News + Features

Trend or Fad: Analog Film’s Comeback and Why We Love It

October 20, 2022

By Chellise & Michael Busse

Ahhh, analog film. It’s wholesome, perfectly imperfect, and naturally nostalgic. A stark contrast to the hi-def, filtered world we currently scroll in. It’s so desired now that the film companies are doubling their prices due to demand while the processing labs are stressed beyond belief. It’s become outrageously expensive, but whether you’re a die-hard enthusiast or recently converted, there’s something that keeps us coming back for more. If you’ve been wondering how to work this magical medium into your offerings as a photographer, we’ll give a few insights on how we’ve been selling film packages alongside our digital work.

analog film's comeback example of couple outside.
© Chellise Michael Photography

Before we get further into this trending, overpriced, understocked novelty medium, we should properly introduce ourselves. We’re Chellise & Michael of Chellise Michael Photography. NYC-based wedding photographers and Rangefinder 30 Rising Stars Alumni (2015). In 2013 we started a film-focused 3-day residency in upstate New York called Camp Go Away, which was generously sponsored by our friends at FujiFilm, Richard Photo Lab & Indie Film Lab. For us, film never went away. It has been in our lives from an early age. Both of us grew up shooting on film cameras before digital, and in our home, we have piles of shoeboxes full of prints and polaroids that span every decade of our lives, vacations, and special occasions.

analog film's comeback
© Chellise Michael Photography

Professionally, we’ve been shooting digital since 2010, but we would usually bring a few rolls of film with us to weddings because it brought a sense of mystery, risk, and play into our otherwise safe, digital work. And since our clients weren’t paying for it, there was no pressure on us which gave us complete freedom and room for experimentation. We mostly did it for the high and to this day, still do. Fortunately, all of that playing around over the years has set us up quite nicely for the current demand.

[Read: Film Photography for Beginners: The What, Why and How in Your Business]

In 2019, I saw Frank Ocean’s film shots in Vogue that he took backstage at the Met Gala on his Contax Point & Shoot and I thought to myself “Oh damn, here we go.” I was a bit bummed because I knew exactly what was to come. On one hand, that moment arguably resurrected the film industry, but on the other hand, everything was about to get stupid expensive and hard to get. And it did.

But even though film is harder to access, we’re thrilled to see that it’s being so widely appreciated again by this generation. People are craving analog so because they admire the nostalgic, unedited quality. It simply feels real, and we all want that feeling back again. We are thirsty for raw and honest moments, and the nature of film acts as a perfect counterpoint to enormous SD cards and hi-def realism. Film gives us the unedited truth and we’re finding that our clients are craving a sense of imperfection.

film portrait of couple outside
© Chellise Michael Photography

So how do we go about things? Here are some questions we typically get asked, and our answers:

When do you decide to shoot film throughout a wedding day?

We shoot film alongside digital all day and night at our own discretion. It’s always in the moment and intuitive, but it’s also based on the lighting and what film speed is in our cameras at that time. We’ve found that if we put our digital cameras down and do a lap analog style, it hones in our approach and our process gets to breathe. Taking breaks at a wedding to run through a roll here and there actually feeds our digital work and pushes us to shoot with more precise intention all around. Plus, the last thing we want to do is just deliver film copies alongside the same digital shots.

How many rolls do you shoot for an 8-hour wedding day? 

Our average is 10-12 rolls if we’re shooting alongside digital. If we’re shooting an all film wedding, we typically shoot between 30-40 rolls.

How do you navigate multiple formats? 

We stick to 35mm because we hate carrying big, heavy equipment and it compliments our documentary style best. We bring a mix of SLR and point-and-shoot cameras and love them all equally. So there really are no rules with this; it’s all about personal preference and what you can handle on a fast-paced day. Most of all, stick to the camera your most comfortable with.

How do you charge your clients?

It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting on a $30 point-and-shoot or a Mamiya medium-format camera—price it to reflect your talent and the extra effort it takes to do this work because it’s not easy. At first, we were charging per roll, but we felt restricted so we switched over to a flat rate which has been much better for us because there’s no pressure to deliver a certain amount of photos. Once you know how many rolls you can comfortably manage for an event, do the math for the cost of film, processing, scans, etc. and factor in your desired profit. Do not undersell yourself and only change for the cost of the film as it degrades your worth. Shooting on film is a sought-after specialty that you should be well compensated for.

Do we store/share negatives?

For many years we did but found that it was very rare that our clients actually wanted them, so we no longer collect and archive negatives unless requested (they must specify this prior to the event).

Do we scan ourselves or outsource?

Yikes! No, we outsource. Too much volume to manage this on top of all the digital editing we do.

Do we promise a certain amount of film photos?

Yes and no. Just like digital, the answer should be an approximate number because we still cull and discard the unflattering shots. Our film package terms are stated as “we shoot film all day alongside digital,” so how many rolls and the film stock is at our discretion. If asked, we tell our clients 8-10 rolls.

Do we have an assistant to load our film? 

Oh wow, that sounds nice. No, but if we shot only on film, then I see this as being necessary.

Do we have contractual film-related protections? 

Heck yes. We thought of all the possible mishaps that could happen and covered our biscuits contractually from things like camera malfunctions to intentional light leaks to film rolls getting lost in the mail.

Do we send prints or JPEGs? 

We get them as TIFFs from our lab (much better if you need to do a little fluffing & cropping) and the clients receive them as hi-res jpegs. We used to send a set of 4×6 prints in fancy branded boxes, but it got very time-consuming & expensive so we shut it down. This is definitely a matter of personal preference for your brand so if you want to include this, just be sure to charge accordingly for the extra cost & effort.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into offering film but has no experience?

First, a camera is a camera. If you know how to shoot manually on digital, then you can do it on film. Film cameras are just more stripped down and limited than digital, so you have to practice and accept this. Ease into it with your engagement shoots. Bring one film camera and start with 1 to 2 different film stocks until you are comfortable with knowing that film’s personality. If your film camera doesn’t have a working meter, you can use an app to calculate it from your film speed. I use Pocket Light Meter, and it works like a charm. Once you’re feeling confident with your film game, bring a handful of rolls to your weddings and shoot your little heart out at your discretion. Don’t charge the client, this way there’s no pressure. JUST HAVE FUN WITH IT, and in due time, you’ll have yourself a nice film portfolio on your website and be able to start selling it.

[Read: Why I’m Falling in Love with Film Photography All Over Again]

Second, take film notes! We started keeping a very tidy spreadsheet that includes the clients’ names, shoot date, what film stock we used, how many rolls, what cameras, flash or no flash, exposure compensation, push/pulls, when we sent it to the lab, and any other notes. This way, when we get hundreds of photos back from the lab, we can easily cross-reference what we used and dial our work in even more.

Portraiit of Chellise and Michael Busse

Chellise Michael Photography is a husband-and-wife duo who, for the past 12 years, have been documenting weddings in NYC, Brooklyn, upstate New York, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, and beyond. Their documentary wedding photography style conveys the way it felt to be there, in the moment, with lots of candids, as well as creative portraiture and of course, rowdy dance party pics.