Is Film “Better” Than Digital?

filed in: Business, Tips for Clients

September 8, 2014

Film photography is all the rage right now.  Browse any of the top wedding photography blogs and you can clearly see the impact that film photography is having on the wedding photography industry.  Blog and magazine editors seem to gravitate towards the film look… I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  The warm skin tones, soft muted colors, the creamy tonality of the image, grain that creates a matte finish, that soft focus, ‘fine art’ look.  Editors nowadays publish a TON of film photography work – therefore, it’s become a highly sought-after medium for wedding photography.  Don’t get me wrong.  Film photography is absolutely BEAUTIFUL.  The work of Jose Villa, KT Merry, Erich McVey, Elisa Bricker, Ryan Ray, Jen Huang, and even Charleston’s own Virgil Bunao makes me practically drool.

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That being said, my personal preference is for digital photography.  I love photos that are bright and vibrant.  I LOVE color + contrast!  Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to develop an editing style that is consistently described as “clean, bright, timeless” and my clients love my work because of that color pop.  It all stems from my shooting style and how I use light during a session or wedding.  The editing process just fine tunes and enhances what I’ve captured in camera and it’s exactly what I want to be known for.

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As much as I LOVE film and the soft, creamy, muted tones it can produce, that just isn’t my style.  I’ll admit – I jumped on the bandwagon last year and bought a film camera.  After all, I originally learned to shoot on film and thought it was something I had to do to keep up with everyone else in the industry.  Looking back now, that was really naive of me.  Although I’ve shot some film this past year, at the end of the day, I’ve come to realize that I’m just not a film photographer.  And that’s okay.

There is nothing “wrong” with a photographer who shoots digitally.  A digital photographer is not any less talented or any less of a professional than a film photographer.  Unfortunately, sometimes it feels that way when some magazine/blog editors or wedding planners won’t even consider working with a photographer unless they shoot film.  In my opinion, it’s really just a personal choice and, for me, I love digital photography.  Here’s why…

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Digital photography allows me to shoot quickly, which is so important on a wedding day.  I don’t have to worry about changing film backs throughout the day and I can ensure (by looking at the LCD screen) that I got “the shot”.  With film, you don’t have that instant gratification and it can be a crap shoot – for lack of a better term.  If someone blinks, makes a funny face, isn’t looking at the camera, or if the shot is really out of focus, you won’t know until you get your film scans back.  And that terrifies me because I’m a perfectionist.  I’d much rather KNOW that I have the shot so I can move forward with confidence.

Digital photography also allows me to deliver images to my clients quickly.  With film photography, you have to send in all of the film to a lab for processing and wait for your scans to be delivered.  This can take 3-4 weeks.  By that time, because I shoot digitally, I’ve already delivered my clients’ online gallery, blogged their wedding, delivered their digital images, submitted the wedding for publication, and even designed + delivered the first draft of their album design!  Since I am shooting a wedding almost every weekend, staying on top of my workflow is important.  I love how digital photography allows me to quickly process a wedding and move on to the next one!

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Digital photography also allows me to shoot “unlimited” images on my clients’ wedding day.  There is no financial ‘penalty’ for overshooting – as long as I have space on my memory card, I can shoot to my hearts content.  With film, there is always a cost to consider.  Film photographers generally have a set number of rolls of film that they can shoot throughout the wedding day.  This means that they have to be conscious of the amount of photos they are taking throughout the entire day.  Film is not cheap and neither is the processing.  For example, one 120 roll of Kodak Portra 400 is almost $6 and that yields 16 frames.  To develop that roll of film, it costs around $18 per roll plus shipping.  That breaks down to $1.50 per image!  As I’m sure you can imagine, film photographers simply can’t afford to shoot and deliver as many images as a digital photographer.  On average, I deliver 900 images to my clients from their wedding day.  If I were shooting film and delivered that same amount, it would cost $1,350 and that doesn’t even take into account the images that get discarded because of poor exposure, awkward facial expressions, eye blinks, etc.  For me, and the way I like to shoot weddings, it just wouldn’t make financial sense.

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Digital photography also gives me the “look” I love.  I’m all about bright, crisp, colorful images and I just haven’t been able to duplicate that look with film.  I’m not saying that it can’t be done… I’m sure it can.  I just haven’t fallen in love with the film images I’ve shot nearly as much as I’ve fallen in love with my digital images.  Grain and haze isn’t my style and that’s totally fine.  To each their own!  However, just because I use and prefer digital photography doesn’t mean that I’m “worse” than someone who shoots and loves film.

At the end of the day, whether you choose to work with a digital or film photographer is a personal choice.  Right now, film is all the rage and widely considered high-end and luxurious – something reserved for the elite.  Naturally, many people are intrigued by that and think that film is the way to go if they want the best possible wedding photography.  I don’t necessarily buy into that because there are SO MANY talented digital photographers out there – plus there are plenty of digital photographers out there who can even emulate the look of film with their digital photography.  Photographers like Justin & Mary, Kristen Weaver, Katelyn James, Trevor Dayley, Melissa Jill (edited 5/2015: Melissa Jill now shoots film), Jasmine Star, and Natalie Franke – who all shoot digitally and produce simply amazing work!

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As I always say, if you love a photographers’ style + their personality, that’s really the most important thing.  Whether they create the images you love with film or whether they shoot digitally, it really doesn’t matter.  There is no right or wrong – the most important thing is that you love your photographer’s work + style!  The end result – the images – are what really matter.. not how they are produced.

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  1. Libby McGowan

    September 8th, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Yes, a million times YES!! Thank you so much for writing this!

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