Tips for Shooting Weddings on Film

Can you believe that I shot weddings on film for over a decade? It seems crazy to me now after another decade of shooting digitally but that was the available technology at the time. After working commercially mostly on transparency up until moving into weddings, it did feel like a much easier option. There were zero additional processes with shooting transparency. You shot, had it developed, and handed the results over to your client. If you’ve come into the industry in digital times, this might seem hard to imagine.

No ability to adjust anything after shooting something. Kinda terrifying, right?

When I started to shoot 35mm film, it felt liberating. Any errors could be somewhat rectified afterward. However, moving into digital means that ANY and all errors can be dealt with. Whichever programme you use to ‘develop’ your images has dozens of parameters that can be altered to make your pictures better. If it’s a little wonky, straighten it; if too dark or too light change your exposure; colour balance a little off – Simply dial it in, etc.

Recently I’ve been wondering if all of this striving to perfect our images actually knocks some of the soul out of them. I was in this frame of mind when I spoke at the Way Up North conference for wedding photographers in Vienna a few months ago. 

One of my fellow presenters was New York based John Dolan. If that’s a name that’s unfamiliar to you, you may well have still seen his work as his weddings regularly appear in high-end publications. His clientele is an impressive list of who’s who – including the recent nuptials of US president Joe Biden’s granddaughter at the White House. 

John spoke about his love of shooting weddings on film and how perfection was something that he let go of striving for and instead focuses on the messy human drama that unfolds. You can read his excellent book The Perfect Imperfect if you wish to explore this topic more with him.

Weddings are never perfect. Work in the industry for any amount of time and you know this to be true. There are simply too many logistics involved and too many people who all arrive with their sets of emotions. So why on earth as wedding photographers do we often work so hard to present a perfect version of these days? I believe it’s because we can but it’s potentially more interesting to see what unfolds if you simply let go of that. 

Now we might not all want to be the next Ian Weldon who has made a fascinating career out of being ‘Not A Wedding Photographer’ and highlighting the often peculiar aspects of British wedding days. But what if this idea of releasing yourself from perfection-seeking appeals? How does that translate into shooting weddings in modern times? Maybe it’s not about looking forward, maybe it’s about looking backward.

Same as music made in an analogue method has potentially more heart to it than something produced entirely in digital form, photography created with analogue cameras and film is having a huge revival. 

And not just with wedding photographers but also with Gen Z in general. Once Kendall Jenner started showing up on TV with a Contax T2, the camera rocketed in value and now sells on eBay for close to $2000. Why point-and-shoot film cameras? Because the look you get from an SLR isn’t that different from using a DSLR and a film preset. The quirks of a point-and-shoot are what make it fun. Because if it’s about the 90s look, then shooting on cameras manufactured in the 90s is the most authentic way to do it. Is this a trend for wedding photographers too?

Confession time, I’m so here for it. I’ve gone from using LensFayre’s Snap, an eco version of a disposable camera to an Olympus XA1 with a fixed F8 lens and now a Contax TVS which I picked up for £300. I’ve shot all of them at weddings now and loved it because I can just have them in my pocket and the resulting images have a carefree element from both me and the clients. There’s something about a little snappy camera that breaks the formality of posing for wedding photos. They are fun to shoot and it’s fun to get your film back from the lab. 

So here are some tips from me if you are thinking of getting into this trend…

How To Shoot Weddings on Film

  1. Where To Buy Film Cameras? 

My favourite place to look is a shop called Clocktower Cameras in my home city, Brighton. This is a proper little cornucopia for anlogue that’s been there for as long as I can remember. They do have a stock list online if you are not local. Ebay, of course but be prepared to pay top dollar there. If you want to make your budget go further, Oxfam has a page selling cameras including a film section.

  1. Where To Buy Film? 

As it’s no longer mass-produced, film is quite expensive. I’ve actually found my local branch of Boots to be the most cost-effective. Online, both Bristol Cameras and Analogue Wonderland have a great range and I recommend looking in Urban Outfitters. They have quite a range including UK indie brands like Kosmo Foto plus they sell new and used analogue cameras.

  • 3. Where To Get Film Developed?

I use the Brighton Film Lab which can be via mail order. For other online services, I recommend Bristol-based Jack’s Lab, Take It Easy Lab and Analogue Wonderland has a developing service.

  1. How To Shoot on Film?

With the flash on, even in daylight. I even shoot detail shots like this. It is all about getting a 90s look to images, it’s the very opposite of the fine art, wide open aperture, natural light technique that has dominated wedding photography for the last two decades.

Is this just a trend that will go away soon? Maybe but we now have a generation who grew up with all the technology in the world and parents that plastered digital photos of them all over social media. A nostalgia has formed for a lower-tech time and that ultimate Gen Z platform TikTok is full of people using flip phones, Walkmans and Point-And-Shoots. I posted some on my social media and blog and now have clients asking for images shot like this. Not only that but they are willing to pay extra. So those additional costs are more than covered, it’s a win, win. Is this something you might try to shake up your wedding photography?