Why I shoot film
Ethereal colours, that oh so perfect grittiness of grain, all that soulful good stuff. We all know that film just looks amazing. I’m a film wedding photographer, and I love everything about it. There are still a lot of misconceptions and myths about using film to shoot weddings though. Bananas, as it’s a method that’s been trusted for centuries!
My first camera was a small point and shoot 110 film camera. This was 1981, and I was six years old. The camera I take to weddings is a similar age. It’s a Pentax my brother brought home one day when I was 16. I’ve been taking photos with that camera for THIRTY YEARS. I’m giving away my age but also blowing my mind that I still get so much use out of that camera. Lifting it to my face is so inspiring!
Safe to say, I’m a little bit in love with film photography. Ok, a lot. I am delighted to see more and more of my couples showing an interest in having their wedding photographed on analogue. The last two years, all the weddings I photographed were entirely film.
Interested in film wedding photography but also a touch nervous? Allow me to bust some film wedding photography myths for you, and answer those lingering questions.
How do you know so much about film photography?
Here’s my elevator pitch:
I started my photography career using a film camera. I was a photojournalist in London in the early 2000s, and I had no option but to do it all on analogue. Digital was not even a choice. In the cut-throat world of photojournalism, getting ‘the shot’ was a deal-breaker. If you didn’t get the photo, you didn’t work.
With the pressure on to get the shot, you also have a limited amount of exposures on your roll of film. Imagine knowing you have only 15 chances! Suddenly you’re in the moment, not a single other thought on your mind. This is what shooting film is like for me at weddings.
Although I have digital cameras and I do use them for backup, film is where I’m happiest. The ability to take an endless amount of photos is removed. Each image has to be thought about before pressing the shutter. Take the photo and move on, no second guessing and trying to perfect what is probably already perfect!
There is so much fun to be had in the darkroom too, the OG Photoshop. Most of my time at Central St Martin’s was spent in the darkroom and the library. Oh, yes, I learnt to develop my own film too! I’m not a control freak, honest, I just really like to know I’m the one in charge of what my film is doing.
Will we get less photos?
Although I take less photos, ironically there will be more ‘keepers’. There are a limited number of images on a roll of film. If what I see doesn’t excite me I won’t take a photo. The limitation of not being able to just mindlessly shoot a thousand images as with digital makes me so much more present in the moment.
You really want photos that have the following –
A display of emotion
Those are the images you will receive. All killer, zero filler. (Averages around 400-600, for those of you looking for numbers).
But I do admit to a fondness for shoes.
How can you trust an old camera?
It’s a common misconception that digital is the ‘safe bet’. So much can go wrong! Batteries fail, memory cards fail, the camera fails and I’ve had issues in humidity and cold. I’ve never had a film camera fail on me. At a very hot Joshua Tree wedding, all the digital cameras turned off in the heat. I shot the rest of the day on a $40 compact film camera and the results are gorgeous.
My film cameras are like tanks. They are fully mechanical and can withstand a torrent of abuse. One of my cameras is the same one used by war photographer Don McCullin. His is on display in the Imperial War Museum, still working and complete with the damage from the bullet that was fired at him. That camera saved him from an AK-47.
Will our photos take ages to get back to us?
It takes me less than two weeks in the busy season to develop and scan my images. As there is minimal editing with film, I can get them to you so much faster. With digital, the editing time is much longer. Film already has the magic on the negative.
With film, there is an actual image made right there at your wedding. Light passes through the camera, hits the sensor and boom. An image is created. A tangible thing you can hold in your hand, in the form of a negative, created on an antique. The image below is from a camera made in 1959.
Could our film get lost in the post?
No. I hand develop all my film.
What happens if something goes wrong at the lab
The chances of something going wrong at the lab is so minimal. In all my decades of shooting film, I have never had a problem with developing. Even the one-hour photo places back in the nineties delivered 10/10. I actually hand develop all my own film in the darkroom now. I use the best Kodak Brand Chemistry and Ilford for all my film processing. I’d trust the process more than a memory card, any day.
But doesn’t film look weird?
Film has an amazing dynamic range. That’s huge in a situation where someone wearing a dark suit stands next to a person wearing a white dress. Two white dresses together? A nightmare in the harsh sun on digital. With film, I can point my camera right into the sun and the highlights soften beautifully. The Nikon L35AF always creates a circular lens flare for me when I do that. The image on the right is a classic example of that.
Film wedding photography was popular from the 1880s. It’s beautiful and timeless. In my opinion film is beautiful and nothing comes close. Each image is a tiny piece of art, carefully thought about and hand developed. My style is very much ‘home video from the 90s’, and film fits right in to that.
What does film mean to you?
Film is something my parents’ and grandparents’ weddings were photographed on. Take a look at my parents’ wedding album. They married in 1969, and the film photos still look as gorgeous today.
Imagine 30, 40, 50 years from now. Sitting down with your people and showing them your wedding photos on your phone?
Digging out a box of photos, or a beautifully made album?
I even photographed my own wedding, on film. I won’t post them all publicly, but I will happily show you my wedding album if we meet in person. It was Vegas, so be prepared.
With four decades of working with film under my belt, I felt it was time to share my knowledge. My course, the Analog Anarchist’s Guide to Film Photography, opens 2023. You can find more information and the waitlist sign up HERE.
Film wedding photographer
Please enjoy this gallery of film wedding photos. All taken with the following –
Yashica 635 TLR (1959) | Nikon F (1959) | Polaroid SX-70 (1972) | Pentax Asahi 35mm (1978) | Nikon L35AF (1979) | Bronica SQ-A MF (1984) | Yashica T3 (1988) | Olympus MJU 35mm (1991) | Kodak Cameo 35mm (1993) | Canon Sureshot (1995) | Pentax 645N (1997) | Canon 3 35mm (1998)
My favourite film stocks are –