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How to transition to shooting film without breaking the bank

Desert Engagement Shoot, Jesse & Alannah, Shooting film

Is shooting film really that expensive?

Interested in learning how to start shooting film? We’ve gotten so many emails from digital photographers who say they love our style and tones. We want to say a huge thank you to anyone who has reached out with words of encouragement and compliments! It really means the world to us! (Also for those wondering why we started shooting film we wrote a blog post explaining in detail!)
 
In those emails the question we hear the most is “How do I also achieve that look?” When we respond with the short answer of “shoot in film”. The typical response is “I wish but it’s soo expensive!” Now pause because we don’t want to oversimplify things too much. So please don’t misunderstand. Starting to shoot in film doesn’t mean your work with transform overnight. We are constantly pushing ourselves to make our work better each time we shoot! But for us integrating shooting in film into our workflow was the first big step in finding our style!
 
So yes, it is expensive but it’s an investment. An investment into your work and into the images your clients are going to be treasuring forever. It is how you will take your work to the next level.
 
When we started shooting film the biggest unknown was how much it would cost to make the transition. So this blog post is a transparent look at how much it will ACTUALLY cost to start shooting film!
 
When you are ready to make the leap here is an exact cost & time breakdown of what it will take to get started.
 shooting film, Annie & Patrick, Deer Lovers Photography

Timeline 3-5 months

One of the hardest things about developing your style in film is the delay in feedback cycle. Meaning you do a shoot on Saturday, send your film off on Monday, and it takes a week or two to get the images back. This matters because to develop your style you need to analyze your images after each shoot. Then you can make a plan to see what will work better for the next time. And go back out and shoot some more.
 
This process will help you develop your personal style. We recommend at least 3 test or styled shoots and 3-5 weddings for this process. From there you should start to feel confident shooting film! Then you will be able to offer hybrid packages to new brides! (We will write a follow up blog post on how to sell film packages so look out for that!) It will take another year or two to completely hone in on the details which is why you should get started now!
 

Katie & Kevin, Carmel Mountain Ranch, Shooting film

Cost

We would recommend shooting between 3-5 rolls of 120 medium format film at each of these first 6-8 shoots. This will return 48-80 images. We only shot ~3 rolls at each shoot when we got started. But sometimes we shot up to 5 rolls on those first weddings if we really felt like things were going well.
 
We shoot most everything on Contax 645’s, which is our favorite. You can rent this camera from: www.contaxrental.com for $180 for 3 day periods if shipped.
 
PRO TIP! If you have a some money saved up you can buy a Contax 645 for 3-5 months and resell it. They hold their value, and are actually becoming more expensive! This is what we planned on doing until we fell in love and saved up money to keep it!
 
Or another way to get started is to buy a Pentax 645 for around $500 or Canon 1V for $400. These cameras take batteries so let’s not forget the VARTA 2CR5 batteries in our costs. These run $4.75ea from the Film Supply Club. They last for about 25 rolls on a contax depending on how much auto focus you are using.
 
You will then choose what type of film you want to shoot on. We only shoot in Fujifilm 400h for color. But you can also use Kodak Portra 400. We recommend holding off on shooting B&W until you’ve got a handle on the color photos to save on costs. We get all our film from The Film Supply club. Their annual cost of $144 pays itself off in under a year with film discounts and 15% off Richard Photo Lab. From your first 20 rolls you will already save $95.
 
That leads up to the last part: film processing. We use the incredible folks over at Richard Photo Lab in Valencia, CA! We understand there are incredible labs out there and they offer competitive pricing. For us we chose Richard and have been building a relationship with them since day one. It is one of the most important parts to learn to collaborate with your lab. This will help shape your look and feel. Processing and scanning a 120 roll of film through Richard comes out to $18.09(after 15% discount) + $7.23 for shipping. We use USPS priority mail for shipping orders to Richard. The lab will then charge you $10 to mail your scans back to you.
 
PRO TIP! Ask your lab to hold your negatives until they can fill a box with them since you won’t be using them for anything. That way they don’t charge you $10 for each small order!
 

Chelsea & Casey, Shooting Film, Fine Art Wedding Photographer

Breakdown

For 3 test shoots & 3 weddings at 3-4 rolls per shoot it is 20 rolls of 120 film and 320 images
 
Buying and reselling a Contax 645 = $200 loss (requires $4000 of usable savings for 3-5 months)
Renting a Contax 645 6x + shipping = $1080.00
Alternative is to buy a Pentax 645 or 35mm Canon 1V and upgrade later = $350-$500.00
 
2x Varta 2CR5 Batteries (1 extra as backup) is $9.50
20 rolls of Fuji 400h film is $32/box of 5 rolls
Film + Batteries + $10 shipping = $147.50
Film Supply Club Membership = $144.00
 
Processing & scanning 20 rolls at Richard Photo Lab

First Test Shoot : 3 rolls * 18.09 + 7.23 shipping = $61.50

Second Test Shoot: 3 rolls * 18.09 + 7.23 shipping = $61.50

Third Test Shoot : 3 rolls * 18.09 + 7.23 shipping = $61.50

First Wedding: 3 rolls * 18.09 + 7.23 shipping = $61.50

Second Wedding: 4 rolls * 18.09 + 7.23 shipping = $79.59

Third Wedding: 4 rolls * 18.09 + 7.23 shipping = $79.59

+ $10 return shipping of negatives = $415.18

 Katie & Kevin, Carmel Mountain Ranch, Shooting Film

Final Cost

$200+$147.50+$144.00+$415.18 = $906.68
 
Or $1056.68 if you buy a Canon 1V and $1,206.68 if you buy a Pentax 645
 
PRO TIP! If you choose to rent the Contax you will have it for 3 days each time. Shooting more than one shoot would be most cost effective but would take ~40 rolls which comes out to a total of $2,256.98. This is for 640 images which is $3.52/image.
 
That’s it! It only takes $1000 to start transitioning to film!
 
We can’t express to you how much we have learned from shooting film. It has been a challenging journey but we wouldn’t think twice about making the leap again! It is well worth the investment and we can’t wait for you to experience it!
If there are ever any questions you have please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at hello@deer-lovers.com we always love meeting fellow photographers!
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