A Yorkshire photographer’s guide to shooting film at weddings
wedding photography on film
I’ve thought long and hard about the best way to describe HOW TO SHOOT FILM at weddings. For example, I could have taken a wedding day from start to finish and described the film I used in each situation. However, I’ve decided to focus on the FILM themselves. I primarily shoot 4 films at a wedding: Portra 800; Ilford Delta 3200; Tri-X 400; and Fuji Pro 400h. But which I use really depends on the individual wedding. In general, the day starts with Portra 800, the outdoor shots are primarily the habitat of Fuji Pro 400h, and the black and white films take over when we move inside. I’m not going to lie, Fuji Pro 400h is expensive. And it’s quite possible that I’ll transition to the Portra 400 and shoot it the same way as described below. That being said, with these films (especially either Portra 400 or Fuji Pro 400h) you can tackle a wedding day.
I love Portra 800. It’s often the lesser used of the Portra family, Portra 400 being the dominant film of the three; Portra 160 makes up the third.
Portra 800 is one of the most versatile colour negative films that I’ve used – you can rate it at 200, 500, 640, and 800 with excellent results. However, I typically and consistently rate it at 400, to give an extra +1 stop of light immediately. I generally meter for the shadows or, in a high key lighting environment, I take a shadow and a highlight reading and shoot in between the two. As a rule, I’m generally not afraid of black in my images – I’m not a light and airy photographer.
As you can see in the image below, we still have a slight shadow on Karen’s face. For me, this creates depth and shape. You could meter this on the shadow side and you’d be able to get rid of the black shadow down her cheek, neck, and arm. But I think it frames her nicely.
In contrast Jonathan Canlas will meter Portra 800 at 400 and meter for the shadows, but unlike me, he will then push it +1 stop in development. Again this will give a more contrasty result and it will also lead to some colour shift.
Ilford Delta 3200
Now, this is by far my favourite black and white film. Hands down, no questions asked. I use this in pretty much one way: rated at 1000 and metered for the shadows if possible.
Although its box speed is 3200 it’s actually a 1600 film. So you can rate it at 1600, meter for the shadows, and get beautiful results. I just prefer giving myself an extra bit of light by rating it at 1000. This will give a light and bright result which I think is perfect for the low contrast fine grain film.
Alternatively, for a more grainy contrasty look, rate it at 3200 and push it +1 stop in development.
Fuji Pro 400H
With Fuji 400h you get stunning results outside, preferably backlit. Even though the box speed is 400, I wouldn’t personally shoot it at that. I rate the speed at 200 and meter for the shadows, this will give me around a +2 stop of extra light.
Now I know amazing photographers that do something a little different. Jonathan Canlas, for example, rates fuji 400h at 400, meters for the shadows, and then pushes it +1 stop in development. In the end, this gives Canlas the same average +2 stops extra light, however, by pushing the extra stop in development instead of in camera he gets a more contrasty and punchy image.
Therefore, you have latitude to play with and experiment with your style to achieve the look that you want. My thinking is with a flat scan I can push the contrast up in Capture One to achieve a more punchy look. This way I’m not limited to a contrasty image only.
It’s really a toss up between Fuji 400h and Portra 400 as to my go to film for weddings. At the moment I’m shooting more with Portra 400 because I want those warm tones to be accentuated. But if I wanted to lean into the more porcelain / fairytale aesthetic or I know there’s going to be a lot of greenery then I’d stick to 400h.
How you choose to rate Portra 400 is really up to your individual preference. I know people who swear by box speed. I know people who don’t bother with Portra 800 because they know they can push portra 400 up to that latitude. Personally I do something very similar to Fuji 400h, I rate it at 200. I know film loves light and I want to make sure I always give it as much as I can. This means I don’t have to meter for the shadows. Instead I can take a general meter reading of the scene.
I won’t do anything in development. I ask my lab to scan for skin tones.
As a 400 speed black and white film you can pretty much shoot Kodak Tri-X however you fancy! It really is that versatile! If you’re outside, rate it at 200 and have beautifully bright black and whites. If you’re indoors you can rate it at 1250 and have it pushed +2 stops in development.
I primarily use it as a First Dance film rated at 800 (if possible). It really is a toss up between Tri-X and Delta 3200 in these situations. Generally it depends on the look I want to achieve. Pushing Tri-x by at least one stop will give a gritty black and white look with more grain. Whereas, the Delta 3200 would be rated at 1000 and produce a brighter finer grain look. What’s your preference? Of course, this can be decided upon wedding by wedding.
I haven’t shot Ektar at a wedding but for family shoots it works really well at box speed mostly back lit or in shade. Ektar is infamous for tricky skin tones, so in difficult lighting situations this film is just a no go for me. But during the summer when there’s lots of natural light, I have to say I’m pleased with how this film turns out. Like I said, I shoot this at box speed and then ask my lab to scan for skin tones.
Jonathan Canlas rates Ektar at 400 and then pushes it +2 in development. I’ve never tried this personally, but I can imagine this creates really unique punchy results. For me Ektar is almost a secret weapon, one to be used sparingly, but one that has very pleasing results.