So, film is cool. It’s motivating, but you’ve built a whole brand around digital. You are sitting there wondering how to incorporate film into your work but don’t know-how. I’ve got some tips on how to do it.
So, the first step is to go get a film camera with film in it and start using it. That’s it. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
I joke, but it is really that easy and then again it isn’t. So, I do actually have some thoughts on how to incorporate film into your work. I’m a wedding photographer, so I’m going to speak from that perspective, but it really is something that could be said about just about any other genre of photography as well.
It’s OK to break up the feed
For me, one thing that I love about film is that it’s OK to get out of the mold of uniformity. This is kinda the whole point for me. I want my film work to look different. So, I’m not someone who is trying to make film work that looks exactly like digital (or visa versa). There are plenty of awesome photographers who use a hybrid life that uses both film and then presets like Mastin or DVLOP that you can’t tell the difference. One reason that I think this works for a lot of those is that many of those people started on film and are matching their digital work to it. Take for example Jose Villa. It’s really hard to know which images he takes on which format. That’s great for him because that is his brand. But, if you’re just getting into film, I want to encourage you to get out of your head and to get out of your perfectly curated Instagram feed.
For me, film is a chance to try new things. I do way more double exposures, strange edits, cooky cameras, different colors and new ideas on film than I do on digital. For me, that is the whole reason I do it. Experimentation is a vital part of staying fresh. There are a few of you who heard me say that and are thinking “weddings are not the place to experiment.” I totally understand that hesitation, but I think that weddings are the best place to experiment if you’re a wedding photographer. But, an experiment isn’t throwing out everything I’ve done in the past. In a normal wedding, 98 or 99% of the photos I take are within my normal “comfort area.” It is only 5 minutes out of the hours I’m on site that I’m really trying this new stuff. It really is a low-risk, high-reward situation because sometimes those photos turn out and are amazing. Sometimes they’re garbage, but these experiments keep me going.
Make it easy on yourself
So, my first tip when you’re thinking about incorporating film into your work is to make it easy on yourself. As a wedding photographer, the first time I wanted to bring film with me, I didn’t go out and buy everything for a large format camera and drag that around with me all day. Instead, I carried either a point and shoot film camera like this Yashica T4 or a Canon SLR that used the same lenses as my main bodies. I’m going to slip into my wedding suit for a second. No, you can see that it’s actually pretty easy to incorporate either of those cameras into my normal attire. With this vest, I can slide the point and shoot right into my pocket here. Or, I can have this EOS 3 slung over my back in a way that it doesn’t hit the two cameras hanging on my sides, but is easy to grab and throw on a lens when I want to use it.
Also, in this same thing, make it easy on yourself by just trying to use one roll of film. Put the film in the camera before you start the day and use it. If you don’t use it up, no worries. If you do, just put the camera away. If you’re experimenting and don’t have someone with you to re-load film, it might take away from moments that you’d otherwise use for photos with clients.
For me, I only shoot 2-4 rolls per wedding, so I can keep the used ones in this travel wallet I used for used memory cards. If I used more film, I’d have to come up with a different solution. I just like easy solutions.
My next tip is to be weird. Again, this sounds odd to say about a wedding day. But I want this to be different. So, I have used all kinds of films and cameras on wedding days. I’ve used an expired slide film. I’ve used a Lomo camera to make quadruple exposures. I’ve used this little camera that takes 4 photos with one in each of the primary colors in a little set. If you’re going to be different, just embrace that.
But with that experimentation of being weird, have a plan. Don’t be random. Have a plan and a reason that you’re using that camera or that film. Do you remember the experiments during high school science class labs? You started with a hypothesis, then ran the experiment and compared your results to that original hypothesis. The same process is great for the 2% of a wedding day you’re experimenting with. Do the same thing a few weddings in a row and you’ll learn how to make your results match your expectations. That then is the moment you no longer are experimenting with this idea, but it’s instead a solution you have in your mind. And the more solutions you can count on, the better prepared you’re going to be to make unique and artful images.
Keep your delivery times the same
My second to last tip about starting to incorporate film with work you’re already doing is to be aware of development times and plan accordingly. Whether you’re developing yourself or sending it off, it takes longer to see those photos. So, just stay on top of those and make sure that these experiments don’t become the reason you aren’t delivering images on time (or that they don’t become an excuse for late delivery).
Not everyone cares
And my last tip is to remember that most people don’t care about the process as much as you do. I know that’s a little hard to hear (and something I hate to remind myself). But, a boring photo is still a boring photo if it was taken on film. Keep experimenting and pushing your results to be something unique and people will want to know more, but that will only come from success. And to get to success, you have to keep experimenting.
That’s it for now. If you have any other tips on how to start incorporating film into your body of work, leave them in the comments. If you want me to experiment with film at your wedding, I’d love to chat.