by Johnny Martir
I know that everyone is frustrated by the continuing increase in the price of new films – count me among them!
Many people write to me with the notion that the cost of a film might not matter much to me since I shoot paid work with it. But this is far from the truth. In many ways, the cost of movies is a more serious issue for me because my income depends on it. I can’t keep raising prices to cover my film expenses and the last thing I want to do is shoot fewer reels per session and sacrifice the quality and quantity of my output. As a hobbyist, you have the option of switching to a less expensive stock or just shooting less. If I do this, I roll the dice with my family’s income.
My personal goal is to become the best film photographer I can be. And my commitment to you is to provide honest, sound advice that will not only help you do the same, but besides that, I want to defend our efforts for the next generation of film photographers.
To this end, I keep recommending that we not just keep shooting movies, but we shoot lots of movies. And buy fresh as much as possible. To do this, we need to reduce the costs of buying films and selling by-products, and possibly our labor.
My suggestion might be what you already did or you might delete it as it won’t cut costs enough. But look, I’m doing the best I can and I want you to have all the tools I know about. If you know of a better way, please share it with me and others in the film community so we can all tackle this problem together!
The First Step is to choose who you will buy your new film from. I very rarely buy movies from brick-and-mortar stores anymore because the prices have, over the years, been too high for me to justify despite wanting to support them. I implicitly trust these online retailers to sell me fresh, current, and safely stored movies. If you have any other recommendations, please share their names/links in the comments.
Film Photography Shop (New Jersey)
Freestyle Photos & Imaging (California)
B&H Photo Video (New York)
Adorama Camera (New York)
I decide who I buy from on what basis and how much I need to buy at any given time. I open each of these business sites in separate tabs in my web browser. Then, I load my shopping cart on each of their sites with the same product. My typical haul is 10-30 rolls of Kodak TMAX 100 36exp 35mm, 10-30 rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 36exp 35mm, 10-30 rolls of Kodak TMAX P3200 36exp 35mm and 10-30 rolls of Ilford Delta 3200 36exp 35mm.
It’s important to take this step to load everything you want to buy in each of the four tabs and go straight to the point of checking out on each site.
Some stores will have each roll of film more or less expensive than others, but shipping costs can make a big difference in who I order from. Also, sometimes, even availability is a problem.
By going to the pages of these four reliable retailers and checking out the total prices for each, you ensure availability and the lowest total cost for you.
I live on the east coast so I tend not to buy from Freestyle Photo & Imaging in California because shipping costs more for me. But if you live on the west coast, the opposite is true. B&H Photo Video offers free shipping on orders over $50. But their price per roll of film is often quite a bit more than a Film Photography Shop. So even though it costs FPP for shipping regardless of how much you buy, I usually find that the total cost from them to me, who lives in Maryland, is the cheapest.
Depending on changes in postal costs and changes in inventory costs, this isn’t always true, and that’s why, I can’t say it enough, it’s important to examine the total costs of all four (or more) retailers.
Movies Never Sold
One thing I learned is that these retailers never offer deals on movies. The closest you’ll see is if they overorder and end up with expired stock, they’ll offer the expired stock at a discount. But the price of fresh films has never been lowered. I have ordered as many as 30 rolls of a certain stock at a time and I am not getting any discounts from these guys. B&H Photo Video usually gives you a discount if you buy the “pro pack” – 5 reels. But I don’t think I’ve seen that discount in a few years.
I can’t get film at wholesale so I’m pretty sure no or very few photographers can get it at wholesale. As I understand it, not only do you have to consistently shoot hundreds of rolls per month, but I’m also under the impression that various laws and standards don’t allow one to buy wholesale without reselling.
Now, I guess you can get a job at a store selling movies and get an employee discount. That would be cool. But personally, that’s not an option, as tempting as it may sound!
Add Discount Browser Extensions
In return for your shopping data, there are some businesses that will give you a percentage of the money you spend online back, usually in the form of points, for every purchase you make with their browser extension enabled.
I understand that some people may be reluctant to give up their data. But I think social media, Apple and Google are constantly harvesting our data and we’re only using their products in return. If you are willing to do so, you must also be willing to hand over data in exchange for money.
I use three such extensions, Capitol One, Swagbucks and I just started using Paypal Honey. There are others too. It’s probably smart to load your browser with as many of these extensions as you can.
So now, apart from getting the lowest price offered by my trusted retailer, I also get a small percentage or points back on my every purchase. If I spend $100, I get $1 back from Capitol One and 100 points from Swagbucks (which equals $1.)
In addition, Capital One will cycle through all available discount codes that can be found online at checkout. It won’t work for small shops like Film Photography Shops and Freestyle Photo & Imaging, but every once in a while, you’ll get a hit at B&H Photo Video or Adorama Camera. This will further reduce your total costs.
When you earn around $5-$25 after using this extension for many purchases (not just for movies), you can order gift cards from them. Recently, I had $30 worth of points in my Swagbucks account. I could have gotten a $30 Amazon gift card. But Amazon movie prices are often ridiculous. So I did a search through Swagbucks gift cards for what offered the highest discount. I found that if I got a $25 Mastercard, I only had to pay $22 in points for it. So I got a $22 Mastercard, bought a $25 Film Photography Store gift card and then took $25 off my next film purchase from FPP.
Pay by Credit Card
If you pay by credit card, you can unlock more cashback discounts. I’m not suggesting you pile up credit card debt on movies. Far from it. But if you have $100 in your checking account to spend on a movie, don’t use your checking card to buy your movie. Purchase with a rewards credit card that offers cash back on purchases. Then immediately pay your $100 credit card bill. Never carry a balance! Just use your credit card for the prize. These kinds of activities are also good for your credit score.
It’s a similar situation with browser extensions in terms of how much you can expect back – only like 1-3% with most cards. But if you use some cash back browser extension and pay with a gift card, now you get 3-6% back in total, AND increase your credit score.
Once you get your movie, you can also make money from the trash it generates. People are buying empty 35mm plastic film tubes, 35mm metal tubes and 120 rolls in bulk on eBay. Plastic tubes are easy to store and sell. From what I understand, people who melt and reuse plastic as well as teachers working on school projects use this. The metal tubing of your film should be carefully unscrewed (or not removed at all) when you are processing your film (yes, this tip only applies to home processors!). Heavy loaders like to buy used metal canisters as they have dx codes and film type markings which are more useful than buying empty canisters for bulk loads. 120 shooters like saving a few extra rolls. I imagine there are also school and home recycling projects done with this.
When you list these items on eBay or Marketplace, be sure and note the type of plastic listed there. This is key for home recycling buyers.
Also remember that eBay is submitting your activity tax forms to the IRS now. So whatever you sold there, save your receipts for packing and shipping so you can write them off your taxes!
Again, this is another tip that you won’t get rich alone. But when you combine the discount and cashback offers above by selling your junk instead of just throwing it away, you reduce your costs.
Sell Your Photos
You don’t have to be like me and rush all your friends for family portraits and wedding photography. But it’s not hard to start a website where people can buy prints of your photos. Personally I haven’t had much luck with Redbubble, SmugMug, or Fine Art America, but then again, I know other people who have. Joining a stock photography site that will accept film works like Stocksy will generate more returns if you can get in. And you can also pay for something like the Pixieset site that I use. (I should have told you that if you create a Pixieset account using this link you will get 250mb added to your free 3gb of storage😉 While you will have to advertise your Pixieset site yourself, you can connect your shop directly to ink-based printers which will fulfill your print orders at their cost while allowing you to set your own profit per print. You can also allow people to purchase image licenses and download them. So there is more control over your content compared to Redbubble for example.
It really pays off when people buy your work too!
OK, that’s all I have and basically everything I do other than run a photography service on top of this. I don’t think any of these things require any great effort and as I said, there is nothing here that will make you rich, or even allow you to break even. But it’s something.
If you have any tips on how you can afford new movies, let me know in the comments. I want to take some other tactics!
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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