive tools
  • Ability to practice and experiment much more.

Even professionals, back in the day, would use Polaroid backs on their medium-format camera for setting up and adjusting, and only use "film" once that is done. They had spot meters for carefully taking measurements off the ground glass screen, to quantize the bright/dark values, before making an exposure.


I had both film and digital bodies that take the same lenses and accessories. So, if I had the desire to shoot film again, I could set it up on the digital and then use the same lens and lights on the film camera for the final shot.

I say had, past tense, because both of my original EOS bodies (650 and 620) broke. It was not worth the cost to have the shutter mechanism replaced. But, I still use my original 50mm lense manufactured in January 1987.


These days there is no cheap color film.

Compared to digital, there is no cheap black and white film either. Black and white can just be less costly than color.

The way to get better at composition is to compose pictures. The more you practice composition by making pictures the better you will get. Studying composition can be helpful, but it is not a substitute for making mistakes of your very own.

There is no reason a person cannot make black and white pictures. And also make color pictures.

There is no reason a person cannot make both digital and analog pictures.

What "people" say is better is mostly irrelevant because everyone is different. Trying a lot of different things is the only way to figure out what works for you (and what doesn't work for you). And trying things that didn't work before is the only way of knowing if they work now.

The hardest part of learning to make well composed photographs will probably be giving yourself permission to make many many poorly composed photographs along the way. Because as you get better, the bar for well composed photographs will keep getting higher. Most of your photographs will always seem to have composition problems if you are learning and improving.


My advice for learning photography is the same that it would be for learning pretty much anything. You want to train your mind. For photography, you also want to train your eye.

It was long ago that I learned photography and I got pretty good at it. Good enough that some of my stuff I'm willing to see on my walls.

I did, however, learn that having too many options at my fingertips on a "shoot" hindered learning. Having a simple system with a single lens let me concentrate my mind on what was possible with that and the results were often good. This is an example of creativity under constraint.

One of my rules, and I think it is still applicable, is that when I went out to shoot, I'd only use one sort of film. It didn't matter so much whether it was B/W or color as the fact that there was only one choice for the day. This let me focus on what I could do with that camera/lens/film combination without distraction. I wasn't trying for "snaps" and I wasn't trying for choosing something "nice" from a bunch of tries, but really seeing the subject and deciding what could be done with it.

Note that a modern camera (most likely digital) can often be set up so that it will shoot "only" B/W or to simulate some particular slide film, that has a certain color spectrum. If you set your camera to such a state and then don't fiddle with menus for a day or ten, your eye will become accustomed to "seeing" through the system at the subject and capturing something worthwhile within those constraints. Once you "get it" you can try some other combination and start over with "eye" discipline.


The "wisest" option is the one that keeps you busy, keeps you shooting. I'm not entirely certain what your current level of experience is, just based on your comment.

There's a world of a difference between never having owned a serious camera and discussing black-and-white photography on a specialized forum, haha. You might now more than you'd think. But either way, I would never recommend a 35mm as a beginner focal length. It's simply not optimal if you're only learning the ropes and want to shoot a bit of everything. Depending on the exact lens, it might be a pain to maintain as well.

Not suggesting you should get rid of any equipment you already own, but definitely look into getting your hands on a nifty-fifty. It's 2021, I don't need to be naming any particular brands here, pretty much all of them have released at least one or two excellent 50mm primers since the turn of the century.


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