Recently you may have heard me shouting from the rooftops about my newfound love of film photography, and if you have been wondering what the heck I’m even talking about, well you are not the only one! I’ve had a few people reach out to me asking me questions about film – what is it? how is it different than digital? why are you shooting on film? etc – and so I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk to you about it today!
Film photography has been gaining popularity in the wedding industry in the last decade, with photographers like Jose Villa and Elizabeth Messina inspiring photographers everywhere. So what exactly *is* film photography? You have probably shot it before, or remember it from when you were a kid. It’s the OLD SCHOOL way of taking pictures, where you shoot on a camera and can’t see the pictures you just took. After you take it (or mail it, in my case) somewhere to have it developed, you have to wait a few days or weeks for it to be done. If you’ve shot film in the past, you probably would go pick up the final product in the form of prints, but there was also an option to have those photos uploaded to a CD. For me, the lab I use (Photovision, located in Oregon) develops my film negatives and scans the photos into a database, and then emails me a link to them. I download the pictures as JPEGs, and usually touch them up a bit before uploading them to client galleries and sharing them online!
I’ve actually loved film photography since I first started shooting in 2012, and tried for years to mimic the look of film with my digital camera. Alas, I never quite got the exact look I wanted, but was fairly happy with my digital look! When film photography started blowing up in the wedding industry – probably around 2014 or 2015 – I swore I would never do it. For one, I am not the type of person to do something just because everyone else is doing it. Believe me when I say that it truly felt like EVERY photographer I knew was jumping on the film train. Another reason I didn’t want to shoot film was the cost. A roll of film contains 16 shots, and each of those photos costs about $2. That can add up quickly, and doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of the actual cameras and equipment needed to shoot film! The last reason I didn’t want to shoot film was because I felt like film photographers had a certain “uppidy” attitude about them; it always felt like they were boasting about being better, more “fine art,” and more advanced than digital photographers, and I didn’t (and still don’t!) believe that. I think all photographers are artists, and it doesn’t matter which medium you choose to shoot on that should qualify what type of subject matter you photograph, and in what way!
For years, I drooled over film photos I saw online, but tried to stifle it. I actually stopped following all film photographers on Instagram because I was so over the movement at one time, isn’t that funny? Nothing could quite stop the film trend, though, and it seemed that any time I saw an image that I loved, it was shot on film. But I’m stubborn, and I had promised myself I wasn’t going to jump on the bandwagon, and gosh darnit! I was NOT going to shoot film! It was the principal of things!
In March of 2018, I was coming off of maternity leave after having my first baby, and was feeling a bit lost as a photographer. I was yearning for the excitement I’d had when I first started my business, and I wasn’t loving my work. I wanted to stand out, to grow my business, and to shoot in a way that made me excited. So I started researching the images that inspired me, and realized they were ALL shot on film. ALL of them.
It was only then that I had a realization: if I loved film so much, if it inspired me so much, if film photographers were attracting the kinds of clients I wanted to be attracting (and the kinds of weddings and family sessions I wanted to be shooting), I should get over myself and just. shoot. film. already! Y’all, this was a HUGE moment for me because it meant I had to admit I was wrong about all the things I had sworn years ago I would never do. It was hard! After a lot of heart-to-heart conversations with my husband (who encouraged me every step of the way), I bought a Contax 645, a Zeiss 80mm lens, a light meter, and I signed up for an online class about film photography – from there I just started shooting!
Gosh, this is a hard question, and one that I struggled with for a very long time (as well as one that I still struggle with figuring out how to answer). There are SO many benefits to film, but I sometimes struggle with articulating them.
The first and most obvious answer is just the BEAUTY that film is able to capture. Film images are rich color while still containing so much softness. They are almost painting-like. They also produce the prettiest skin tones, and I love the glow that my clients have in their film images. Film has a wider dynamic range than digital, which means that you maintain brighter brides AND darker darks. With digital, you can sometimes lose these details if the lighting is too different – a perfect example is that you can lose the white details in a dress on digital sometimes, but film can capture all those colors in one image. Finally, film also has a bit of grain to it, which I find so charming. There’s something about having an image be a little imperfect that really warms my heart!
Because each roll of film only has 16 frames, film forces me to slow down. While this could be viewed as a bad element of film, I love it. It allows me to really watch for a “perfect” moment to click the shutter, instead of just shooting a hundred pictures a minute. I really think it makes you work harder and think more about every single shot, and I love the challenge of that!
Last but not least, I don’t have to spend as much time on the backend with film photos. With digital photos, I have to edit them entirely, from color to tones to white balance to exposure, and everything in between. With film, it’s pretty much done for me, and I love the time that it saves me!
Another great question. The first answer is that film LOVES light. I need an abundance of light in order to shoot film and have it look the way I want it to, so sometimes digital is the only way for me to shoot even if I wanted to shoot film! Low light situations just aren’t great for film photography.
The second reason I can’t shoot film exclusively is because of cost. Each time I take a picture, it costs me about $2, which can add up quickly when you think about the thousands and thousands of photos I take a year. On my digital camera, I have no hard costs and have unlimited shots I can take – so sometimes digital is a better choice for fast-paced moments or when I want the freedom to shoot more without the financial burden.
I am shooting on two cameras – one is digital and one is film. In the photography world, this is called being a hybrid photographer. My digital camera takes digital images on a CF card. After a session, I plug that into my computer, download, and edit the images.
My film camera, however, shoots on actual rolls of film (just like the old-school cameras that you probably took somewhere to get developed). I can’t see the pictures I take, so it’s a much more careful process than digital photography. And because each roll only has 16 shots (and also costs me about $30 total, give or take), I am much more careful about the photos I take with film! This means the photos I take on my film camera are usually BETTER because I am slowing down to think about each image before pushing the button.
After a session, I load all of my film into ziplock baggies and take them to the post office, where I mail them my film lab, Photovision. It’s a long wait for me as they are shipped, processed, developed, and scanned there! After all of that, I get scans of the photos I have taken in a digital format – y’all, it’s like Christmas morning when I finally get to see my photos! I can edit those images a little (although they are usually very pretty from the get-go!). I also have the option to have my lab send me the negatives but I don’t usually choose to do that option.
Once I get the film back (and do a happy dance haha!), I load the digital images from the session into my editing software and try to mimic the tones that the film has. Film is SO dreamy and soft – almost ethereal – and I can’t match it exactly but I can get very close!
I hope this gives you a better idea about what film is and why it’s so lovely. All the photos above are taken on film, and I just LOVE them. So dreamy! I’m really excited about my film journey, and about offering this type of photography medium to my clients. I really think you guys are going to fall in love with it just as much as I have, and that it’s going to push me to be a better photographer in the years to come! Thanks for your time, please leave any questions you might still have below and I’ll answer them for you!
Which online class did you take? Looking into getting into film, for similar reasons. every photo I love is film!! but it seems very daunting. so many cameras, lenses, etc. ahhhh!
I took the Foundations In Film class by Nancy Ray! It was so informative and packed with good tips!