by Lisa O’Dwyer Photography, Ltd.
Colorado and Destination Fine Art Film Photographer
Meet Lisa O’Dwyer
My name is Lisa O’Dwyer and I am a professional photographer that just moved to Colorado. I founded my photography business in Ireland in 2006, and am happy to get to return to Europe every year to shoot weddings and visit family. When I started my business, I bought a Canon 20D which is a digital camera. Digital was the newest craze and it didn’t even enter my head that I could shoot a wedding with film. I had studied Art History and Fine Arts in college in the late 1990’s though and loved processing and printing my film in the darkroom. I taught myself Photoshop and Lightroom, but I never enjoyed editing in the digital darkroom on my computer. I actually started to question my photography career as I really didn’t enjoy the processing of digital images.
I didn’t realize that there were still photographers shooting weddings in film. Then I saw the wedding photography of Jose Villa and Elizabeth Messina. I believe that they are responsible for the renewed interest in film photography, along with Jon Canlas who runs the Film Is Not Dead workshops (a great book too!). I told myself that either I could send my images out for post processing, or I would learn how to shoot film at weddings. Both would cost money, but the later choice was dearer to my soul.
I started to shoot film again in 2011. Shooting film in the second decade of the 21st century is so different from what I grew up on! We no longer take our film to the lab and get back the envelope of prints. We send the film to a specialized film lab, and they send back our scans and prints if ordered. We can then import our scans into LR and fix any blemishes or problems if needed. It is a totally new and wonderful world as a film shooter now!
My first film camera was a Mamiya 645 AFd (uses 120 and 220 rolls) and this is what I still use for portraits and weddings. I had a Contax 645 which is a beautiful camera, but I found I preferred the Mamiya 645 AFd. I also use a Canon EOS 1n for 35mm rolls, and it is very similar to my Canon 5D classic digital camera. I find that shooting film has made me a better photographer because every frame is precious. Some digital photographers use a “spray and pray” approach and this is simply not possible with film…unless you are fabulously wealthy. Every image that I take with film is composed with care and is taken with intent. That image has to have meaning and value, and be worthy of the film. I especially love that I can fully immerse myself in the act of creating, not being distracted by a digital crutch such as an LCD playback. Film is my passion and I encourage ProDPI users to delve a bit deeper into the magic of film photography.
How To Start Shooting Film Professionally
Weddings are perfect for film! Film has a higher dynamic range than digital sensors and that white wedding dress will never be blown out with film. Also, you will see the clouds and sea in the backgrounds of bright situations when you shoot film. No need to resort to fake looking HDR to bring back in those highlights.
I advise starting out with a 35mm film camera because it will be close to what you are used to with full frame digital. If you have AF Canon lenses, then be sure to get an EOS SLR. I also recommend getting a handheld meter with incident and spot metering. Your exposures will be more consistent using an incident meter. If you don’t have a handheld meter, then put your camera in Manual and use your camera’s spot meter to meter for the skintones.
Buy professional rolls like Fuji 400H or Portra from reputable dealers for important events like weddings. For practicing film at home, Kodak Color Plus or Kodak Gold film is an inexpensive choice. The professional films will have more latitude though. Personally, I love Fuji 400h for my 35mm choice. The greens are vibrant while skintones are peachy and creamy when overexposed properly.
Load your roll, and rate your ISO in camera and on your meter at 200 ISO. Why do we meter Fuji 400 ISO film at 200 ISO? Because this way we are certain to overexpose and not make the mistake of underexposure, which is the film kiss of death. Some photographers love rating Fuji film at 100 ISO to get a beautiful pastel palette. Portra films don’t need as much overexposure as Fuji does. I rate my Portra 160 at 125 ISO. Have a look at Jon Canlas’s Film Is Not Dead book and he will show how the different films should be rated.
Take a meter reading with your handheld meter rated at 200 ISO. You should test the light where your subject will be. I test with the bulb in, and tilted about 45 degrees, facing out from the subject. You are testing how the light falls on the subject, but by tilting, you are also making sure that you are bringing up shadows and not underexposing.
I take the reading with my aperture set, so the meter tells me what shutter speed I need. Set your camera to the appropriate shutter speed. I always shoot in manual, and you will need to research how to get these settings if you shoot in another mode. Shooting medium format film is the same as shooting 35mm film. You will have to remember that the depth of field is much greater with medium format though. Practice, practice, practice before using film professionally. You want to be sure that you are shooting in a consistent fashion and that you understand how to meter for film and how to get consistent exposures. Stick with one or two colour films and one B&W. The palette of different film stocks vary widely and you can only know which you prefer by shooting and experimenting.
Send your film to the lab of your choice. There is a wide variety of labs today and these labs are really great with getting your scan preferences dialed in. Try a couple to see which one like you best, and which one best suits your budget and performs to your expectations. You will need to test your rolls to see if you prefer Noritsu or Frontier scans best. Shoot two rolls of the same film, in the same lighting, and then get each one scanned by the same lab from the different scanners. The beauty of film is that you can make your imagery truly unique by the preference of your film choice, scanning preferences, and the choice of Noritsu or Frontier. After years of experimenting, I’ve settled on my choice…but that’s my secret!
When the lab finishes your film, you will get a link to your finished scans. I import mine into LR and edit blemishes and my personal preferences from there. Be amazed at how beautiful your scans will be and how little editing you will need to do compared to shooting in RAW with digital! Export your scans into folders and upload to your website or social media. Be sure to print those beautiful photographs… I love the Fine Art Prints from ProDPI and also the Fuji Deep Matte paper.
When you feel ready, start incorporating film into your paid work like weddings. Shoot one roll at that first wedding. Start adding more rolls as you discover how much you love shooting film, and how much time film gives back to your life. Take some workshops with film photographers and improve your skills. Also, assisting film photographers gets you acquainted with how to work it into the wedding day. Read lots of books on film photography and join some online forums for film photography. And have fun!!!
A note from the author…
It is up to the user to find their perfect recipe for their desired look. Please experiment with different film stocks, rating the film (you can rate at box speed too), and degrees of exposure. A great handbook is Film Is Not Dead by Jon Canlas which shows you how film looks when it is rated an exposed at different stops.
*ProDPI only accepts digital files. ProDPI does not offer film scanning services.