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Lessons Learned: The Film Advantage

If you’ve been poking around my blog at all lately, you’ll know I have a renewed love affair with film that began my junior year of college and has recently stolen my heart again. Film, glorious film! And then my friend Laura went and posted this incredible blog yesterday about her new ventures into film, and it inspired me to the point where my pulse was racing and my mind was buzzing. So I spent the evening trolling eBay and obsessing over different possibilities for the future, spurred on by my good friend Rebekah‘s encouragement. I freaking love this industry!

Why do I love film? It’s hard to give just one reason, so I’ll just tell you all of them. I first really fell in love with photography in a dark room, learning to develop my own film and make my own prints. There is NOTHING as magical as placing a blank sheet of white photo paper into a tray of developer and watching an image bloom onto the page, right before your eyes. But it was more than that- it was the fact that film compelled me to see differently, to really THINK about a photograph before I click the shutter. The anticipation of racing to the dark room, spending the agonizing hour it took to develop and dry my film, all for the rush of seeing that first contact sheet. It was AWESOME.

And then I bought a DSLR on a hunch, and somehow film took the backseat for a couple of years. The immediate gratification of chimping over an image I saw on the back of my camera made me forget my adoration of the natural grain you get with 35mm. But then, slowly but surely, I started to come around again. I first remember feeling film envy again last spring when my friend Terra showed me a few gorgeous color images she’d taken in Mexico. I was seething with envy at the rich colors and the gorgeous tones those little 4×6 prints had- I WANTED that. I’d never shot a roll of professional color film before but I immediately had the bug, which leads me to where we are today!

Shooting film is a lot different than shooting digital, and I am still woefully ignorant of a LOT. I’m learning, (very) slowly but surely, and I’m determined to master my film camera, no matter how long it takes. Sometimes my film comes back and I scream with delight, and sometimes I open up my box of proofs to a big ol’ “womp womp.” But that’s the exciting part! I never know what I’m going to get! So I try, try again, and then try some more. There’s no “easy fix” for film- you can’t throw a crappy action onto a film negative and call it a day. To be a proficient film photographer, you really have to know what you’re doing, and I’m loving learning right now! I can’t wait to see where this adventure takes me!

Practical application time! :) *SOOC = straight out of camera

Left: 35mm film SOOC. Center: RAW digital image. Right: final JPG image, retouched for exposure and white balance. I love that the film photo, develop by a mediocre local lab, is (in my opinion) better than the retouched digital image. And who knows what a difference would have been made if I’d sent the film off to a pro film lab?

Virginia Washington DC film photographer

Forgive me for these photos. I’m showing them to prove a point, to give another example of why film is boss. The setting on my cameras were exactly the same for both of these images, and both photos are WAY overexposed (I’m an idiot and forgot to change up my settings after we moved locations). However notice that the film image on the left still maintains most of its integrity. Yes, the whites are a bit blown out, but it’s not nearly as bad as the digital image on the right, which is virtually unsalvageable. I could still make a pretty good print out of the film negative- the lab would just need to underexpose the negative a bit.

Virginia Washington DC film photographer

These next few images are from my first attempt with color film. I’m so in love with that image on the left. I love the image on the right as well, but the color balance is kind of off. (see below on white balance musings)

Virginia Washington DC film photographer

Left: 35mm film, Portra 400 (I think…it may have been 160), SOOC. Right: Canon 5dmkii, retouched for exposure, whites and color balance. I love love love that film images, if shot properly, require very little work in post production. It’s how I like my images best- organic and natural. I hate having to heavily retouch photos- the more true-to-first-exposure I can keep it, the happier I am.

Virginia Washington DC film photographer

These images are meant to be an example as to why your lab matters. I shot Rebekah’s bridal session on Portra film, which has a reputation for being warmer, a bit more yellow when overexposed. Somehow my scans came back with a horrible cold, blue tinge- I had to spend quite a bit of time trying to tweak them, and even then I still think they looked… well, bad. After chatting with Marta Locklear, who’s an AWESOME film shooter, I’m pretty sure the egregious white balance issue was a result of the lab’s poor skills. I’m going to send these negatives over to a legit lab to see if they come back any different.

Virginia Washington DC film photographer

Like I said, I know I have a LOT to learn on my journey toward being a proficient film shooter. None of these images are anything I’d claim as “perfect” or even “well done,” but they are milestones for me as I learn what I like, what I’m indifferent about, and what I absolutely can’t stand. And if nothing else, film consistently inspires me to create and dream big in a way that digital has only done on a couple of occasions.

Happy Wednesday!

Karen Field - May 17, 2012 - 4:49 pm

It is fun to watch your discovery of the value of film. I had assumed that digital was, of course, newer and better. I like watching your discovery of film. Keep us in the loop as you learn more. The photos accompanying your explanations were really helpful.

Jean Hensley - May 16, 2012 - 7:46 pm

Your photos are beautiful and I’m sure you’ll master the film in a short time.

Rhiannon - May 16, 2012 - 3:55 pm

Abby, I have to admit all these photos look pretty spectacular. But I like you (and I am not even a photographer!) have a soft spot for film. There’s a softess and magical quality to it that digital just cannot duplicate :) Good for you for getting back to where your heart belongs!

Joe - May 16, 2012 - 12:43 pm

I sure wish I could jump all the way back into film and leave digital behind but it’s a bit scarier than I expected. I have had the same experience with film scans and would love to hear what lab you plan on using in the future. Keep up the awesome work!

molly - May 16, 2012 - 12:40 pm

i have LOVED following your film adventures. SO SO SO cool, girl!

caitlin elizabeth - May 16, 2012 - 11:09 am

i love your film images :) film isn’t something that i have ANY desire to delve into myself, but i SO appreciate folks who do!!

Stephanie Messick - May 16, 2012 - 10:41 am

I LOVE the comparisons! I have been thinking about pulling out the ol’ Pentax 35mm again this weekend and now I’m CONVINCED. :)

Dorie Howell - May 16, 2012 - 10:37 am

Very nice comparisons. The film bug hasn’t hit me yet but I love seeing the differences between the two.

Emilia Jane - May 16, 2012 - 9:46 am

LOVE film. So pretty.

Sabrina - May 16, 2012 - 9:10 am

Love this :-) I still have my Nikon N50 from way back in the day and have wanted so badly for the past 4 years to get a roll of film back in there. Excited to see where this takes you!

Laura Gordon - May 16, 2012 - 9:04 am

Love this post! I was just comparing my film vs digital images last night! Makes me never want to shoot digital again!! Great post Abby :)

Rebekah Hoyt - May 16, 2012 - 8:56 am

This is an AWESOME post, Abby!! I love all the comparisons, especially the comparison of the over-exposed shots. It’s amazing how much information the film shot captured despite being over-exposed. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this – I learned so much!!

Katie Nesbitt - May 16, 2012 - 8:42 am

Love following your journey into film! I’ve been playing with it a little bit myself so I’ve been enjoying seeing what you’ve come up with!

Hannah Rancourt - May 16, 2012 - 8:37 am

AH! I love the simple things from our past! I mean technology is super cool and digital photography is pretty epic, but there is something about having to wait for film to develop. Even when you just use a disposable camera. I remember the days when my mom would take 2 photos “just in case” to assure at least one came out ok.

Gabby Tuesdays- Picking a photographer that CLICKS

Hey look at that! A Gabby Tuesday post! I took a short break from these due to the massive amount of delightful engagement sessions I had the opportunity to share with you all so I’m really excited to do another one! Today’s Gabby Tuesday is all about finding a photographer that CLICKS with you and your fiance’s/fiancee’s personality- I think it’s darn close to being as important as the quality of their portfolio. Give it a watch and tell me what you think!

*One thing I wanted to clarify before I cause any confusion- at 1:38 I said “the only reason the photographer was able to create those images was because of that relationship.” What I mean is that having a pre-existing familiarity and comfort with your photog makes capturing these images naturally much more likely. A skilled photographer can coax those moments out of just about anyone, but finding the photographer who is the perfect fit for you means less “making” moments and more capturing them as they naturally occur.

Also! My friend Rebekah’s been making some pretty cool Fotog Friday vlogs over on her site- if you’re an aspiring photogapher, you should definitely go give them a watch!

Happy Tuesday!

Elizabeth - May 31, 2012 - 5:23 pm

Ah Abby, I just love you… from that first meeting in Starbucks when you came up to me and said “can I give you a hug?! YES! You were the one for us. I think that things worked out pretty well and we ‘clicked’ for it being your first wedding, and for Andrew and I both to be really be so clueless about how this whole photography thing works. We thought you were amazing a year and a half ago… I am sure you would blow us out of the water now! It’s awesome to see how far you have come. The fact that your goal is to make people happy? That alone sets you apart from some many other photographers I have come across. You’re a gem!

Kristen - May 21, 2012 - 6:00 pm

Look, it finally froze on a not-silly face! :)

Yarina - May 15, 2012 - 8:30 pm

Great post! Really wish I knew about this before my wedding. I started to notice a significant difference in the quality of photos when the photographer really “clicked” with the client

caitlin elizabeth - May 15, 2012 - 5:59 pm

so good! love this advice :)

Jean Hensley - May 15, 2012 - 3:47 pm

Great Vlog! Wish we had known someone like you when we were planning weddings for our three girls.

Karen Field - May 15, 2012 - 3:45 pm

Great vlog! I’ve heard you say this before but watching this really made it clear. You present very well on camera.

TGA - May 15, 2012 - 11:24 am

very insightful!

Carolyn - May 15, 2012 - 10:19 am

Once again Abby hits the nail on the head! Guess I’ll be sharing this with my clients, in addition to the other videos of yours that I’ve already shared! LOL

Jessica Hunt - May 15, 2012 - 9:23 am

Great advice! Standing up in the face of not booking a wedding and saying “no” to a client is one of the hardest things EVER. Thanks, girl!

molly - May 15, 2012 - 9:21 am

such a great post, abby!!

Hannah Rancourt - May 15, 2012 - 8:55 am

You are such a joy to listen to! I love your cheery personality and I think it really comes through in your vlogs! Great advice once again:-) Also, totally cute shirt and I LOVE your sofa!

Rebekah Hoyt - May 15, 2012 - 8:01 am

GREAT advice Abby! I couldn’t have said it better myself! Also, I love your couch!!

Monday Mash-Up

It’s Monday, and depending on where you are, it may or may not be raining! Normally this somewhat kills my mood, but I was reading Elizabeth’s Messina’s book last night and her urging to pick up my camera, stop reading and go shooting on cloudy days has me totally jazzed, especially because film reacts SO well to cloud cover!

Reasons why this weekend was awesome:

  • Mother’s Day! Matt and I got to celebrate over at my parents’ house with a cookout and ample amounts of “remember whens.”
  • Matt found super sour Warhead popsicles and brought them home as a surprise- OH MAH GOSH. So amazing!!
  • I finally had the chance to go out and shoot a real live couple (Matt & Rebekah!) using only film, no digital (hence why I have no sneak preview for you). I’m sending them off to be developed at a legit lab (as opposed to Rtiz Camera…) and I am SO EXCITED to see how they turn out!
  • Did you notice I used three sets of parentheses in that last bullet point? I clearly need to cut down on my paranthetical usage.

Lessons learned from this weekend:

  • When letting an excitable puppy who has yet to refine her bladder control technique out of her crate, remember to remove your favorite pair of flats. Otherwise she’ll ruin them. True story.
  • Don’t try on a pair of Steve Madden shoes that you know you can’t afford- it’ll just haunt you for days afterward every time you step in your closet. “This would be the perfect outfit…if I had those Steve Madden shoes.”
  • Taco Bell bean burritos will forever be my favorite form of fast food.

Washington DC engagement photographer

Isn’t this couple adorable?? Not to worry, you’ll get to see more of Dan & Carole on Thursday!

Lastly- the winner of the “F in Exams” giveaway is…. Nicole Faby! Woo! Nicole- shoot me an email with your address:)

Happy Monday!

Karen Field - May 14, 2012 - 10:09 pm

I loved your post. Those “remember whens” are fun. I was really glad you all were here.

Rhiannon - May 14, 2012 - 4:55 pm

This is the cutest photo ever :) it made me smile!

Clarisse Bernardes - May 14, 2012 - 1:52 pm

I love that picture!!!!!!!!!!!!! What an infectious smile!

Jean Hensley - May 14, 2012 - 11:27 am

Glad you were with your mom on Mother’s Day and thank you for thinking of me.
That Lily, what a cutie! Sorry about your shoes.

Hannah Rancourt - May 14, 2012 - 10:57 am

You are too funny! Love that photo!

Nicole Faby - May 14, 2012 - 9:10 am

hey awesome! I never win anything!

Rebekah Hoyt - May 14, 2012 - 8:24 am

I had SO much fun with you on Saturday! I came here hoping for a sneak peek, and then I remembered it was ALL film! I love that! My anticipation is building…!!!

molly - May 14, 2012 - 8:20 am

love it! that story about your flats is hilarious and so close to home. BOTH my dogs have done that.

A jumble of memories

I love looking through my iPhone photos every now and then- it allows me to laugh again at things I may have forgotten, to swoon over a bouquet of flowers that have long since wilted and died, and to remember why I’m so luck to be who I am, do what I do, and have everything that’s be given to me. Here’s the latest collection of what’s been piling up in my Photos app!

I got a new rain coat! I’ve been pining for a yellow rain slicker since my American Girl Doll Molly had one. Mission accomplished!

iPhone Instagram photography

We’re all wearing “glasses.” Except my dad, who insisted on wearing a monocle.

iPhone Instagram photography
Really? You named your plumbing business “PEED?” You couldn’t think of anything better? And look! Bieber!

iPhone Instagram photography

Tim Tams! My roommates senior year at Radford turned me on to these- they’re an Australian cookie that can be used to do Tim Tam Slams. So delicious!

iPhone Instagram photography

My mom gave me that mug. “I read about your cooking woes on your blog and thought you might like this!”

iPhone Instagram photography

Another reason I love film- automatic prints whenever I develop!

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This screen shot of a text with my husband is just one of the many reasons that I love him.

iPhone Instagram photography

My mom’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago so we invited over our Italian friend Stefano. He brought his thoroughly Italian family, 3/4 of whom don’t speak English- SO MUCH FUN!

iPhone Instagram photography

Is it just me or do these new school buses with the hanging rear view mirrors look like caterpillars?

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This was my attempt at cooking salmon. I got frustrated at how long it was taking to cook all the way through so I kept cutting it into smaller pieces, hoping to speed along the process. (See above note regarding my lack of domestic skills).

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PhotoJojo is boss. Every email I received from them was hilarious, AND they send a dinosaur with every purchase. Lily had a problem with this T-Rex though so she asserted her dominance in the form of decapitation.

iPhone Instagram photography

Happy Friday!

Stephen - May 16, 2012 - 4:59 pm

OMG ABBY, you ate my dinosaur head!

Karen Field - May 12, 2012 - 3:09 pm


molly stillman - May 11, 2012 - 2:37 pm

this post is hilarious. i keep cracking up at your rando comments! love it!!

bree [capitolromance] - May 11, 2012 - 11:30 am

omg what a fun post! might need to do this exercise too.

and come over and i will teach you how to cook salmon – easiest was is a broiler though, not stove top ;)

Sydni Jackson - May 11, 2012 - 11:27 am

love the rain slicker! i bought a yellow rain jacket before i went to college because i had always wanted one, too!

Christine - May 11, 2012 - 10:22 am

I LOVE Tim Tam Slams!!!!!

caitlin elizabeth - May 11, 2012 - 8:20 am

hahahaaaaa i was LAUGHING OUT LOUD at work!!! this post is great!!

Wendy {Weswen Design} - May 11, 2012 - 8:10 am

Too funny. I need to start using my phone to capture more random things than my dog! And salmon, bake for 10 minutes at 350 and you can’t go wrong!

Jean Hensley - May 11, 2012 - 8:09 am

That is some collection of fun pics. Love you, you silly girl!!

Serena - May 11, 2012 - 8:04 am

1 – Blast from the past! I totally used to read those American Girl books (along with Nancy Drew Mystery Stories… good times!). My favorites were Molly and Samantha. :)
2 – OMG, yes. Those school buses resemble caterpillars, for sure.
3 – Next time, try broiling the salmon. Depending on your broiler… anywhere from 8-12 minutes should be sufficient. :)

Rebekah Hoyt - May 11, 2012 - 8:04 am

Hahaha I love your pictures and your captions! You are hilarious girl! Molly was my favorite American Girl doll, too!! I always wanted my very own Rebekah-sized Miss Victory outfit ;)

Hannah Rancourt - May 11, 2012 - 8:03 am

Oh my! I really should send you some cooking tips. I LOVE to cook and Salmon is one of my favorite things to eat!!! It’s actually super easy to make and doesn’t take that long to cook, so it’s extra ammusing that you cut it up:-P

More lovely faces- Josh & Hannah’s Middleburg Love Shoot

They met when she was 14 and he was 13 (“just babies!” she exclaimed). She knew right off the bat that she liked him- watching how he served and respected others showed her that he was the sort of man she eventually wanted to marry. As they grew older and watched each other mature, their friendship became more than just platonic, a change that originally frightened Hannah. She wasn’t sure she was ready to be someone’s “girlfriend,” and her hesitation resulted in hurt feelings on both sides. So she wrote him a letter, explaining how she felt. And to this day Josh still has it, recalling it as the turning point of realizing he needed her in his life.

Fast forward to a few years later during a sunset in Maine- Josh was driving inexplicably fast to the lighthouse where they were planning to watch the sun dip below the horizon. Once they arrived Hannah realized it was because he had a ring that was burning a hole in his pocket, waiting for him to ask a question that she was at first too nervous to hear. But he finally managed to persuade her to listen, and several months later they were wed in a ceremony that ended with the first kiss they’d ever shared together.

Josh and Hannah, I am so honored that you asked me to document your love, that you drove four hours from home to let me photograph you, and that you awoke at 4 am to meet me at sunrise. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to get to know you guys and can’t WAIT to hear how the next few months go! Thank you thank you thank you for trusting me with this precious time in your relationship!

We began at dawn in a field in Middleburg…

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Oh Hannah, I die! Tyra Banks would be so proud!

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Hey Josh? I think you were lying when you said you’re not good at having your photo taken.

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These next few sets are my fav-o-rites.

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Hannah had actually contacted me about doing this session back in November, but it was getting really cold so we decided to push it into the spring. She told me we couldn’t push it too far back though because she had a sneaking suspicion they may be adding to their numbers… and they are! Hannah’s expecting!

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This is Chloe, Josh and Hannah’s golden retriever. I had to refrain from squealing with pleasure- I LOVE goldens!

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We drove into town for a few more shots to capture a different side of Middleburg!

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Happy Thursday!!

ashley barnett - May 14, 2012 - 9:31 am

These are gorgeous Abby! LOVE the fog coming through :)

mike and Charlotte Byrne - May 10, 2012 - 11:54 pm

You are cute as ever!
We loved the photos……..when your “puppy” joined in the fun…we melted.
Love you both,
Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Mike

Currie - May 10, 2012 - 7:24 pm

Gorgeous Abby!!!

Donna Sproul - May 10, 2012 - 6:14 pm

What beautiful pictures, Congratulations!!!

Nicolette Cositore - May 10, 2012 - 6:12 pm

LOVE. These were so wonderful! I want to frame the one you took of the field just before you moved into town, so peaceful. Love your posts! :)

Cynthia Rancourt - May 10, 2012 - 4:13 pm

Every one of these photos is priceless! Can’t believe how it captured Josh’s personality so well!

Emily Wright - May 10, 2012 - 3:55 pm

LOVE these!!!! They make me want to drive up from SC for a love shoot of my own! :) You are super talented Abby!!

Karen Field - May 10, 2012 - 3:49 pm

Gorgeous, girl! Middleburg does make a lovely place to photograph.

Daniel - May 10, 2012 - 3:30 pm

The funny part is I’m fairly certain Chloe squealed with delight about meeting you, she loves people so much! You did an amazing job, Abby, these are fabulous!

Rhiannon - May 10, 2012 - 2:35 pm

Whoa this shoot is gorgeous! And I love their exciting little announcement :)

Jean Hensley - May 10, 2012 - 2:23 pm

Abby, these are beautiful photos. Beautiful story, beautiful couple, beautiful pictures.

Sydni Jackson - May 10, 2012 - 2:11 pm

what a great story!

Grace Lemieux - May 10, 2012 - 11:48 am

I love love love these! Congrats you guys!

Rebekah Hoyt - May 10, 2012 - 11:46 am

WOW that morning fog is GORGEOUS! Beautiful shoot – I love the due date chalk board – adorable! I can’t pick a favorite… all of the ones in that field are glorious!

Alison Mish - May 10, 2012 - 11:21 am

These are stunning! Mike and I may need to make a trip to come see you and get some new pictures of us together!

Kaitlyn - May 10, 2012 - 11:07 am

I LOVEEE how these look!!! such beautiful light!

molly - May 10, 2012 - 10:54 am

what an amazing story – SO beautiful. and those dawn shots are AMAAAAAZING.

Brian Burgess - May 10, 2012 - 10:53 am

Just plain awesome. Of course I am just a little be partial. :-)

Great Job Abby!

Tori - May 10, 2012 - 10:49 am

hello gorgeous morning light!!! love these!

Christine - May 10, 2012 - 10:44 am

Beautiful!! I absolutely love the way you capture morning light. So stunning!

Caitlyn - May 10, 2012 - 10:42 am

Wow. These pictures literally brought me to tears! Great job capturing their special love! So thankful my big brother found such a beautiful wife…inside and out:-)

Serena {Charm City Wed} - May 10, 2012 - 10:42 am

I think this one may be my favorite session of yours. I am DYING over that beautiful fog. Not to mention – Josh & Hannah are stunning! Overall recap: Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous, Abby! <3

Jessica Hunt - May 10, 2012 - 10:38 am

Just another gorgeous session from you, Abby! Love it! :)

Hannah Rancourt - May 10, 2012 - 10:38 am

Ohmygosh Abby!!!!!!! These are SO perfectly amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you SO SO much for being willing to do this for us! I love every image and I have no idea how to even select a favorite!!!!

Rachel - May 10, 2012 - 10:32 am