I’m going to be honest with you: Tim and I have, on occasion, been known to talk a leeetle bit of shit behind closed doors. And it’s most often about the pretentiousness of the wedding industry, which I suspect thrives on people feeling like they’re missing out on something. (It’s also very often about the Seattle drivers who don’t know how to zipper merge and drive 55 mph in the left lane, but that’s another story for another day.)
I’m going to start bringing our behind-closed-doors shit talking to the blog, because usually we’re all riled about about stuff that we think you should know as you make your photography decisions. Let’s start with the biggest: THE “FILM LOOK.”
WTF is the film look?
We’ve heard this phrase over and over from couples, planners, and stylists. As if there were just one specific film look floating around out there and we all need to use it. We’ve had brides ask us how film and digitals photos differ, we’ve had planners tell us they don’t like digital photos because they like things bright and airy, and we’ve heard way too many people say that film is classic. Yep. It sure is, but not the way you think.
Because it’s almost ALWAYS preceded by the phrase “light and airy.”
“I love the light and airy film look. Do you do that?”
“Do you shoot film? I want that light and airy look in my images.”
Bonus points if you precede that by the word “classic” in any form. “The classic film look:” JUST KILL ME. But first sit down, because we want to explain somesink for the record.
The “classic film look” is not a thing. Film stock has a relatively long history, and the whole “bright and airy” thing is an extremely recent trend within that history. To be clear: if you want a bright and airy look to your photos, that’s GREAT. I mean, we won’t be the ones you hire, but I support it if that’s what you’re into, as long as you’re being intentional about it. However, when people equate light and airy with film, or refer to it as a classic look, that’s when I get a lil heated (yep, I officially have no life, getting heated about film stock. But here we are).
Y’all: film comes in a hundred different formats and looks. Let’s talk why…
Let’s say there’s an apple on the table. When the artists, engineers, and techs at Kodak or Fuji go about making a film, they aren’t looking to recreate the EXACT red of the apple. They want their own artistic rendering, meaning the same apple can come out a million different ways whether you’re shooting on Kodak Gold, Portra, Fuji Superia, or insert your favorite film stock here. Do you want your apple to look warm and inviting? Go with Kodak Gold. Do you want an apple that feels like it’s in Amelie’s kitchen? Fuji’s for you. Teams of artists and years of trial and error go into making each film stock and they’re all made for different reasons. Part of the photogs job back in the day was to chose a film stock that most represented how she wanted her photos to look.
Digital cameras are different. Their sensors are made to render color, to the best of its ability, exactly how it is. If the white balance is correct, the color of that apple on the table will look pretty dang close to real life if taken with a digital camera. And you know what… That’s kind of boring. All movies and professional photography go through some sort of color-grading to make images look the way the artist wants. It’s what adds depth and uniqueness and makes it so every photographer and film maker get to make their stuff look different.
Here’s the thing though– There’s no such thing as a bright and airy film stock. There’s no such thing as a dark and moody film stock. Every type of film can do all of it, depending on the settings on the camera. This whole light and airy thing is a trend, just like any other.
To show you what I mean, I edited the same image in a bunch of classic film stock replications so you can get the idea of what this means for your photos.
This is the original image, straight out of camera:
Here it is with Fuji Astia 100F: brighter, more saturated, with clear-ish skin tones:
With Ilford HP5 (Ilford is one of my favorite black and white stocks of all time):
With Agfa Vista 100 (a little moodier and less vibrant than Fuji Astia):
With Fuji 160 (super clear tonality):
Fuji 160 with bumped exposure by 1.5 stops (oh snap this got light and airy real quick, and we’re still just tweaking digitals here):
With Portra 160 (back to shadowland and deeper tones):
With Time-Zero Polaroid Expired (yes, you can even imitate expired film. just saying.):
Ok you catch my drift. Film can be a whole bunch of thangs, any kind of look. The pastel feel of light and airy is a fairly new phenomenon, and I am fully convinced that it will look trendy and dated in a few years. But let me reiterate: IT’S FINE IF YOU LOVE LIGHT AND AIRY PHOTOS! You’re allowed! But don’t get confused about it being a classic look– it’s very specific to this time and place. And don’t get it twisted– the film look is so much more than pastels.
Next week we’ll talk about the classic use of shadow and tones in art history, but for now, rant concluded. Love y’all.