As a Charleston wedding photographer, I travel all over the country from my home-base shooting special days for clients on film and I’ve spent years honing the craft. Film, as a medium in wedding photography, has made a resurgence in popularity in recent years for outdoor-centric couples, and has become a common option in the photography game.
It’s no surprise that more and more brides are starting to catch on to the differences between film wedding photographers vs digital wedding photographers (read more about why you should choose a film photographer here). Now that film shooters are an option for most clients – I wanted to make a point to aid those brides and grooms seeking a film wedding photographer be prepared before they sign on the dotted line.
In this article, I’ll help answer some frequently asked questions about film wedding photography, suggest questions that you should ask any film photographer you’re considering hiring for your wedding, and let you in on the important details you should know going into your search. Have you already read the below and decided you want to inquire about my own film photography for wedding days? I’d love to chat. Contact me by clicking here.
Frequently asked questions about film wedding photography in general (and their answers):
- 1. Will film images look different than that of a digital shooter? Yes! Film images look different than digital images. Film photographs can retain more highlights, dynamic range, creamier image compression for backgrounds, a smoother blending of light and tone, more true-to-life color palette, a more appealing grain, and overall more aesthetically pleasing texture and controlled vibrancy.
- 2. How are these film images uploaded or edited? Once the photographs are taken on film rolls, they are given to a film lab who then processes them, and scans the wedding negatives into the computer at a high resolution. These images are then uploaded online and given to the photographer for final review. The photographer can edit images, and will delivery them in the exact same way (as High-Resolution, downloadable JPEG files) no matter whether images are taken on film or digital cameras.
- 3. How is shooting different? Instead of rapid, successive machine-gun shooting, a film shooter often shoots for quality and not quantity in a very intentional manner – choosing to fire at the precise right moment. This means less fired frames, but still results in the same number of images delivered to the client as digital shooters provide. Clients often prefer this methodical approach and feel it gives them a chance to slow down and soak in the actual moments.
- 4. How long does it take to see the photos and how many can I expect? Film labs typically take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to deliver images to the photographer once processed. I personally aim to delivery my wedding images around the 1-month wedding anniversary. High season can push it to 6 weeks, but rarely longer than that. I typically deliver 60-90 photographs per hour of shooting coverage (be sure to ask this of any photographer you’re considering!)
- 5. I thought film was dead? Isn’t that the same thing my parents had their wedding shot on? I hear this one often and it makes me laugh! Yes, your parents probably had their wedding shot on film, and have a wedding album of less than 30 prints to prove it! That being said, film cameras and the makers of film like Fuji and Kodak have come a long way in the last few decades. Not only that, but film is shot differently using modern methods that help to give it a big distinction from the photos most recognize from the 80s.
- 6. How does a film shooter know what they’re getting if there is no screen or ability to view images until days later? Through experience and training, film photographers have to rely on their ability to “see” light all around them in the moment and not rely on a screen to tell them if something is pretty or not. It comes with practice, and I believe makes someone a better shooter as they hone this skill instead of relying on the crutch of instant feedback.
- 7. Is a “fine art photographer” the same thing as a “film photographer”? Whoa, nelly. Hold on to your hats for this one. NO! These terms can often be interchanged in today’s wedding industry, I’m even guilty of it myself – but to be clear, they aren’t always the same thing. The term “fine art” was used for a long time in the photography world before the current modern usage. Before, it was used to reference more creative-based or artistic shooting that often featured heavy contrasts, black and whites, nudes, or avant-garde work – and you’ll still see that usage today mixed in with everything else. Another usage of “fine art photographer” (when the word “film” is omitted) is used both film and digital shooters, so don’t consider that term to be a confirmation that film is being used. For an idea of what the current usage of “fine art photographer” means, read more on my blog post here.
- 8. Are there different kinds of film photographer? YES! Just like with digital shooters, there is a wide variation in the style of photographs between film shooters. Some film photographers (like myself) specialize in work that is rich in color and contrast, while others create images that use a diluted, more neutral palette. There are also difference in how film shooters pose, direct, and capture images – some strive for lively, emotional images while others might feel still. Be sure to not just look at the word “film” on someone’s website, but to truly consider the work they are creating.
- 9. Can I have a film photographer and an indoor wedding? Absolutely. While film truly excels in natural light and outdoor weddings, the right film photographer knows tricks to shoot indoors using window light, ambient light, a variety of film stocks, tripods and sometimes flash. Keep in mind though, that the worse the lighting conditions, the better the photographer needs to be.
Questions you should ask any film photographer you’re considering hiring for your wedding:
Let me be real for a second here. One thing you almost always see or hear in the wedding photographer forums is how annoying it is to get a long, impersonal list of questions from clients before they’re even in the running to shoot the wedding. I’m not saying it bothers me that much – but I hear this gripe OFTEN. While I myself love the challenge and believe there is no question I can’t answer – I get it – to some photographers these lists of questions feels like a client doesn’t trust them to be a professional. The problem with that is – some people’s AREN’T professionals and I believe clients have the right to ask if they feel so inclined. Just because these lists annoy photographers doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the answer to your questions.
Hint: To get the best response (and avoid insulting an artist whose work you really love!), don’t send an email with 20 questions expecting every potential wedding photographer to fill it out. Instead, select your top choice, confirm your budget matches their price-point – and then feel free to ask questions until your heart’s content. Once they know you’re invested in them, they should be more than happy to answer anything. -(if they aren’t? RUN. Wedding photographers should always have a heart to serve.)
- 10. How much of the wedding is actually shot on film? Be weary of those who are only shooting a few rolls of film and presenting that on their Instagram or website. Film is EXPENSIVE for a photographer – an experienced film shooter shouldn’t be cheap. If it sounds too good to be true, it might mean they actually shoot digital while mixing in film frames. This is one of the dangers of relying on a photographer’s perfect instagram feed or curated website – you don’t know what the images that aren’t in their “highlight reel” actually look like. Which leads me to the next question…
- 11. What do their full galleries look like? Out of all 20 “things you should know” that I’ve created for you in this article, this is the ONE I wish I could share with every single couple looking for their wedding photographer. FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING GOOD – if you do nothing else – ask to see full wedding galleries. Multiple galleries. No photographer who is confident in their work will have a problem sharing these. I would say you should be viewing 3-6 wedding galleries from any photographer you’re considering. I truly wish I could express the hidden discrepancies that can sometimes (sadly) exist between a beautifully curated instagram feed and a photographer’s full galleries. Not only can you see a photographer’s quality, you can see their consistency, how they approach a wedding and what you can expect to receive as a client when all is said and done.
- 12. How long have they been shooting film? While there are some who will pick it up faster than others, there are a ton of people who “dabble” in the idea of becoming film photographers, get the right equipment, produce a few beautiful rolls and then add the moniker “film photographer” to their website to attract clients. Film can be a difficult medium to master, and it truly takes a couple years to get the hang of it to the level wedding clients deserve. That being said, budget and desired quality will be relative depending on the client, and therefor the photographer’s length of experience will likely vary as well based on those factors.
- 13. Do they have backup film equipment? As wonderful as film is for a million different reasons, film equipment (at least the most popular set-ups used among wedding photographers today) is an old technology. While digital shooters use gear often less than 2-3 years old at any given time, a film shooter might be using a camera that’s 20 years old! Film gear will have issues. The good news is, these issues typically don’t cause harm to images unlike when a digital camera’s card corrupts. What film equipment failure can mean however, is that the camera is inoperable until it can be repaired. Because of this COMMON occurrence, I travel with no less than 3 film cameras (in addition to digital equipment) at any given time so that I’m always prepared for what surprises my gear might present me with.
- 14. Do they have an assistant or film loader? There are 16 frames on every roll of medium format film – that means every 16 images a film shooter needs to open their camera and add a new roll. The way that I personally make this seamless is to have an assistant focused entirely on loading my film so I’m always ready to fire. If a film photographer loads their own film, that means there can be up to a 20 second delay (or more!) between every 16 frames, and that can lead to missed moments. While others might disagree, I’ve always felt strongly that to provide a full story of the day, I need a dedicated film loader/assistant with me throughout the day.
- 15. How are they prepared for less-than-ideal shooting scenarios (like rain, unfavorable weather, or bad light)? An experienced and in-demand film shooter will have had ample time to learn the tricks of the trade. I’ve personally photographed in hurricanes, snowstorms, and in direct light on a 105 degree day, in the middle of warehouses, inside cars, standing on cliffs, on mountain tops, on 15 foot ladders, in chapels that only hold 10 people, or dim cathedrals that could seat hundreds. I’ve learned first and foremost to protect my gear so that I can perform what’s asked of me (this includes a pretty amazing harness-umbrella and plastic covers for my assistants and gear). Beyond that though, photographers need to be prepared to deliver images that are of similar quality to what clients see on their website. Smart photographers will do everything in their power to educate clients on how best to attain these type of photographs – through pre-planning, backup-plans and in-the-moment decision making.
- 16. Is the work on their website/social media predominantly from styled shoots, or of REAL WEDDING days? This is tough – you may not get straight answers to be honest (unless you asked it specifically about a single image), so it’s not really a question you can always ask – but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to encourage you to find this answer out for yourself. Be smart. One way I’ve found to determine what’s real vs. fake or “styled” on a photographer’s to read the text on Instagram captions to see if they’re real clients or wedding days. I often try to allude to the fact that my work is almost always of real clients who hired me to shoot real wedding days. If a photographer is skipping over tagging a client or mentioning that it was an actual wedding day in some way, be aware of this, and be alert to other signs. Almost all photographers take part in styled shoots that are of models, but they shouldn’t be presenting that as as a real wedding. (The photo above? Real wedding.)
- 17. How do they approach shooting after dark? There are actually a few schools of thought on this, and for the most part I don’t think either of them is wrong. Film shooters typically fall into two categories – one will shoot film through all elements of the day, no matter what, and the other will shoot film until flash is necessary. I often find myself riding the line of these – I shoot film 100% from details and getting ready all the way until first dances, but when the dance floor heats up, the lights go down and the band gets pumping (and the drinks start flowing!) I’ve found that I like to pull out the digital camera and a flash to capture the party scene vibe. While film is king for all other elements of the day – a drunken dance floor is the exception to me. Sometimes, when a room is just too dark for color film to capture well (say in a dark church), I will use a beautiful, grainy black and white film, or color film on a tripod, often mixed with digital images so that I’m still able to deliver color photos to clients of that element of the day. Regardless of how your film shooter chooses to approach the “after-dark” hours – make sure it’s the style YOU are comfortable with and see those galleries ahead of time!!!
Things you should know going into this:
- 18. Light MATTERS. This applies to all photographers, but especially to those of us who have a heart for film. If you have found a love of film photographs, make the effort to understand what light will work best. Backlit outdoor ceremonies, shaded mid-day spaces (often with trees nearby), Sperry-tented or al fresco dinners and cocktail hours can really make your film photographer’s work sing.
- 19. Choose a getting-ready location with as much thought as you do your ceremony or reception. So often couples put countless hours into visiting and deciding on venues for their ceremony and reception spaces. What they don’t realize is that the “getting-ready” location, especially for the bridal party is just as important when it comes to photography. The prep location is where the details (shoes, dress, bouquet, etc) are all shot, where the bride gets into her dress, and often depending how a timeline is structured, where the bridesmaid and groomsmen photos are taken. These spaces should have ample windows and natural light OR a covered porch attached, with interior design that is pleasing to the couple’s tastes. Outside at the getting-ready location, I suggest shade trees if at all possible so that mid-day bridesmaid portraits can happen with beautiful light.
- 20. Film photographers can be more expensive, but it’s worth it. Because of the high cost to use film (up to $2.50 out of a photographer’s pocket for every single image a shooter takes), film photographers do tend to me more expensive than their digital counterparts. This is something to be aware of, but not discouraged about. Just like anything, you get what you pay for. In the wedding industry prices are set on supply and demand. The more desirable a photographer’s work, the higher their price point will likely be. This holds true for many film photographers, but if you search for the right company, the right connection with the shooter and their work, their product will be something that lasts exponentially longer than every other element you purchase for your wedding day. That sort of investment, both financially and emotionally – can’t be taken lightly. Make a decision that you will be happy with long after the wedding day is over.
I hope you enjoyed this article about 20 things you should know before hiring a film wedding photographer! If you think my work and approach might fit into what you’re looking for, please feel free to inquire with me (and I promise to let you ask any questions you want) 😉
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