Lina Bessonova is a passionate film photographer and darkroom printer. She shares her love of photography and printing on her popular YouTube channel as well as through workshops and lectures. One of her recent videos shows how easy setting up a darkroom can be in a small space.



This image is from my very first roll of 120 film (Delta 100). The other 11 frames are average beginner pictures which make one happy just by turning out correctly exposed. I happily scanned and printed all the houses, trees and pigeons, completely overlooking this shot. Only eight years later, while going through my archives, I stumbled upon it and was shocked: it looked so ahead of it’s time! I wasn’t capable of seeing the potential and printing it back then:  the light and reflections are very complicated, and the dodging/burning was super tricky. This picture has so many layers and uncertainties, exactly the way I like shooting now. It fit great with all the images from just a year ago and made it into my show in NY.

Black and white film images shot on ILFORD Delta 100 film by Lina Bessonova

Just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are or what you do can you give us the overview?

I love analog photography and printing, and my biggest source of happiness is helping people to discover this beautiful medium, to become more informed, confident and relaxed about all the complexities of the process.

How and why did you get started shooting film?

I shot my first hugely unsuccessful images at age five, cutting off my parent’s heads. I don’t believe I was trusted with a camera since. So the next step in image-making happened at about 17, when I got a very nice digital Sony camera. I changed a few of those, upgrading to better ones - and got bored, quit taking images and decided to focus on radio production, which was my main passion back then. However, during my first semester at university there was no radio production class offered, and I was forced into Photo1 despite my resistance. It turned out to be an analog photography class, and I just fell in love with the red light and the fixer smell.

Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?

Ansel Adams, whose portrait is painted on my lab wall, is, of course, the number one. It’s not about his landscapes, but about the personality, the approach, the thoughts and the work behind his prints, and about the sincere willingness to share his knowledge. Another photographer I absolutely love is William Klein - just read his biography! A really passionate person who knew when and how to take risks, photographing with his heart and not by the rules.

Lina Bessonova's darkroom with painting of Ansel Adams on the wall

In terms of visual perception of the world, my hugest inspiration is abstract art. It used to be “a five-year-old-can-do-it” type of art to me, but after reading Kandinsky’s writings (amazing), something just clicked in my brain and I was able to look at Malevich, Pollock, Mondrian etc as revolutionary painters, with true depth of thought behind the apparent simplicity or even primitivity. This simplicity surely had some impact on my films. My other enormous inspiration is Carl Jung. He is a true genius of introspection, his book “Man and His Symbols” turned my world upside down - and how I see the world has changed too. I love subtle meanings and metaphors, and they are present in all of my photographs.

What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?

During my Photo MFA studies, I got stuck with a super difficult negative (full 9 stops, no chance to dodge and burn because of the irregular shapes), and my friend advised me to google “split filter printing”. I tried the classical way (filters 00 and 5), got an ugly flat print and gave up.

After I complained to my photography professor, he gave me an idea to try not just 00 and 5, but 1 and 3, 2 and 4,5.  I did, and this changed absolutely EVERYTHING about my printing. I never ever printed with one filter since. With a lot (A LOT) of experimentation, I determined the best starting points for average negatives. Then I recorded my epic “Split Filter Printing: How It Works and Why It’s Brilliant” video - and to this day I get so many messages from photographers telling me how much it helped them getting amazing prints.

By the way, the Multigrade system is an ILFORD invention back from 1912, released in 1940 commercially. DuPont had a multigrade Varigam system released around the same time - but it’s still unclear if it was based on the Ilford one or not - maybe you guys could clarify that? I’m curious 🙂 - We're not 100% sure but this article states that Frank Forster Renwick worked for Dupont in the US for three years in between working for ILFORD so it could be.

What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?

With an enormous Corona delay I am finally finishing my book about the reconstruction of the center of Monaco: Place de Casino, Hotel de Paris and the construction of Monte-Carlo One. It has been an absolutely awesome time of my life, as I was climbing on tops of the construction sites with the most gorgeous views, all while documenting a really historical moment. I started shooting on Kodak Tmax 400 film, but the backing paper issue ruined so many of my shots that I switched to Ilford Delta 400 and had no problems since.

What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?

It heavily depends on the mood I will be in. For philosophical moods it’s square, for more dynamic shots it’s 6x7, for pure fun of the process it’s large format. As for films, I tried going left and right from my favorite Delta 100, but so far unsuccessfully. See what happened when I shot Kodak Tmax! Fuji Acros could theoretically be a substitute, as it has the same grain type and core-shell technology, but we simply never “clicked” with that film. A film I really like is Adox CHS 100, but it’s a whole different story. It’s very vintage-looking, with quite airy and has visible grain, unlike Delta, Acros and Tmax, which are all tab-grain (meaning, smoother-looking) films. But in general, for any kind of difficult/unpredictable conditions I always advise taking HP5. It’s the most versatile emulsion ever made. Pushes like crazy and is remarkably forgiving.

What are your photographic goals going forward? (Can be business or personal).

Setting up a new big darkroom in Berlin - and it has to be as pretty as the one I have in Florence, which is a difficult task.

Picture of Lina Bessonova printing in her darkroom

Shout outs

We all need a bit of inspiration and love so this is your chance to tell the community about yours – from the film photographers whose work inspires you, the labs you trust with your film, your ‘go to’ film photography stockists, your favourite community darkrooms or just anyone in the community who you feel deserves a special mention.

Give a shout out to your 3 favourite film photographers currently active on IG or Twitter and briefly tell us why others should follow them.  - his slides are out of this world. He set up a proper darkroom recently, and his prints are mind blowing. I don’t get why he only has 2k followers and not 200k! - another darkroom master who deserves many more followers. He makes his own pin systems for unsharp masks. His stories are always exciting an informative to watch. - I guess everyone follows him anyway, right? But he is one account I actually regularly check and deeply love 🙂

Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).

The channel I watch for industry news is NicosPhotographyShow.

ShootFilmLikeABoss - I stumble upon his videos a lot, and and he seems like a really nice guy with regular uploads and all-analog content.

Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers (name, location and website).

I really like the Ars-Imago Italy guys - they are not just retailers. They do a lot to promote analog photography in Italy and support the community. - one of the biggest retailers in Europe with a huge selection of analog products + a cute store in downtown Berlin.

Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one, (name, location, website).

I process films myself, but I’m so bad at scanning that I do it through the Fotoimpex lab service.

Favourite kit

What film cameras do you own and which is your favourite? (Please send us a picture of it if you can).

My first cameras are a Praktica with a 20mm Soviet lens (fantastic, almost no distortion) and a Yashica-D, my biggest forever love. I have a 6x7 Mamiya, 4x5 Shen Hao, 8x10 Wista and a bunch of small vintage half-working cameras.

Lina Bessonova with her favouriite Yashica Camera

Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?

Plastic film cases from Japan Camera Hunter in blue - apart from matching my hair, they are extremely useful for keeping films in one place and not all over my backpack. They improved my life so much.

What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?

Quality-wise, it’s for sure my Mamiya 7II with all the lenses, completely new and for a super decent price. The optics are extraordinary and the camera itself is a brilliant piece. I’ve never held anything more pleasing to use in my hands, ever.

As this is an ILFORD interview it would be remiss of us not to ask about your favourite ILFORD products. Tell us you favourite ILFORD film, paper or chems and why?

I guess by now everyone is already fed up with me mentioning Delta films - but yes, here they go again. ID-11 is a superb developer. All the papers are brilliant, easiest to handle are the ones from the Classic range, and the most beginner-friendly is, of course, the new Generation V MGRC.

And finally…

Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them

@maxbedov or @shlein_filmphotography - both of them are true darkroom professionals


All images © Lina Bessonova