Sep 21, 2022

What's The Best Film Stock For Street Photography?

Deciding what film to use for your street photography outing can be overwhelming. Let me explain.

Hunter Scott
Hunter Scott
What's The Best Film Stock For Street Photography?

There are so many possible options to choose when it comes to film - which can make picking a roll to load up for the day a daunting task. The fact of the matter is, once you’ve got that film loaded in your camera and you’ve got started, you’re stuck with it until you’ve shot the whole thing. Sure, there are some obvious caveats here; film choice is personal, and very subjective. But there are some criteria that you should definitely consider when you’re rifling through the fridge finding some film for your next outing. Knowing what to look for when selecting a film can be the difference between a successful day out, and sore feet and a whole lot of nothing when you get your negatives back from the lab.

So, what do we need to think about for street photography?


As Jeremy Clarkson often reminds us - speed and power are crucial to all aspects of life. Film speed, or ISO (or ASA, or if you’ve been around even longer, DIN) is a measurement of how sensitive your film is to light. Functionally, what this impacts is how much light you’ll need to give each shot, through a mixture of aperture and shutter speed. Many street shooters, myself included, prefer to use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion, and I also like to use pre-set, or “zone” focus, using something called hyperfocal distancing. This means that when I’m on the streets, I want a fast shutter speed, and a small aperture. For example, when I can, I like to shoot at f/8, and 1/500th or 1/1000th of a second. See where we’re going here? 

Having a high ISO does mean that there’s generally a bit more grain, but if we didn’t want grain, we wouldn’t be shooting film! I prefer to use at least a 200 ISO film for street photography, but often use 400 ISO and regularly push process my film up to 1600 ISO. This lets me crank down the aperture and get those fast shutter speeds in, especially in the gloomier months here in the UK.

Colour, Or Black And White?

Should you shoot colour, or black and white? Many of the great street photographers are quite firmly in one camp or the other. I tend to shoot a mix, but typically on nice sunny days I’ll shoot colour, and on more typical English days, I’ll shoot black and white. One advantage of black and white film is that it tends to fare better when pushed to a higher effective ISO when developing - I usually elect to shoot a black and white film stock when I’m going to push to 1600 ISO as colour films tend to give more mixed results at those sorts of speeds. Regardless of utility, colour versus black and white will always be an aesthetic decision first and foremost. Black and white will give you a timeless, emotive look, while colour can be used to draw parallels between subjects and their backgrounds, or show the energy of a scene. Whatever you do, don’t be shy to experiment! Make sure you get your film from Moment, they're absolute legends.

Well - now that we know what we’re looking for, what should we choose? My personal go-to film stocks for street photography are:

1# Ilford HP5+ 

Ilford HP5+ is an incredibly popular choice, and for good reason. It’s readily available (which is quite a big deal these days), affordable, and comes in just about every common film format you can think of, so you can shoot whatever camera you’ve got. It also holds up spectacularly when pushed two, three, or even four stops. I’ll typically shoot HP5 all through the winter months, and almost always pushed to 1600 ISO. Buy some here!

Street Photography On Film - Ilford HP5+ Pushed Two Stops
Ilford HP5+, Pushed To ISO 1600

2# Kodak Gold

When the sun comes out, and it’s bright enough to shoot a slightly slower film, Kodak Gold is a staple for me. I love Portra 400, and use it a lot for my commercial work and portraiture, but when the light and colour is looking gorgeous, I prefer to have a little more saturation and contrast baked into the image from the get-go. Kodak Gold gives a warm, nostalgic look without being too stylised or overbearing, and it’s also fairly affordable. Buy some here!

Street Photography On Film - Kodak Gold 200
Kodak Gold 200

#3 Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400

Now, if you can find anywhere that has Superia in stock, you’re winning already, and you should really buy a few rolls before it’s sold out again! I think Superia might be one of the most underrated 35mm film options these days - it’s sharp, fast, and has wonderful colours. It is slightly more picky about exposure - it can handle plenty of extra light, but underexpose it by more than a stop and it’s going green and grainy immediately. This being said, I usually set my meter to 320 and I don’t have any problems. Superia tends to lend itself well to city environments, with deeper blacks and a bit more “punch” than Kodak Gold. 

The truth is, you can shoot street photos on just about any film stock. I’ve used everything from expired slide film to old archival document film (with an ISO of just 6!). Buy a selection of different options, and get out and shoot! You’ll pretty quickly find an emulsion that works for you. Street photography is art, and art is subjective - and it’s about experimenting. If you’re really unsure of what you should pick, just grab a roll of HP5+, and get out there. Black and white is a lot more fun than you would think, and it will teach you to look for interesting scenes, without the distraction of worrying about colours. Buy some here while you still can!

Street Photography On Film - Fujifilm Superia 400
Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400

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