Film photography is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment, especially within the wedding industry. In fact, it's driving the wider international trend of so-called 'fine art' weddings, characterised by overexposed film tones and natural styling.
I love photography, and I'm rarely without my Canon 6D, but until I interviewed Liz, I knew very little about the art or science of film.
It's still rare to find a wedding photographer who will only shoot on film, but there are an increasing number of 'hybrid' photographers who can offer you the best of both worlds. So, if you're in the process of choosing your wedding photographer and you're considering film, I hope this interview helps you in your decision-making. Enjoy!
‘Fine art’ is a huge trend in the world of weddings. What's the link to film photography?
‘Fine art’ can encompass every aspect of the planning and design of a wedding. It describes an elegant, pared-back style with a strong emphasis on seasonal and loose floral design. The trend stems from a revival of film photography and moreover, the look and feel of overexposed film tones is the defining feature of fine art wedding photography. This was pioneered by Jose Villa in the US and fostered by blogs like Wedding Sparrow.
For me, it’s about much more than a trend. Like paintings - one of the original fine arts - photographs are powerful impressions: they use licence, they interpret movement and they evoke feelings. That's what I'm trying to do with my images.
What makes film photography special?
Light particles react chemically with the silver in film emulsion to give the colour a depth, contrast and grain that set film stills apart. Digital camera sensors use a mathematical process to measure pixels, but the results can appear flat. The reason film images look more natural and more tangible is because they are!
Why do you love film so much?
I grew up shooting on film - opening the back of a camera, loading a roll of film, winding it on, correctly exposing all the frames on the film to the light, unloading it carefully and then sending it to a lab. Sometimes I'd develop films myself in a darkroom. I am passionate about the exceptional and unrivalled beauty of a good film photograph that draws the eye and touches the soul. As an artist first and a technician second, this is why I choose film, especially when I’m shooting people, settings or beautiful details.
Are film photographers better photographers?
Not necessarily! It’s not the film that makes you a better photographer. As with any discipline, you perfect your craft by learning and stretching yourself. Almost all film photographers will have a very good understanding of light and exposure, which may put them at an advantage over purely digital photographers who might not have needed to learn as quickly. At £1 per shot, choosing the right settings becomes essential and naturally these skills improve my digital photography too. I usually shoot a mixture of film and digital, but if I can shoot an entire wedding on film, I will.
Developing a film photograph is a labour of love. Can you explain the process to us?
Film photography is a two-stage process. I take care of the first part, which involves choosing the film stock, handling my equipment, composing and exposing the shots. I use professional 35mm and medium format film cameras and I generally load professional grade Kodak and Fuji films. I use a light meter to help me choose the right camera settings. A professional film lab takes care of the second part of the process and most of the best labs are currently found in North America. I work with Richard Photo Lab in Los Angeles. The team there develops my film, scans the photos into a computer and creates high-resolution photos that can be edited and printed.
Wow! Does all that mean it takes longer and costs more for wedding photography?
Contrary to what you might expect, it doesn’t take me much longer to get images ready than with digital. I get film scans back within a week of sending them off and, after some basic editing, they are usually good to go. Film and lab costs are something to keep in mind – around a £1 a shot! I budget to shoot 300+ shots on film and I believe it really is worth it.
Is it possible for the untrained eye to tell the difference between film and digital images?
I’m going to sound like a cosmetics ad, but in a film image your skin will glow and appear smoother than it does in real life! More generally, it can be obvious which is which, although with good editing the untrained eye will have difficulty. In my free download Why Film? I show side-by-side comparison images shot on film and digital cameras, so why not visit my website and have a go for yourself? I hope you’ll agree that film photography is gorgeous. Often, black and white film works best and you can create a wonderful motion blur with film that’s almost painterly.
Your images are so light and airy! But what happens if you’re not getting married outdoors, or if the venue doesn’t have lots of natural light?
The lighting on your wedding day is important regardless of whether your photographer shoots film or digital. Outdoors is always the best light and golden hour – the hour or so before the sun sets - is the prettiest. When I plan the photography for my clients I always make a note of the sunset time, and, if the weather is changeable on the day, I insist on breaking away from the schedule to incorporate those beautiful portrait shots. It may make me unpopular at the time, but you’ll thank me afterwards!
I usually advise couples getting married indoors to hire in event lighting. Film can be exposed perfectly with artificial light if natural light isn’t available. White light is the best as it mimics natural light. Tungsten gives a strong yellow tint (on film or digital), which is hard to remove. Black and white film is the best way to go in this case.
I’m sold, but surely it’s risky given that you can’t preview an image on the back of your camera?
You would think that film is riskier, but there are no guarantees with digital either. At least 80% of my film images are consistently spot on, whereas I am likely to discard 50% of my digital shots before I even get to editing. Ultimately it all comes down to the skill of the photographer!
Liz is a fine art wedding photographer based in the south west of England, but she works throughout the UK and Europe. Her work has been featured in major wedding publications in the UK and internationally, including Magnolia Rouge, Love My Dress and Perfect Wedding. She is also an exclusive handpicked vendor for Wedding Sparrow, the world’s biggest fine art wedding blog. If you’d like to download her free guide to film photography, or find out more about the services she offers, visit her website www.lizbakerphotography.co.uk.