Let’s talk about what makes a great love. Is it being wildly attracted to one another? Or maybe it’s unwavering trust. Compatible personalities? Or maybe it’s just easy things like living super close to one another or simply being the same age. Most people reading this would probably think, “Well, it’s all of those things. It’s being attracted to one another, AND having compatible personalities, AND living close enough, AND unwavering trust.”

And I feel like that’s what it’s like shooting film.

For over a year of shooting film, I didn’t know why my film didn’t look how I wanted it to look. I had tried different film stocks, I had tried different cameras, I had invested in mentoring sessions with other film photographers, and I had tried every lab in the western hemisphere.

It wasn’t until my select a tech interview with the Find Lab that it all came together.

Finding a film look you’re happy with is the film stock AND the light AND the camera AND the scanner AND… AND the lab.

The first lab I tried was Richard Photo lab. I tried it because it’s the one Jose Villa uses. I sent in my first few rolls of film and said “Make this look like Jose’s for me!!!” and obviously it did not. What the foop?! What did I do wrong? I mean, I used Fuji 400, I used a medium format camera, I over exposed and I asked to use the same color profile as Jose Villa. Done and done, right?

Nope, sorry friend. Jose had found his great love. He worked hard to find HIS camera, HIS lenses, HIS film stock, HIS lighting, HIS lab, and that didn’t mean all his things would work for me. It was like me stepping into Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen and expecting to cook like him. But I have his same knives! And ingredients! And the EXACT oven he uses! Oh, darling, it’s not just the knives or ingredients, it’s those things AND the artist. You’re a component too!

Not yet realizing all this, I switched to a new lab thinking maybe it was them and the same thing happened. Again. And again. And again. Until I found the Find Lab.

The Find Lab didn’t send me files and say “Here are your files, thanks! Bye!” Instead they gave me feedback on what I was doing wrong and what I was doing right. Instead they guided me through both direct and personal communication and through their resources online. Instead they said “This is a journey that we take together, and we are here to make your work look the way you want it to look.”

Just like everything else, this would also be a slow growth. No shortcuts here.

After several months, I signed up for their select a tech program, and during my interview I was describing the look I loved. I had shared several film files with them and she recommended that I use a Nortisu scanner and that I switch to Portra film. I took her advice and my work took on a new shape almost immediately.

Using a film lab is outsourcing your editing. You might not think so right away but it is… you’re turning over your unfinished work to another company to finish your work. That’s a big step! That’s personal! You want them to be a component in your great love of film. So when you’re looking for your lab, your home base, look for companies that will be there for you. Labs that understand they’re taking your art and finishing it. Labs that care about you the way they should. For you, that might be the Find Lab, or Richard Photo Lab, or Photovision, or any other number of labs out there. Hopefully this post helps light the way!

Day 98 is currently reserved for any questions you have throughout the 100 days. To submit a question, please click here! If you’re interested in supporting this project, please share, PIN and comment! Any other questions, comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at denise(at)denisekaris(dot)com

Denise Karis is a film & digital hybrid wedding photographer based in Phoenix who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris

I went to a styled shoot, my film camera in hand, and sat there for ten minutes loading my first roll of film. I asked another film photographer if she would let me tag along behind her at the shoot and she said “Of course!” It was time to get started and she pulled out a small black device and said “Do you have your meter ready?”

My what??

“Um, no, I don’t have… one of those… things.” She taught me the basics of using it and then I went home to find that I had another $300 thing to buy. Of course. Once I got my meter though, I did find it was a necessary tool to carry with me to shoots, so now my light meter is never far from me.

The first thing you’ll notice about your light meter is the lumisphere, the little white round dome. That is there to take a reading of all the light 180 degrees around it. So it will sense the light to the side of it, above, below and in front of it. That dome (or bulb) should be able to protrude out or retract in based on the wheel that surrounds it. When you hear someone say “bulb out”, they mean the bulb is set to protrude out and when they say “bulb in” then the bulb is set back in the meter.

There are two types of metering: there is Incident Metering (bulb metering) and Reflective Metering (spot metering).

Incident metering is when your meter moves to the subject and takes a reading from the position of your subject. You’ll see photographers take a reading off of themselves by holding the meter under their chin, pressing the button and looking at the meter.

This is measuring the light that is falling on them at that moment. Because film is light hungry and it retains the details in the highlights, I meter bulb in, pointed 45 degrees towards the ground from the subjects chin. Because there is a natural shadow under your chin, this method gives me a reading that is evaluating more towards the natural shadows in an image rather than the highlights.

Reflective metering is when you stand apart from the subject and point the meter at it to determine how much light is reflecting off of the subject. This might be good for a landscape scene where you can’t get right up against the subject. This also lets you control WHERE on the scene you’re metering for. You point it at a specific part and take a reading based on the light that is reflecting off of that particular spot.

Some things to keep in mind when metering:

  • Make sure you’re not standing in front of the subject. Stand to the side of them so you don’t block their light.
  • Make sure there are no stray beams of sun that hit your bulb. That will throw off your reading in a huge way.
  • Set your meter to give you your shutter speed readings. I like to determine my own aperture value as I’m sure you do too… and since we aren’t shooting with flash, we aren’t limited to a specific shutter speed.
  • This is still just a tool. It won’t make creative decisions for you and it’s not always right. Look at and think about what you’re shooting and if you need to change your settings based on your own unique vision, you totally can!

Day 98 is currently reserved for any questions you have throughout the 100 days. To submit a question, please click here!  If you’re interested in supporting this project, please share, PIN and comment! Any other questions, comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at denise(at)denisekaris(dot)com

Denise Karis is a film & digital hybrid wedding photographer based in Phoenix who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris

I’ve never had anyone tell me “Your job is so easy, all you do is push a button!” but there are so many memes about this that I have to assume it happens all the time. And if it DOES happen all the time, LET ME TELL YOU… photography is NOT easy!

Just when I got the hang of shooting outdoors in natural light, I dove into the world of flash photography and suddenly instead of just Aperture, ISO, and Shutter, there was flash power, flash-to-subject ratio, and the inverse square law. THEN when I jumped into film I learned that film often operates totally different from digital! UGH! So when I’m shooting both, my brain has to switch back and forth between the different principles of each medium.

Knowing these principles completely changed my film game though, so I am here to help you do the same. Here are some of the ways film and digital are complete and total opposites:

1. Exposure Manipulation: When shooting digital, it’s easier to make an image brighter than it is to make an image darker. When you blow out the highlights in digital, you cannot bring them back. The opposite is true for film. With film, it’s better to overexpose the image and bring the highlights down than it is to under expose and try to recover details in the shadows. You’ll hear people use the term “Lateral” when talking about film. This is the term used when talking about the ability film has to recover from a wrongly exposed image. You can overexpose film by 2-3 stops and still be totally fine. In fact, your results will be gorgeous at 2 stops overexposed.

2. F Stop Values: Digital looks pretty bad at higher F stops and amazing at lower F stops like 2.8 and below. Film on the other hand looks great at F4.0 and starts to get really soft when you dip below 2.8. In Elizabeth Messina’s book The Luminous Portrait, she says her rule of thumb is to shoot at 2.8 when closer than 10 feet from her subject and to shoot at 4.0 when 10+ feet away from her subject. Personally, when I have enough light, I’m mostly shooting at 4.0. Don’t be afraid to shoot at 4.0 on film, it will look beautiful! (All of the images below were shot at 4.0 on film.)

3. Lighting Conditions: Okay. We all grew from baby photographer seeds in OPEN SHADE, am I right? We all found the side of a building and hid from the sun because it’s easier shooting in open shade. Digital is sensitive to light and over exposing by even a stop can make a huge difference on a digital file. Film, on the other hand, looks ten times more amazing when soaked in light. Step away from the big white wall and walk into the sun. Have your subject just barely back lit (maybe a little side lit – just so their faces are in even light) and shoot your heart out. Film is light hungry, give it what it wants.

Bonus Tip: Find your own film stock! I started out dead set on shooting Fuji 400 film simply because that’s what “everyone else” shot. It wasn’t until my select-a-tech interview with The Find Lab that the tech said “I actually think you’d like Portra Film better…” that I decided to try something else. I shot two sessions on Portra and my game changed entirely. That film look I was chasing so hard and never getting FINALLY appeared. Guys, this is TWO YEARS after I got my film cameras and couldn’t “quite get the look I wanted.” My recommendation is to shoot different sessions using ONE film stock and view your results. I tend to do my best work when I’m shooting one film stock, one camera. Once you’ve found your style, stick to your film stock of choice and ride that wave with all your clients! It helps you to create a consistent portfolio which will attract clients, which in turn will make your business happy!