film vs. digital wedding photography

Choosing between digital and film for your wedding photography is an important choice. Your wedding photos are the one aspect (aside from your marriage!) that you want to last forever and they should reflect your aesthetic and style. Even though this doesn’t exactly fit this event design and styling category here on Burnett’s Boards– it’s too significant not to talk about.

There are two points that should be made clear right off the bat and the first is that the quality of your wedding photos depends upon on the skill of your photographer, not the medium used. The second point is that a common misconception with film photography is that you don’t get digital versions – not true. You do!

Before we get started let’s see if you can tell the difference – look at each of these images from the lovely and talented Laura Gordon and see if you can tell which is shot on film and which was taken using a digital camera:

film vs. digital wedding photography

How did you do? The ones on the left are film, and the ones on the right are digital.

Let’s break them down a bit to help you decide which is better for your wedding.

Cost & Amount of Photos: Though this will vary from photographer to photographer, having your wedding shot on film is usually more expensive. Between buying the actual film and adding in lab processing it comes out to about $3 a picture. Because of this film photographers are often more deliberate with their shots and take fewer of them. However, this also means that while you may have fewer pictures from your wedding, more of them are going to be keepers because more time and thought was put into each one. Digital wedding photography is oftentimes cheaper and you will end up with more shots. However, since it’s so easy and inexpensive to snap multiple pictures of the same thing, you’ll have more ‘throw-aways’ than with film photography. This can also a good thing though because if your flower girl had her eyes closed in a shot with film you’re stuck with it, but with digital you can instantly check to see how the image looks and retake if needed.

Visual Differences: Film photography brings out a more natural skin tone, does better with black & white, and is more forgiving. Usually there is less editing involved with film photos once they have been processed, scanned, and sent back to the photographer, however some of the image quality is lost during scanning. Digital shots are more prone to overexposure and it can be difficult to capture whites (ahem – your wedding dress!) therefore once your photographer is done shooting your wedding, they’ll be at their computer editing those images for a lot longer than with film. However, in lowlight situations (like on the dance floor) digital outperforms film.

Action Shots: Let’s say you are getting your bridal portraits taken and the darling flower girl and ring bearer come running past holding hands and giggling. It’s the cutest thing ever  – definitely photo worthy. If your photographer is shooting film this shot probably won’t happen because they would have to change the film roll they are using whereas a digital photographer can quickly change the settings on their camera and capture the cuteness.

Wait time: This will depend solely on your photographer so be sure to ask for an estimate! With film there is a definite couple of weeks-long wait period before the photographer can even see the images. After that some edits on the scans might be made. With a digital photographer they can get started with editing right after your wedding, but it all depends on how many adjustments are needed. If a lot of editing is necessary it will take longer.

film and digital photography comparison In the end both digital and film photography is gorgeous. It all boils down to your personal preference and the skill level and style of your photographer. Can’t decide which you prefer? A lot of photographers will shoot both.

I’d like to give a big mahalo to Laura Gordon for not only allowing us to use her film and digital images, but also for helping me out with the pros and cons list!

Brides to be: which way are you thinking of going? And photographers – please add any thoughts on this – we’d love to hear from you!

Arabian Wedding Academy
About Sara Burnett

Editor of Burnett's Boards, which she founded to showcase global creativity in the wedding industry. Sara currently lives out of a suitcase while island hopping the Caribbean and beyond. Learn More // Follow on Instagram.

Comments

  1. I’ve been meaning to read up on this for ages and here it is all in one place! Like you read my mind- have learned so much!!

  2. I am a sucker for film! I love when photographers submit it to me. With my photography background, film is how I first learned so I can always tell and get really excited when I get a submission in film. Film is always so much more luminous and I can just stare at the images for ever. Take the top image of the bride for example: the film version is so stunning and I find myself getting lost in it. It is one of those shots that deserves to be printed huge in a big frame. The digital version however, is lovely, but doesn’t have the breath-taking quality of the film and may or may not end up on the have-to-print list.

  3. Oooh!! Love this post, Sara!! I’m a fan of both, honestly. It all depends. But I love seeing both sides and seeing the photos side-by-side. Very enlightening!!!

  4. I love the look of film myself but as a bride recently married I couldn’t imagine not having photos of special candid moments like my flower girls walking down the isle. I love the look of grainy black and whites that you get from film but there are ways to achieve that in the editing process with digital photos

  5. Love, love, LOVE this! My fiancé and I are looking solely at film photographers for our wedding in Italy. While digital is wonderful, there is something timeless and dreamlike about film photography – and as Megan said, film BEGS to be featured in a big frame in your home!

    PS – adore Laura Gordon’s work, I found her photography blog a few weeks ago and have been in a love affair with her photos since!

  6. I thought this was interesting. Many of the qualities of film you describe here are true. However, with digital I can make the digital images look way way closer than what you have here.

  7. Love this post! Thanks for sharing my images 🙂

  8. SUCH a useful post! Film definitely adds warmth to skin tones, but I’d be afraid of missing out on unscripted moments that a digital photographer would be sure to capture!

  9. Great post! Love seeing the side by side shots. And…Laura Gordon is amazing!

  10. Awesome post Sara! I love that your bringing this to the fore front. I think an unfortunate thing that has happened as a result of digital is most people dont even think of film anymore, they just assume its all shot digitally now. There are some really dynamic wedding photographers out there that still love all the wonderful nuances & extra bits of info that you get from film! Brideys be sure to ask, you just might be surprised what ‘old school’ film can do!

  11. Interesting article… It is nice to see side by side samples.

  12. Excellent discussion. Thanks for putting this up. I’m learning from this.

  13. There is nothing in those particular digital photos that couldn’t be adjusted with three minutes of Photoshop to make them look like the film versions. And it is NOT even CLOSE to a given that film will have more natural skin tones. The skill of the processing lab, the type of film used, filtration or the lack of it, and differences in exposure and color temperature of the light all play into this. Every digital photographer I know (including myself) have pictures of brides that are as nice as that first picture. To my eyes, the digital version beside it looks completely unprocessed and slightly overexposed, plus the white balance is on the cold side. All adjustable at the time of shooting or in post-processing. Also, I notice that film fans seem to always describe film’s look in totally vague and nearly meaningless ways, such as the way-overused “organic” (it’s plastic coated with a layer impregnated with chemicals, not a plant), or the “timeless and dreamlike” remark posted above.

    Those of us who remember how labs sometimes ruined the rolls of film sent in by fellow photographers, who were then without legal recourse and had to restage entire sessions from the wedding at their own expense, have little nostalgia for the faint advantages film had. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent with a micro-fine paintbrush and a palette of Spot-Tone colors, painting in hair-width lines on the prints because there was a speck of grit in the “organic” stainless steel rollers of the machine that the film roils were run through for developing, scratching all the negatives.

    The only advantage I see to film now, comparing my older images to the newer, is that the black and white film had more subtleties in the mid-tones and a given negative had more recoverable info in the lights and the darks, if you did your own printing. Good luck finding a lab that would print it with any attempt to extract this info. And film labs are getting more and more rare these days, as are the types of film available. The pictures coming back from most labs nowadays look terrible. As an overall group, the main distinguishing characteristic of my film images compared to my digital images is that the color looks much duller in the film group, and the contrast softer.

    • Chip Dayton says:

      I’ve shot over two hundred weddings and nothing was ever screwed up at a lab

      • You must have a really good lab. I went through four pro labs in Michigan before I found one that was decent. One almost always ruined the last exposure on every one of my medium format rolls, another always left a scratch down the length of at least one or two rolls of 35mm, another gave me prints that, while on Kodak pro paper, actually changed color within a year due to some issue with their processing. Maybe with fewer people using film, only the really good labs have stayed in business. And I wasn’t kidding about a friend having to pay for all of the tuxedo rentals and the girls’ hairdressers to restage all of his bridal party shots because the lab ruined that roll.

    • I shoot both film and digital and although you are correct about color correction and other things that can be achieved with Photoshop, my medium format film camera captures details far much better than my digital. I’ve taken exactly the same shot with both, compared them side by side and I find that although digital has gotten really good through the years, you don’t get that “third dimension” of details only possible with film. Digital sensors are not there yet. I’d rather spend my time shooting and taking care of my clients than playing with Photoshop. I do agree you need a reputable lab. It makes a HUGE difference too.

  14. I think the edit in these Digital was really badly executed, and the framing is not as spot on as in the film ones… to me, it looks like the one shooting did not enjoy digital and just took a shot afterwards to show the difference. Really good digitals and really good film; it doesn’t matter. What’s matter is what’s in front of the camera. A bad photographer will always be bad no matter what camera he uses, and a good photographer will be good even with only a mobile phone. 🙂

    I shoot both. I love both. I hope film will live on! <3