A new wedding season is almost upon me, and as ever I found myself looking for new inspiration and ways to improve myself as a photographer. Being a wedding photographer who cut their teeth in digital, I never had the experience the old guard did of shooting weddings on film. So in my infinite wisdom, I decided that was how I was going to try and challenge myself and find inspiration.
I was chatting to Hannah Hall, a fellow wedding photographer, and mentioned that I really wanted to shoot a wedding on film. She very kindly offered to let me tag along to one of her weddings and do my thing. I’m one of these people who has a thousand personal projects on the go, but very rarely finds the time to complete them, luckily with this there was a deadline of sorts to work too…a wedding day. Im not new to the world of film by any means, but any film I’ve shot has always been personal stuff, so theres no real pressure if it doesn’t come out, however with a wedding it’s a different story.
I spent an inordinate amount of time researching film stocks, how far can you push them, how do they handle artificial light, how well do they scan, whats the grain like etc etc but in the end decided to settle on two film stocks that my digital editing is loosely based on. Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400. Why did I settle on 400 speed films? Well, I knew that they could be pushed without degrading too much. This meant that for me, I wouldn’t then have to worry too much about having to buy multiple different speed films and with that, knowing how many rolls of each to buy. In retrospect, I probably should have picked up a faster black and white film, I feel like the Tri-x didn’t hold up too well being pushed 2 stops. Camera wise, I had two cameras on the go. I used a Nikon F100, which was released almost 20 years ago, and a Nikon L35AF 2 which came out in 1985. I had a use for each camera, the F100 was to be my main body and the L35 would be a little candid camera…however given that it’s nearly as old as me, I became quite frustrated with the L35 very quickly. It’s advanced years were showing, it got stuck a couple of times, and the focus scale wasn’t particularly accurate. I ended up having to ditch a roll of film half way through because the shutter jammed shut. The F100 however was a dream.
There were a few challenges across the day, mostly technical stuff that I hadn’t thought about or knew how to remedy. The Nikon F100 is compatible with most of my lenses…I say most, because up until the wedding day I assumed it was compatible with ALL of my lenses. It turns out my new Sigma 85 Art would not work, whilst my 35 Art did work. The 85 would only shoot wide open, which is all well and good in the darker environments, but outside in the sun not so much. Still, I cant complain about a 20 year old camera not working with modern lenses too much. Luckily I have some old D type Nikon lenses kicking about, so I’ll use them next time. Another issue I found was focussing in darker environments. This wasn’t evident until the scans came back, but when I was shooting, they definitely looked in focus. What I found when the scans arrived, was that the evening speeches had a lot of missed focus shots in there. I’m not sure whether thats a case of the camera not nailing focus in low light, or whether its me moving out of the focus plain before actually hitting the shutter. Part of me thinks that next time, I’d shoot all in colour and convert to black and white in post…but then the other part loves how some of the black and white did come out. I found the tri-x a little noisier than expected, so I may just use faster film next time.
So what did I take away from the whole experience. Quite a few things actually. It surprised me just how often I look at the back of my screen….I’d take a shot and then immediately go to look at the screen, only to remember I didn’t have a screen. Looking back on these scans, I think I need to trust myself more that I actually got the shot. It forced me to slow down. Knowing that I only had a certain amount of shots, I found myself waiting for the shot more, rather than firing off 10 and picking the best. As I was trying to conserve film so I didn’t run out within an hour, I was hanging out with guests more, waiting for someone to tell a joke so that I’d get those laughs and smiles. There’s a definite “Christmas” feeling about film. You shoot it, send it off and wait with anticipation for that email to arrive with the scans. When they do come through its exciting to see what you got. Zero editing! Well…I say zero, I straightened up a few shots and slightly tweaked a couple, but other than that the shots below are exactly how they came out.
This next bit is subjective however….There’s a distinct feel to film. As I said previously, my digital editing preset is based on these two film stocks, but in reality theres a big gap in how similar they are. There’s a real charm to film, I know there are some blurry shots in this set that I would never deliver in digital but there’s just something about them on film that I love. Even the imperfect photos have a beauty to them. I think in this digital era, especially in wedding photography, we strive for perfection too much. Choosing that technically perfect average photo over a moment which might not be perfectly shot, but still carries emotion in it. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of film, maybe I’m romanticising it too much, maybe given that I already shoot wet plates im biased to old techniques. I will say that shooting this wedding on film challenged me creatively, it felt like a breath of fresh air shooting in a different manner and I feel like it forced me to think and anticipate my shots more. I wouldn’t say I had fallen out of love with photography by any means, but I feel like this was a spark that reminded me why I got into this in the first place.
So the big question…would I do it again. Hell yes. Without a shadow of a doubt. I’d maybe change a few things and if I was to shoot it at one of my own weddings, I’d bring a second photographer as a bit of insurance that the shot was covered. Yes, I would definitely shoot film again and I’m currently sat here working out how best to integrate it into my workflow and wedding packages. I’m toying with the idea of it being an add on…but that’s a conversation for another day.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. These are my highlights from Hayley & Tobys wedding at the lovely Dodmoor House in Northampton. A big thanks to Hannah for letting me crash her wedding and to Hayley and Toby for letting me join them.