I grew up in this weird time of transition in photography. The first common digital camera came out when I was in middle school. I remember marveling at the wonder that was the digital Sony Mavica. You could take photos directly to a FLOPPY DISK! That, my friends, was advanced technology. We had a Mavica, but it wasn’t the camera of a serious photographer like little middle schooler me! I saved up my birthday money and got the camera that I could really use, a film Canon Rebel 2000.
Digital photography: a Sensible Progression
That camera treated me well, but the cost of film coupled with my loose shutter finger made photography an expensive hobby for my parents to support. Lucky for me, digital cameras were coming along quickly.
The first DSLR cameras of acceptable quality came out around my freshman year of college and I was quick to “upgrade.”
I had nothing at all against film, but as a college student who took lots of photos, going digital just made sense. And digital has been great. It's lowered the barrier to entry and made starting a photography business easier than ever.
So why go back now? Well, I think I have a few compelling reasons why, actually!
1. The Look of Film Photography
When I went digital, my primary factor for consideration was price. I was a hobbyist and, after you bought a digital camera and memory card, the cost to take each photo is $0, so digital just made financial sense.
As I grew in skill and developed my style, I began to notice the differences between film and digital. Before I switched, my images had a creamy look with just a bit of rich grain in the shadows. With digital, images were often harsh and yet looked flat at the same time.
The colors were different too. Film renders greens cool and clean while digital renders them yellow and muddy.
Skin tones look warm and smooth with film, a look that’s hard to match no matter how much time you spend editing with digital images. Shooting digital still made sense, but I began to learn about the tradeoffs I’d have to make as a result.
As fine art wedding photographers, we’re fully aware of the look we want, and that look is the classic and romantic look of film. Editing workflows have allowed us to make our digital look more and more like film, but in the end, it’s still almost but not quite.
2. The Craft of Film Photography
Technology has made accessible so many things that were once out of reach. Photography is a prime example. With the proliferation of affordable semi-pro cameras, anyone can spend a few hundred bucks and get nice photos of almost anything.
This very fast is what allowed me to get where I am. But as I mentioned before, there are always tradeoffs. While it may be easier than ever to become a photographer, the craft of photography is still one that takes time and devotion to master.
A craftsman is one who devotes his time and effort to mastering a particular skill. The process of shooting film allows us to do just that. With digital, you can constantly look at the back of the camera and see how you're doing and adjust on the spot. With film, you have to know what you're doing as you don't have that liberty.
Shooting film also requires us to be fully engaged in photographic process. “I’ll fix it in post” is a phrase that came about with the advent of digital photography. Things you used to have to tend to before you shot the photo could now be ignored for convenience sake and fixed on a computer.
While it’s nice to have the option to modify an image should the need arise, the idea of fixing things in post can make a photographer lazy. With film, you’re required to stop, think and see with your own eyes what the camera is about to capture. As a film shooter, I have to be continually engaged with what I’m shooting as I can’t rely on photoshop “fix” what I’ve left undone in my shot.
3. The Authenticity of Film Photography
If you want your photos to look like film, you have more options than ever! Film emulation is all the rage and, in our opinion, options like VSCO and Mastin do a great job at improvinging the visual aesthetic of an image.
The problem is, they’re trying to be something they’re not. As artists, we value authenticity and our thoughts are, why make something look like something else when we could just have that "something else" in the first place?
A place for Digital Photography
I’ve just spent all that time touting film, but I still see us relying on our digital cameras for much of our work. While film really does shine in ideal conditions, digital also has some great strengths as well.
For situations that require quick adaptability or generous low light capabilities, you can’t beat the power of high quality digital equipment. And in those circumstances, we will continue to stick with our digital gear.
But when it’s opportune and effective for us to do so, we plan to use film for its ability to allow us to capture beautiful moments in a timeless way. After all, you deserve nothing less!