Hey there boudoir photographers, this one is for you. If you are looking to get into the scary world of film photography, yay for you!! (If film isn't your thing, totally cool, no judgment). I have found that film adds a timeless, romantic, and nostalgic feel to my photos. The grain and the depth speak to me on a deeper level that I still don't quite understand! It makes the process exciting, and teaches great patience! No longer do you get the instant satisfaction of seeing the images on the back of your screen, you are left with the image you saw and imagined as you pressed the shutter, and that is the image you will be thinking of for days while you wait to get your film back.
For me personally, I have found that film has changed my outlook on how I shoot everything. I carefully plan each frame, as I know that every click of the shutter is more money, and one less photo I will be able to take at that session. It also keeps me creative. Because every frame is more or less different from the next, I move through my normal go-to poses and positions much faster, leaving me with more time to ponder how to utilize the beautiful woman in front of me, and have her interact with her surroundings in a natural way.
The one thing I have to mention though, is scan day. The day the film lab sends you your scans is always the best! It's seriously like Christmas (or Halloween, or Labor Day, whatever your favorite holiday is!) You finally get to replace the image you hope you got, with the even lovelier image you ACTUALLY got. The anticipation of it all makes the entire process so much more fun! Try it, you'll see how addicting it is.
Because I was lucky to have many resources around for me as I began to shoot film, I am going to share some tips with you. We love LOVE film boudoir sessions here at Boudoir Collective, and if we can encourage more film submissions, then we will absolutely do what is necessary!
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE
In order to really learn something, you have to try it, right? With film, it takes a lot of time to get comfortable. You have to take the time to learn the different stocks of film (more on that later), how you want to shoot, and which lab will serve you best. You also must do what is necessary to learn the camera you decide to start with. Each camera is different in some way, some more than others, and it is important you know what all of the knobs and buttons do, to ensure you are using it to its potential, and that your precious frames don't go to waste!
Now how do you get this practice in? You do a model call! Contact your friends and family that might be interested in trading their time, patience, and modeling talents in exchange for a few free digitals (or free sitting fee, or whatever else you want to offer)! This way, you will be able to experiment with the film you are using, take the time you need to manually focus if needed, and then there is no pressure from a paying client. Of course if you want to, you can always bring digital along with your film just to make sure you get the images you want out of your session, but try to wait until you get your film scans back to edit them, or even cull through them! It's a fun little game that makes the process even more exciting.
CHOOSE A LOCATION WITH NEUTRAL TONES
Color casts are something to really look out for with film. Green grass, bright walls and clothing can cast odd colors to your subject that can be very difficult to correct in post processing, no matter how many "tweaks" you do in Lightroom. For the most part, you can see these casts with your naked eye, so as long as your model isn't turning green, you should be mostly in the clear, but I know what it's like to be shooting and forget to notice those types of things because you are too excited with the pose or crop you just got! So to be sure you avoid this as much as possible, try to choose a location without distracting colors. Grass is okay, but just know that if the sun is reflecting just right, it can turn those skin tones very yellow, so mix it up with a location with white walls/floors to help bounce light, especially indoors, to create that soft, timeless, romantic look that pairs so well with real film.
UNDERSTAND THE FILM YOU'RE USING
Now that you have been shooting film for a little while, it's time to explore the different film stocks as well! With so many presets and actions out there to mimic the look of film (and do a fantastic job doing so), it can be easy to think you know which films you do and do not like, but I have firsthand experience of being pleasantly surprised when that roll of film I took just for fun to see how it went with my shooting style, finding out it might actually be my favorite from now on! Some popular film stocks used these days are Fuji 400h, Portra 400, and Portra 800, just to name a few. There are subtle differences between the color films, but they do still have a distinct look. Fuji is known for its dreamy greens, bright skin tones and muted colors. Portra in general is a warmer line of film, so when they are exposed correctly (at least 1 stop down, more on this later as well), the shadows will be warmer tinted, with more saturated oranges and greens. Portra 800 especially loves the warmth, but on occasion you can get it to turn shadows almost blue while in the shade, creating a soft, intimate feel.
Keep in mind which film stock you are using. For example, to get that classic Fuji look, although the box says to rate it at ISO 400 when reading your light meter, you should actually consider rating at 200 or even 100, which will have you technically overexpose the image. While this can be a very bad thing in digital, it is actually the start of something bright and new and wonderful with film! It tends to hold onto details in the highlights in the most superior way, so don't be afraid to let that shutter hang open a little bit longer. These same rules apply with almost any professional grade film, depending on the look you are going for. Portra 800 you are better off rating at 640 or even 400, just to ensure that no detail is lost in the highlights or shadows, and to achieve that brighter look.
We touched on this a bit before, but I want to expand on it now. Film has an amazing ability of looking fabulous, even if it is crazy overexposed. Pretty much as long as you have given it at least as much light as it needs (more is ok and actually better in my opinion), then your image will look great! The fun thing about film is that depending on how you expose and even process it, the colors can change. The more overexposed Fuji film is, for example, the softer the greens look, and so on. The same goes for most other film stocks, you will pretty much always want to overexpose by at least 1 stop with your film, and that's with reading the light in the shadows. The best way to get an accurate light reading is to use an actual light meter instead of the one in your camera's viewfinder, and to find the shadows on your subject's face, and then tilt the meter down at a 45 degree angle, reading at a lower ISO than the box speed. Sounds kinda complicated, right? Maybe at first, but once you get used to it, it becomes second nature!
We hear a lot about how photographers often struggle with their shooting style at first, and we want to tell you that's okay! So when you do your model call, instead of doing what everyone else says to do, experiment with the different film stocks, exposing in different fashions, and testing which method gives you your favorite result. This way, once it comes to paying clients, you will already have your style established, and you will feel confident with how the outcome will be.
GIVE YOURSELF GRACE
This is a big one. Film isn't perfect. In my opinion, that's what makes it so beautiful and exciting. But in some instances, the issues go a little deeper than little quirks, and sometimes even an entire roll won't turn out due to a technical or even user error. This is okay!! While you figure out how to avoid those issues, just bring a digital backup. Take digital photos every so often so that in case the shot on film has a light leak or missed focus, you still have the digital backup to deliver to your client. And just remember that sometimes those missed focus, crazy light flare photos become our absolute favorite. Don't be too hard on yourself, the learning curve with film can be difficult at times, but just know that once you get it down, all the lessons you learn along the way will be SO worth it!
All in all, film takes time. It's not just a one-time lesson, suddenly-I-understand-everything sort of deal. Just keep practicing, and one day you will achieve the look you want! One thing I can offer you, is that most of the film shots you see from the photographers you admire are not "SOOC". They had additional editing from their film lab, or they might have even edited them themselves. A quick run through in Lightroom to adjust the contrast and maybe white balance is all it takes to make an image pop, so I encourage you to play around with it before you write it off forever if you are feeling discouraged. Open communication with your film lab is extremely important, because how are they supposed to know what style you are going for without you telling them? There are so many different ways that film can be processed, and if they know the look you are going for, they can help to guide you in how to order your film scans in the future. We hope this helps you navigate the new world of film!