One of the most common questions I am asked about my photography is why, in the instant gratification age of digital photography, I have instead made the slower, more expensive choice to incorporate film into my workflow.
While I studied film (and digital!) photography in college, I switched to an all digital workflow following graduation, but after a couple years of going the trendy, digital route, I realized that I missed the slower, more deliberate art of using film. In an industry saturated to bursting, I was also looking for something unique to set me apart. Film photography requires me to slow down, be patient, and make deliberate choices when shooting, so I jumped at the opportunity to return to my roots.
But the main reason I chose to return to film photography is the unmatched consistency in color, particularly skin tone. The look of film is timeless, with true, natural colors, and that consistency has helped me to build my style both as a photographer and an entrepreneur. My clients have come to recognize the look of my photos, appreciating their lack of overprocessing.
Choosing to use film also slows me down in all the best ways, forcing me to pay deliberate attention to light and composition with every photo. Because each click of the shutter is pricey, I am more mindful of the images I am creating rather than just snapping away and hoping to get the best shot. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the color of the surface reflecting light onto my subject’s faces draws my attention. Sunlight reflected off bright green grass could make my couple look like they have the flu, and photographing in dark shade can tint the scene blue, so rather than simply shooting in the most convenient location, I am forced to go out of my way to scout the best spots.
I often hear photographers hesitant to try film because of difficulties with camera settings and metering. Don’t let that stop you! As a rule, I overexpose three stops and rate my Fuji 400h at 100, but by playing around with your camera, you can find an exposure you like and create a style you love - I know so many photographers rate their Fuji 400h at 200 as well. The photo lab you use will also affect the outcome of your film, so try a few out before settling on one. My photos usually come out filled with light, but when I decided to try out a new lab, the images came back to me a little darker than they ordinarily do. Consistency is key to building a brand as a photographer, and that comes with practice and using a single, excellent photo lab you can trust.
If you want to give film photography a try, but are nervous about metering, keep in mind that all film photographers started where you are now. Give yourself permission to play, testing your camera in a wide variety of lights. Try to create similar looking photos in the sun, indirect sunlight and shade, keeping detailed notes until you find what works for you - just beware of putting the sun directly behind your subjects, but rather to the sides of your subjects.
If you're hesitant with metering and feeling overwhelmed go practice and try this out: On my Fuji 400h with my 75mm 2.8 or 105 2.4 on my Pentax Nii, my constant mantra is “bright, bright, bright!” In the full sun, I shoot at 1/250 on a neutral reflective surface, such as a sidewalk or sand. At golden hour two hours before sunset, I go with 1/125. And when the sun is getting low, and light begins to fade, I go to 1/60. I also keep an eye on my in-camera light meter pointed at the darkest part of the scene, ensuring that it’s actually OVERexposing in camera because film loves light. Sticking to these rules of thumb has helped me to avoid overthinking and enjoy the art.
Photographers who primarily focus on weddings are often resistant to using film or a hybrid of film and digital because of the fear of increasing those investment prices. Yes, film does cost more, and because of that, your rates will rise, as well. When I began shooting with film, I was afraid to increase my prices, covering the additional cost myself, but over time I have come to include it in my prices. As I increase my prices I add a couple more rolls of film with each increase. It's important to understand what you're charging for each wedding package and how much film that price will allow you to shoot. Most brides don’t know all of the ins and outs of what it costs to be a photographer, but I genuinely believe that they can recognize value when they see it. I go out of my way to share a lot of information about myself and my style when replying to inquiries, including what it means to be a hybrid photographer, why I chose to be one and why they will be grateful they chose a hybrid (or film only) photographer, too!
Thankfully, I have noticed an increase in brides who have educated themselves about photography styles and recognized the benefits of film. I have even begun working with brides who have sought me out specifically for my hybrid photography style. While it is the more difficult road, I feel that choosing to capture memories on film is by far the most rewarding.
I love to end my blog posts with examples - after all, us photographers, are visual people! My engagement sessions are all film but with the fast pace and longer timeline of a wedding I truly believe film and digital have a place. Below is an example of what my clients expect to see in their galleries. I give them a mix between both film and digital and as long as you're careful about your lighting, you can match them really close so your clients still get a cohesive gallery that they can cherish forever.
LEFT IS DIGITAL, RIGHT IS FILM