When someone asks me the difference between film and digital photographs, it takes everything in me not to pull up my soapbox, stand atop it and proclaim “everything.” Instead of jumping immediately to that though, I want to give you some perspective. I remember once having to stay in a little cottage on the Lost Coast of California, the small town was far from everything except an expanse of ancient redwoods, and my room didn’t have cell service, a television or even a radio. The magazines on the end-table were decades old and the silence was oddly unsettling. It’s not until you find yourself in a place like this that you really start to miss the modern conveniences that make it easy to waste away a quiet evening. As I lamented my disconnection, and counted down the hours until my morning photo-shoot I realized there was a lonely record player sitting in the corner atop a box of dust covered records in their sleeves. I looked through the options of names I’d never heard of and pulled out one that seemed like the closest match to what I’d enjoy listening to, all the while cursing my lack of cell-service – it would be way easier to pull up Pandora if only this small town had been large enough for just ONE cell tower to help a sista out!
As the first crackles of the record player sparked static throughout the tiny aging cottage I sat in, a booming voice from a lifetime ago swelled and filled the room with a sound that seemed so pure and authentic I was immediately enraptured with it. No finely-tuned, crystal clear iPhone speaker could compare to the imperfectly beautiful sounds spilling from that old record player. This particular sound, if you give it your pure attention (in a way that only a secluded historic house can really allow you), emits an unparalleled sense of nostalgia. It’s the analog nature of such a medium that allows you to truly enjoy the music in a way so many of us are too busy to appreciate most days.
It was hard, of course, to explain to my husband when I returned home just how beautiful that music had been in that moment. It’s just as difficult on many occasions when I try to relay the beauty of shooting film on wedding days as opposed to digital. I want to talk about heart, and feeling and essence, about beauty and tangibility and SOUL … but how easy is that really in a simple blog post? It can be a tough task, but I want to do my best to explain the WHY of film photography – why is it worth the risk, why is it worth the cost, why is it any better than a top of the line digital camera anyway? Why has this medium of film – once thought to be outdated – made a resurgence in the wedding and fine art industry? Why should someone choose a film photographer, anyway?
It’s simple to me, really. Film photography has soul in much the same way that the old record player in that tiny forgotten cottage on the California coast has soul. It’s not a process that can be rushed for sake of convenience. Film takes intention from the photographer. I can’t shoot though a million frames firing off in every direction hoping to capture something worthy of delivery. I have to look at the moment, have to take it in and purposefully capture every single frame exactly how I want it to look. Not only that, but a film shooter must have a mastery of understanding light, and must be particular about the methods in which to create their art.
Standing on a bluff as the wind billows through a white dress as you commit your life to another person is amazing enough – but to have a shutter drop, burning the moment onto film, a moment intentionally captured by an artist who chose it with reverence – that’s everything. For my clients, this sort of artistic, considered approach to capturing their wedding day not only creates an experience for them that is less rushed and more emotive, it creates images that are unparalleled in the rendering of light, depth, and palette.
Film, in it’s very nature, has a purity that speaks to a timeless aesthetic; there are less of-the-moment filters or editing techniques that will date the images as “OMG, sooooo 2016” when client’s look back on their photographs in a decade or two. It’s always my goal, when shooting film, to not just create beautiful images, but to create images that relay to my clients how they day truly FELT, and film assists with that by rendering light in a way more similar to the human eye than that of the digital camera. It’s this combination of an unexplainable soul, purposeful capturing, and unmatchable aesthetic that drives me to shoot film, and finds resonance with the clients that choose me.
It seems that if this was the entire story, then almost everyone would choose to shoot film, but as with anything, along with the beauty comes challenge and inconvenience. Film shooters must be fully focused, completely capable and on their best game at all times, or the risk can be great. Along with the danger to the inexperienced, comes a high price to learn, practice and shoot it. Every medium format film photograph that I take costs me around $2.50 out of my pocket whether I like the resulting images or not – this sort of investment can be difficult to swallow unless you are truly committed to the medium as an artist.
Even with these supposed drawbacks, film has made a strong resurgence in the fine art wedding industry, because in a world of quick, easy, surface-level and temporary so many of us are feeling a desire to connect to something that posses a unique beauty that can’t be replicated, and takes effort, focus and intention. So while it may be a tall order to fully convey the reason to choose a film photographer to capture your images, perhaps one day I can sit you down in a tiny cabin on the West Coast, pull out some negatives as we put on the record player and show you a little glimpse of the analog soul.