When I was a junior in college my friend and roommate, Hilary, introduced me to the world of wedding blogs. I had seen them pop up from time to time, but had never really explored their content. Even then, they didn’t fully captivate me, but when I stumbled upon a wedding photographer’s blog, that was a different story.
I’ve always been the girl with the camera. There’s one in almost everyone friend group – the one who documents as much as they participate and later uploads all the embarrassing and funny pictures to Facebook. I’d been taking pictures for years before I even knew film was still a thing. We were in the digital age! Why would anyone regress to something as fickle and antiquated as film? My parents love to tell the story of when I was 9 years old and accidentally exposed a roll of 35mm film from our trip to Alaska. (Who knew that girl would end up being a professional photographer??) I had taken a film photography class in middle school (yes, random) and, while I enjoyed the class, I couldn’t really figure what made film more special than digital. Well, when I came upon the blogs of some of the greatest film photographers in my industry – Jose Villa, Tec Petaja, Elizabeth Messina – I could see why. And I wanted to know how.
It was those photographs, filled with soft light, romance and spontaneity, and an internship at Southern Weddings where they were regularly featured that eventually led me to creating this little business you see today. Wedding photography perfectly matched my love for creating images and telling stories. The hopeless romantic in me had found a purpose – to document the romantic and real moments in a couple’s wedding day. And for almost 5 years that’s exactly what I’ve been grateful to do.
As I honed in my style, I realized that I was never fully able to achieve the look I wanted with digital images. I came close, but always wanted a little more. I began realizing that while you can emulate the aesthetic of film with digital images, it’s never going to be the same as just shooting a roll itself. So, I saved my money and attended a film workshop, researched the heck out of it, pestered fellow photographers with countless questions, stalked film photographers’ blogs, crunched numbers to see if I could afford the vast expense that film is and eventually began incorporating film into my shoots and personal work. With each click of my Contax’s shutter I fell more and more in love with the medium.
There are lots of reasons I love to shoot film and have decided to make it the core medium of my work, but I’ve chosen to list just a few for you:
No. 1 Those colors, y’all. Like I said, you can get pretty dang close with digital, but it’s not the same. Skin tone, light and color are consistently clean and beautiful. When scans hit my inbox, I stop whatever I’m doing and obsess over them. I kid you not, I’ve made me and Brendan late for multiple things because I’ve refused to stop looking at pictures that PhotoVision has sent me!
No. 2 Those colors I mentioned above? I don’t spend a million hours in front of my computer getting them. I have a film lab that I adore who develops my film to a color preference I’ve set, so I only need to do quick and minor touchups when I receive my scans. A little straightening here, a little cropping there and tada! It’s a little known fact that photographers spend far less time photographing things and more time in front of their computers, which is such a shame because I’d be willing to bet that 98% of professional photographers chose their career because they love being behind the camera, not in front of the computer. Since film often requires little to no editing time, I’ve spent wayyyy less time on my computer and more time doing the things I love.
No. 3 I love the way film feels. I think everyone can relate to this idea when they consider the way that different styles of photography elicit certain emotions. Darker images give a moodier vide, lighter images often convey more joy or happiness. Film has a certain softness that I think really plays well with the romance and emotion of a wedding day. The movement that film catches gives images a beautiful honesty and depth. Even when a film image is a little out of focus, I usually still love it because there’s a certain authenticity that comes with it.
No. 4 Film allows me to be more engaged with the people I’m photographing and not the back of my camera. Oh goodness, that little screen. It’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you can see the images you’ve just taken, but on the other you’re missing what’s happening right in front of you. As an impatient person, the hardest thing about film is that it lacks instant gratification. I usually wait at least a week until I see the pictures I take. But, as a people person, I’m significantly more engaged with my subject. I see more because I’m looking up at what’s in front of and around me, not down at what’s happened in the past. And as a couple warms up in front of the camera, there’s no disrupting their confidence or movement for me to check the back of my camera.
No. 5 Since I can’t rely on a digital camera’s little screen to make sure my pictures are turning out well, I’m much more careful and attentive to the images I’m taking. Film is a huge financial investment. Each frame is dollar signs leaving my bank account – and you better believe I want to make sure each of them count! With digital, apart from gear, every image you take is essentially free. 10,000 images cost the same as 1. However with film, each frame can cost anywhere from $3-$6 depending on your film stock and lab fees. Multiply that by the number of pictures you take at a wedding and it really adds up! I’m far more diligent now about making sure that each image counts because a) I want to deliver gorgeous pictures to my couples, and b) I want to be wise about the way I spend my money and not waste it by taking bad pictures that are out of focus or improperly exposed because I was rushing or not paying attention. I’m human and I of course have made lots of mistakes shooting film (There’s actually an entire group on Facebook for photographers to post their out of focus, underexposed and generally awful film pictures. Yes, it’s hilarious), but I’ve found that the quality of my work has increased significantly since making the switch to film.
No. 6 Film is very gracious with difficult lighting conditions. There are few photographers who just love taking portraits in intense midday sun – it’s literally one of the worst times of day for portraits! There’s a lot of contrast and shadow that can make for unflattering portraits and blown out details. Film’s not perfect and can’t make the noon sun look like golden hour, but it handles that bright light like a champ. Many people are surprised to find that film retains more details in bright light than digital cameras. For example, this wedding was photographed between 11am and 1pm when light can be very harsh and bright. Film totally owned that light and these are some of my favorite images now. While I try to influence the schedule of a wedding day, sometimes it’s just out of my control and portraits get schedules at a time where the light just ain’t pretty. Although it’s never my first choice or recommendation, I’m far more comfortable shooting in bright midday sun now that I’m armed with film.
No. 7 I’ve learned so much more about my craft. As a professional, I want to know everything I can about photography. I love geeking out about gear and techniques. I’m insanely passionate about what I do and want to be sure that I’m educated enough to do it to the best of my abilities. Film has in countless ways been one of those educational tools. From reading light better to understanding technical aspects like aperture and shutter speed to an even greater extent, film has grown me not only as an artist, but as a professional.
I say all of this knowing that film isn’t for everyone – both the people in front of the camera and behind. Just like there are different kinds of paint brushes and paints, there are different kinds of cameras and photography mediums. Film is a tool, just like digital, and I’ve found that for me and work that gets me giddy, film is the tool that I go to first. I still use digital frequently at weddings as a backup and when conditions are not ideal for film to work its magic. There are definitely pros to shooting digital, and I certainly take advantage of them.
For me, film came at I time when I started to find myself in a creative rut. It gave me the opportunity to challenge myself artistically and opened a door that I believe has allowed me to serve my couples better. My heart still beats a little faster when I get an email from PhotoVision telling me that my scans are ready. I’ve fallen so in love with the colors and feel of this medium that shooting just 1 roll of film is like trying to eat just 1 Pringle – it can’t be done! I’m excited to continue know and own my craft even more as I continue to shoot film and am confident that it’s truly been one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself and my little business.
Emily is a destination film wedding photographer. She loves natural light and is available to travel worldwide.