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Lessons Learned: Film fun!

Yesterday evening I posted a side-by-side comparison on my Facebook biz page of an image from my FIRST attempt with color film and and image from my latest batch of scans from RPL, and it really got me thinking about everything I’ve learned over the past six months. Hours of research, reading, and studying film photographers’ work, plus the generosity of other photographers who’ve patiently answered my questions have all resulted in my feeling like I’m no longer completely oblivious, even though I still have a long way to go. So in the spirit of generosity, I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve learned so far when it comes to shooting film! *Note that I am in no way claiming to be an authority- I’m still woefully ignorant :)*

Virginia film photographer

1) Be patient. This was one of the first lessons I learned. My beautiful friend Rebekah kindly agreed to be my first test subject and I’d originally been planning to send my film off to a lab, but I was so excited after getting home that I just hopped in my car and took the rolls to a local Ritz camera. The result was lackluster scans with dull and skewed colors. Some of that obviously had to do with the fact that I was a complete novice, but the lab also makes a huge difference. Had the images been simple snapshots, Ritz would have been fine (I’ll occasionally still take snapshots to Ritz, actually). But for a session I was excited about, it would have been worth the week or two delay for the peace of mind that the film was developed and scanned WELL.

2) Research before you start and as you go. I know y’all have heard me talk about the Film Is Not Dead book a LOT, but it’s a goldmine of information! If you’re even thinking about looking into film, you need to read that book. Jonathan Canlas gives explanations and descriptions of each of the different formats, types of cameras, and film stocks, so you at least have a place to start when you’re looking to settle on a film of choice. I also found it really helpful to poke around my favorite film photographers sites (Elizabeth Messina [ohmygosh she's AMAZING], Jose Villa, Gabe Aceves) and see what film stocks they tend to favor, how they seem to expose their film, and any advice they may leave.

Virginia film photographer

3) Start on 35mm. You can find a 35mm SLR on CraigsList/eBay for CHEAP these days- the Canon A2E that I started with was $80 from a guy in Maryland, and it’s compatible with all of my Canon L lenses. The great thing about 35mm is that while you’re running test roll after test roll, you can mauzy on down to your local Walgreens and have the film developed there for something like $8, instead of spending gobs of money on lab fees for test shots. I don’t recommend Walgreens for anything you’re particularly excited about (best to save those for a lab), but if you’re looking to get a better idea of exposures and such, Walgreens rocks.

4) Get a light meter. Before I bought my Sekonic 358, I was doing the whole “meter with my DSLR, then apply those settings to my film camera.” Well, film and digital expose completely differently- film is MUCH more forgiving when overexposed, whereas if you completely blow out your whites in a digital image? That can be near impossible to salvage. I’ve accidentally overexposed a film image by 5-6 stops before, and it still looked good once I gave it a slight adjustment in LR. On average, I overexpose my film by 3-4 stops. That’s just what I’m coming to find is my personal preference, though- it really depends on what YOU like. I’m still learning to manipulate my film to look how I envision- it’s a process :).

Virginia film photographer

5) Recognize that once you DO have rolls you’re excited about developing, good labs are worth the money. I nearly choked on my gum when I called Richard Photo Lab the first time to check how much it would cost per roll, so I sent my film elsewhere. It was only when I sucked it up and sent THIS shoot there that I realized why RPL charges what they do- because they are, simply put, the best. The attention they pay to each and every frame ensures that my film comes back to me in the best possible shape. I also experimented with Indie Film Lab for a while there and really enjoyed working with them (they rock!), and I think I’ll continue to send personal work their way. But any film I shoot of my clients goes straight to RPL. It really comes down, again, to finding what works for YOU. I know some photographers, like Ashley Goodwin, send all of their film to Indie. It’s a personal choice; make a decision on the look you’re going for with your film. And don’t be afraid to experiment with different labs, too!

And because everything is more fun with a giveaway, let’s give something away!


Leave a comment telling me about your favorite thing to photograph, whether with your DSLR, film camera or iPhone, and I’ll choose one random winner by tomorrow at 4 pm. The prize? A five-pack of various color and B&W films for you to play with! The winner gets to choose whether they want 35mm or 120 film. PS- the image above (the one of all those rolls of film? Yeah, that one) is a digital image. Just in case you were wondering.
Aaand go!
Happy Thursday!
Adventures with Film | Live View Studios - October 25, 2012 - 11:06 am

[...] have quite the range of shutter speed for my style of shooting, and then when I read what Abby Grace wrote about the Canon A2E and how you could use all of your existing Canon EOS lenses on it, I [...]

Kirstie Frydenlund - October 19, 2012 - 4:10 pm

My favorite thing to photograph is horses on my Contax 645! This summer I had 2 little baby horses in my pasture and I LOVED shooting the little guys on medium format! All of the pretty bokeh and pastel colors made the fillies that much more precious.

Ali W. - October 19, 2012 - 3:57 pm

film film film. love shooting the beach. it’s my simple little dream to shoot a beach wedding. i could photograph the water forever. put a bride in front of it, and you have perfection :)

Bethany Ann - October 19, 2012 - 3:23 pm

This was so helpful!! Loved it. I want to start shooting some film soon-ish so I really enjoyed this. :)

Faith - October 19, 2012 - 2:39 pm

I love photographing love, especially of a bride and groom on their wedding day! :) I love my DSLR, but I would love to experiment with film! :) Your recent work with film has been absolutely GORGEOUS! :) Love it!

Jess Porter - October 18, 2012 - 8:31 pm

My FAVE thing to shoot is couples and weddings!
And just thought you should know that yourself and a couple other awesome photogs were my inspiration to also start shooting film a bit.
I’m LOVING it!!! :)

Jean - October 18, 2012 - 8:16 pm

I like photographs of my family, especially my grandchildren. As you know, though, I don’t need the film, because I gave my film cameras away!

Yuri Long - October 18, 2012 - 7:30 pm

great post Abby! I absolutely agree with everything you said. am i recalling correctly that you’re still undecided on FIND DC? if so, do it! The book is great (i’ve read it several times), but the workshop is so much more. Totally worth it!

oh, and i’m terrible at it, but i love photographing people, especially kids (and families) the most :)

Joe - October 18, 2012 - 6:16 pm

Thanks for helping to keep film alive!!!! No matter what I’ve been shooting it seems more exciting when I shoot it on film. Getting that email that your scans are ready for downloading is the best!!

malika luthra - October 18, 2012 - 5:57 pm

Love your posts on film photography! Having learned to shoot on film, it’s something I’ve been wanting to get back into but just haven’t gotten around to it, womp womp. Maybe having film in the house will give me the push I need :P As for my favorite thing to photograph, I’d have to say it’s the candid moments between people, I love how absolutely natural those feel!

Erin - October 18, 2012 - 5:20 pm

My 3 week old daughter…with my iPhone :)

Liz - October 18, 2012 - 5:18 pm

My favorite thing to photograph is nature. Especially in the fall. All of the colors popping out against the trees and everything is just so calm and brilliant. I love it. It’s my favorite to photograph with both my DSLR and my film SLR. Love your shots, Abby! Gorgeous.(:

Holly - October 18, 2012 - 1:34 pm

I love film!! I teach photography at a high school and I have a secret darkroom that I show them how to use. Shhh.

I like to photograph “things”. Is that too broad? I am not a portrait girl at heart, or a landscape fan, just the every day things you see in life.

Amelia Renee - October 18, 2012 - 1:16 pm

AHHH! This is so fun! I love contests…and I love the idea of film. Praying I get a camera for Christmas!;) Ok. People! People are my favorite…but I’d have to say my two favorite subjects are my best friend Miranda and my sister Clarissa!

Sophia Jordan - October 18, 2012 - 1:15 pm

I love when clients tell me that the images are just like “them” meaning the images express who they are. That is what I want to do with photography. I want to not just take pictures of a pretty face, but expose and celebrate the person and life in an individual. Everyone is so different and i love that!

Plus, film is freakin’ epic.

Sarah G - October 18, 2012 - 1:10 pm

Well besides my clients, I love to photograph my family. I’m always the one clicking away at family gatherings, not because I have to but because I want to. Those photos I treasure the most. Your film work is so dreamy girl! You’ve rocked it out in 6 short months!

Rachel May - October 18, 2012 - 12:17 pm

I adore anything involving two people and their personal connection. The moments they create together inspire me and give my work real meaning.

Tammy - October 18, 2012 - 12:01 pm

Film is my first love! I learned on film and am so happy to have found my way back to it. I love to photograph details!! Also I like looking at ordinary objects and finding something interesting. I am interested in photographing more food with film.

heather - October 18, 2012 - 11:41 am

A beautiful landscape and even better if it has a beautiful couple in it :)

Lindsay - October 18, 2012 - 10:46 am

Hi Abby!

Thanks so much for this post! As an avid film camera collector, I’ve been wanting to get back into shooting film. I started out with film and then transitioned to digital, like everyone else ;) But I’ve got 30-40 vintage cameras I’ve been saving, along with some expired film, because I want to venture back in the world of film photography.

And to answer your question, my favorite thing to photograph would have to be dogs. I volunteer for the local Humane Society and photograph their dogs to help get them adopted. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. As an animal lover, it means so much to me that I can help find those animals a home! If I could, I’d bring ‘em all home :)

I also really enjoy engagement or couples sessions :)
Thanks for your consideration!
Lindsay Marie Photography

Rebekah Hoyt - October 18, 2012 - 10:45 am

That shot of the red head is one of my favorites of yours EVER!!! I’m a terrible person and have no idea what my favorite thing to photograph is… seriously. I think aside from weddings, I LOVE shooting landscape panos. I’m such a nerd.

Mia Bjerring - October 18, 2012 - 10:18 am

These are great tips, Abby! Thank you for sharing them with us! And I am so wishing for that book FIND for Christmas :) My favourite “things” to photograph are sunsets/sunrises. I just love them so much! Eventually I’d love to photograph some people in those sunsets/sunrises!

ashley barnett - October 18, 2012 - 9:51 am

Yay- I’ll play! I have a session coming up I wanted to play around with film! My favorite thing to photograph are the little moments- the ones that make our couples come back and say “I didn’t even know you took that!” :)

Brianne Fischer - October 18, 2012 - 9:38 am

Abby, love your film updates! I just recently started playing with my dads old Pentax 35mm and I love it!! There’s something so dreamy about film. I like taking film of small details and making those the focus of an image, I.e. flower boxes, colorful doors, old ironwork like door handles and landscapes! Can’t wait for more updates thanks for sharing!

Anne Schmidt - October 18, 2012 - 9:33 am

I know I SHOULD say that my wedding clients are my favorite to shoot. BUT….no offense dear clients, but my favorite person to shoot is my little girl. Her little face, either on film, my iphone or my bulky DSLR brings me so much joy. :-)

Amanda B. - October 18, 2012 - 9:32 am

I love engagements (and always have!) but I am learning more and more that I LOVE product photography.. I feel like I can make art, be creative, and can take my time to get the perfect shot. :) And ridiculous moment here: I have ALWAYS wanted to try shooting with film, but have never had the opportunity! Thanks for posting all your film-love.. it’s fun to watch others with passion!

Lauren - October 18, 2012 - 9:31 am

oooh so lovely. I’ve been trying to play with film a bit more since that’s what I learned to shoot with, but it’s definitely slow going getting my mind back into the right groove. I’m discovering I love photographing redheads with freckles.

molly - October 18, 2012 - 9:30 am

abby – it has seriously been a pleasure to watch you grow in film. as you know by now, i just love photography in general – i love the art of it, i love playing on my camera, and i have LOVEEEEED learning your adventures in film! it’s so fascinating! i remember playing on my mom’s film camera when i was a kid and loving it. :) i’d say my favorite thing to photograph is strangers. weird, i know. but i love catching a cool, candid moment of a total stranger in a different scene. i’ll sometimes just take my camera to downtown chapel hill and take pictures. is that weird? maybe. but it’s the truth!

Before we say “I do”- Jarrod & Abby’s Great Falls, VA e-session

“We’re not good picture-takers,” they both stated. But you’d never know it from their engagement photos. Maybe what they mean is that they’re not good at stagnant, stiff poses, that their relationship is best captured on the move as they laugh, skip and tease their way through the morning. She’s energetic, outgoing and full of life. He’s a bit more shy, a bit more reserved, and the perfect complement to Abby’s nature. She pulls him out of his shell, and he keeps her smiling as the minutes and hours tick by. He rolls his eyes as she gives him one of those goofy, goony smiles, but you can tell he’s just as mad about her. So while they may not believe they’re good “picture-takers,” I disagree. Because when you live and love with abandon, that always photographs well.

Jarrod and Abby, I had SUCH an amazing time with you all last week! I knew I was going to enjoy myself, but I had no idea I’d end up laughing as much as I did. Your love is absolutely riveting to be around, and I absolutely cannot WAIT for your wedding in less than a month!!

We began at dawn at Great Falls park…

Virginia engagement photographer

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Chilly mornings = cozy portraits:)

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This is Jarrod’s Hufflepuff tie. Now you know why I love these two.

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Favorite.

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Happy Wednesday!

Becky - October 19, 2012 - 2:33 pm

Oh wow I love this location!! I wish we lived closer to mountains =)

Colette - October 19, 2012 - 12:18 pm

Oh my gosh! Hufflepuff tie kind of made my day! Great Falls is such a beautiful choice for an e-session.

Jean - October 18, 2012 - 8:56 pm

Great pictures. Looks like a fun shoot!

Matt - October 17, 2012 - 7:10 pm

You did such a great job bringing them out of their shell, I can really see the love they have for each other! Especially love the Hufflepuff tie!

molly - October 17, 2012 - 4:26 pm

i loved it and then i saw the hufflepuff tie and died a little. I LOVE THEM!

Beth Strickland Smith - October 17, 2012 - 12:38 pm

Wonderful pictures of an amazing couple! You did a great job of capturing their energy, and love.

Rebekah Hoyt - October 17, 2012 - 11:47 am

Ooo so cozy and cute! I especially love the pictures on the rock (same setting as your sneak peek) – what an awesome spot!!

Lorene G - October 17, 2012 - 10:56 am

Love this photo shot! Abby, you bring out the best in everyone. The Hufflepuff tie is great. :)

Abby Johnson - October 17, 2012 - 9:57 am

Abby – these are fantastic. We didn’t make it easy on you, with Jarrod making jokes the whole time, the cold weather, and the rocky terrain. You were such a trooper and made two people who hate having their pictures taken have a good time doing just that! Only the best of photographers can pull that off. :) Thanks again!

Dad - October 17, 2012 - 9:55 am

OMG the fog rising off the potomac just makes these pics!

Hannah Rancourt - October 17, 2012 - 9:40 am

They are the cutest ever!!!! These are spectacular Abby!:-)

Pretty previews!

I’ll be totally honest- I was supposed to blog Jarrod & Abby’s e-session today, but due to a completely unproductive weekend and being forbade to work yesterday by a husband who cares about my mental health, I haven’t finished editing. So instead, let’s all geek out over this pretty set from this morning’s sunrise session! It’ll be a few weeks till we see the rest while I wait for my film scans, but ohmergersh. I am SO excited about this one!! Colette is nothing short of jaw-droppingly beautiful, and that pretty little bouquet? I made it! Look at me go!

Middleburg wedding photographer

Happy Tuesday, friends!

Dad - October 16, 2012 - 6:16 pm

I disagree, you had a totally productive weekend!

Rebekah Hoyt - October 16, 2012 - 5:40 pm

That bouquet is so fun!! I want to get better at bouquet-making.

Monday Mash-Up

Oh Monday, I don’t know if I’ve ever been so glad to see you before! As my brother’s wedding day came to a close on Saturday evening, I breathed a sigh of joy mixed with relief- my “six-weddings-in-seven-weeks” stretch was over! I absolutely adore what I do and am so thankful that my schedule’s been so packed this year, but I’ve really been looking forward to this three-week hiatus. I’m going to catch up on edits, take care of a couple of album orders, head down to Radford to chat with a couple of Comms classes, and then run a marathon! Doesn’t that sound relaxing?:)

As always, things that transpired/lessons learned from the weekend:

  • As a photographer, I’ve been under the impression I’ve learned to be flexible on a wedding day. But when things get set back by an hour due to a missed ferry ride and suddenly you have 8 minutes for ALL of the photos? This is a whole new level of flexibility which I’m working to master.
  • When shooting at a beach/humid location, it’s a good idea to remove the lenses from your bag that you know you NEED to shoot with an hour in advance  to allow them to acclimate to the weather. Otherwise, you pull out your very favorite 85 mm for your 8-minute portrait session and realize it’s not going to de-fog before your time is up. SAD DAY.
  • On another note, I have fallen. in. love with Bald Head Island, especially for weddings. The Spanish moss, the tree cover over the little golf cart roads that traverse the island, holy cow. I am DYING to shoot there again!
  • I think our GPS secretly hates us and is trying to kill us- on the way to catch the ferry to BHI, she (our GPS) took us on a SAND covered back road with pot holes and mini dunes galore.
  • Flannel sheets: we put ours on the bed last night… turns out it wasn’t QUITE cold enough outside, resulting in one WARM night. Whoops!

A preview from my brother and new sister-in-law’s wedding:)

Bald Head Island wedding photographer

Happy Monday!

Rici - October 15, 2012 - 1:17 pm

Oh Abby! So hearing you! Hope you had a really great day anyway at your Bro´s wedding! My brother will get married as well sooon and I told them to hire someone so I can share the load. Now we will be in two, for the whole long day. :)
I always love reading your mash up´s! ~ Saluti!!!!

Tim Field - October 15, 2012 - 10:17 am

It was a WONDERFUL day and I soooo look forward to seeing those pictures….do this one first!!!!

Dani - October 15, 2012 - 9:40 am

De-fogging is the worst! And despite the fact that I have wanted to I have resisted the urge to put my flannel sheets on the bed – what was with this heat wave we had this weekend?

caitlin elizabeth - October 15, 2012 - 9:36 am

running a marathon… not the first thing i think of when cooking up ways to relax ;] you go girl!

And we’re off!

Remember last year when I posted my brother’s engagement session? The long awaited wedding is finally here! Matt and I traveling down to Bald Head Island for  the weekend to see Ethan & Jess finally tie the knot, and I couldn’t be more excited!! A beach wedding and a dessert reception? Yes please. Y’all can expect lots of photos to come from this weekend :). This photo below will forever remain one of my all-time favorites. If I had any more room in my office for another canvas, you can bet I’d have an 18×26 of this one!

Happy Friday & happy wedding weekend, Ethan & Jess!

Sophia Jordan - October 12, 2012 - 12:30 pm

HAVE FUN! Congrats to you and your family!

Jean - October 12, 2012 - 10:54 am

Gonna be fun!

Lauren - October 12, 2012 - 10:26 am

Congrats to your brother and his bride! :) Can’t wait to see all the photos.

molly - October 12, 2012 - 9:19 am

YAY ABBY’S BROTHER! have SO MUCH FUN!

Dani - October 12, 2012 - 8:58 am

Have so much fun!!