A lot of people ask me why I shoot hybrid (or what hybrid or film even is). I completely get it — it is hard to understand why I’d want to “go backwards”. Why on earth in this digital age (when we have such advanced cameras and editing software) would a photographer want to use what some may view as outdated equipment? Why would I want to make it harder on myself when digital cameras are auto-everything?
In all honesty, I once wondered the same thing about film photographers. I loved everything about digital and was 100 percent happy with it. Ironically, I was originally trained in film. I first discovered my love for photography in high school, where we shot black and white film and developed and printed everything ourselves. I loved the process.
In college (where I majored in fine arts because photography was the only thing that I could ever see myself doing) we were also trained primarily in film. We had two digital classes and everything else was film. We did everything from cyanotypes, to working with medium and large format cameras, to experimenting with “toy cameras” (Holgas — which I actually do love), to even making our own cameras. (Pinholes — which, by the way, I did not love as much.)
I absolutely loved college. I loved going to school every day and developing and printing my images and playing with different chemicals, seeing what kinds of cool results would come. I had amazing professors and awesome friends there that I could bounce all of my crazy ideas off of.
It was such a fun time in my life and graduating was bittersweet. I was excited to get out into the working world but sad to leave the creative comfort zone of school. At that point, I knew that I wanted to be a wedding photographer and had already began shooting small weddings on the side and second shooting for professional photographers. They all used digital and I followed suit.
I liked digital and never once considered shooting film at weddings. I mean, why would I? Shooting film is significantly more expensive and I’d be making less money. I was new and charging so little that I would actually have been paying to shoot other peoples weddings if I shot film. I had absolutely no desire to even attempt it. I missed the creativity of college but seriously, come on, who would want cyanotypes or pinhole images of their wedding day?!
I invested in top of the line digital film cameras and computers. I knew Photoshop like the back of my hand. My motto was “fix it in Photoshop.” (Which by the way, if you are a photographer- you know how WRONG this is!) I could fix anything and everything in Photoshop so I didn’t care if the exposure was off or the image wasn’t correctly composed because I could just fix it later!
I went on like this for a few years until I completely burnt out. I was making good money and still enjoyed weddings, but I felt that something was missing. Photography had begun to feel like a chore instead of something that I loved. I spent way too many hours editing away the careless mistakes that I made in camera with the “fix it in Photoshop” mentality. Editing was consuming my life and I got to the point where I actually thought about another career path even though my degree was in photography, so I wasn’t exactly sure what I could do with it. It was a very bleak time for me.
There are so many amazing photographers that I’ve looked up to forever. I followed them online and was jealous of the passion that they had for their work. Let’s be honest, I was also extremely jealous of their work! I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but something was very different in the work that I loved versus the work that I was producing.
I remember emailing a friend who was also a photographer and asking “How do you get your greens to look like that?” She introduced me to Mastin Labs — and I was hooked on Mastin from the moment that I downloaded their presets. Mastin Labs make presets that emulate the look of film beautifully. With Mastin, I was able to develop my own personal style and make my photos consistent to it… and it was seriously life changing!
I began loving what I did again and the passion was back. I loved that I was able to make my work look like film. My desire to continue to grow and make better photographs was back and people noticed. My work was getting better, my creativity was back and I was pushing myself and I did get a lot better, but something was still missing.
I still didn’t know what that was, but the fire was reignited and I was ready to figure this thing out. I started researching and learning about the photographers that I loved and I discovered something that they all had in common so simple that I had no idea how I didn’t already know. All of the photographers that I looked up to were so different in style, but they had one very basic thing in common — they shot film.
I still wondered why they would want to. With presets like Mastin Labs for example, why would anybody want to shoot in film when you could just make your digital images look like it? I still didn’t understand but I was finally open to understanding and as I read about film, the more intrigued with the idea I became. I really missed film from my college days but still didn’t understand how I could make using it in my business practical. Film is so expensive and I knew that if I switched to only film I’d have to raise my prices to the point that my clients couldn’t afford me.
I love the online Mastin Labs community and I’m constantly on the community Facebook page engaging with other photographers. It was in this group that I stumbled upon the work of Jeremy Chou. His images are beautiful and of course I wasn’t surprised to learn that he was a film shooter…. BUT WAIT — WHAT?! He was a digital shooter also!
Jeremy is a hybrid shooter, which means that he shoots film and digital. I had never heard of hybrid photography before and I was surprised to learn how many others shot hybrid! I knew then that I could finally make this thing work; I had found the final missing puzzle piece. I always shoot with two cameras anyway, so shooting partly in film and partly in digital seemed doable. Yes, I would spend more money this way, but I could afford it… and so could my clients.
I signed up for Jeremy’s workshop in Portland, invested in a medium format film camera, and took a leap of faith. The workshop was more than amazing, it was life changing! I made great friends and contacts and found a fantastic film lab. Belinda Olsen of the FIND Lab was there to help us with all of our technical issues and helped me develop my own personal lab profile, which is essentially where the lab can match my style when scanning my film.
I took so much away from the workshop, but the most important thing that I acquired was the confidence to start shooting hybrid. Yes, it was terrifying at first, and I still get nervous, but every time I become a little bit more confident. I shoot hybrid weddings now and I recently shot my first engagement session in nothing but film. It was nerve-wracking but I literally cried tears of joy when I received the scans from that session!
Now that I shoot hybrid I am finally where I’ve wanted to be with my work. I match my digital images to my film scans with Mastin Labs which allows me to keep my work consistent. I don’t go (totally) broke spending my money on film because of this.
Film is pure magic! Film can produce a look that digital simply can’t. Mastin Labs is amazing and it is the closest way to digitally emulate film, but in the end nothing can truly look like film except film itself.
The tonal range of my film cameras are superior to any digital cameras I’ve ever used. The way film absorbs light is absolutely breathtaking. Some images in film almost look like paintings to me! I mainly shoot Fuji Film, which gives me the ability to produce a stunning palette of pastel yet vibrant colors that I’ve developed my personal style to represent. The grain in medium format film is beautiful. The images are timeless because film will never go out of style. Every time I get my scans from my lab it feels like Christmas morning. Film has brought a whole new dimension into my work and brings my images to life.
Shooting film has made me a better photographer because I can’t just click away and “fix it in Photoshop” later. Shooting film forces you to slow down and think before you click, which in turn grows your creativity and artistic vision by leaps and bounds. Shooting film has changed my life as a photographer.
By no means am I saying that film is better for everyone, but it is better for me. It allows me to achieve the look that I’ve always wanted. I can pair it with digital shots for my wedding photography, and it allows me to keep my work consistant while still sticking to my style. I cannot wait to continue to grow and experiment more and more with film. This is only the beginning and I love what I do now more than I ever have!