by Johnny Martyr
I get a fair number of DM’s asking various questions about shooting film. I do my best to answer thoroughly; as if my response was something that I myself would depend on. If you’ve written me and not received a response, it’s likely just because I’m trying to respond in the most helpful way that I can. I might make a regular thing of featuring some of your questions here on my blog. I figure that with the time the I put into responses, I may as well share it!
Below is a DM from talented UK-based photographer Paul Conium who goes by @modboy1977 on Instagram. He posts some very nice family photos with his old Leica’s so you should check out his stuff! Paul wanted to know my thoughts on him pursuing his passion for Leica reportage and becoming a professional wedding photographer.
“Hi Johnny, I hope you’re well. I have a question, which I’m reaching out to you with. It’s probably very broad and doesn’t have a simple response but what the hell. I’m clearly a hobby photographer, mid-40s. I work in comms and have always written for a living (mostly about things I don’t care much for!). I have been thinking long and hard recently about whether I could ever make money from my photography. Especially given everything I do is film. I’ve shot a couple of weddings as a friend, not as the official photographer and had mixed results – at least opened my eyes to some of the pitfalls. But I just wondered whether the thought crossing my mind in recent months – to possibly try to offer my services as a wedding photographer – is insanity or whether it’s worth giving it a shot. One of the things on my mind mostly is: can I keep it within my love of Leica? Even if I had to invest in a digital Leica body as a safety net, could I keep it to a reportage style, non-formal style shoots B&W, etc. Am I nuts and should I stick to doing what pays the bills but brings no enjoyment?! (ok, not none exactly). I apologise if you don’t have the time to deal with this question – I appreciate it’s a bit of a speculative shot. I’m just not really sure where to look for a sounding board on the idea. I don’t claim to be an amazing photographer but I think I could do a decent job if I did give it a go and maybe that would lead to more work… Anyway. Best wishes from UK!”
You’re certainly correct that there is no simple response. But that’s okay, these are the best kind of questions, right?
If your goal is to completely replace your day job as a communications writer with becoming a professional film photographer, you will have an uphill battle but far be it from me to discourage you!
I have yet to completely replace my day job with my photography work and I’ve been doing this for about two decades.
But honestly, replacing my day job isn’t really my goal and maybe it doesn’t have to be yours either.
I’m of the opinion that ones passion can become their nemesis when you begin compromising your vision for money. I have arranged my life and work in such a way that by-and-large, the people who pay me to practice photography appreciate what I do enough that I can do things more or less the way that I want to do them. And this is very liberating and probably what most photographers are looking for too.
If your goal is to make photography your entire income, maybe I’m not the best photographer to ask. I feel like this is going to require some amount of compromising your vision, at least until you really “make it.” But as for breaking into wedding photography specifically, I highly recommend seeking employment, if even just an internship, with an established local wedding photographer. That is how I got started. This way you learn the job and nobody gets hurt in the process!
So that’s a birds-eye-view on doing photography professionally. And now the film thing.
If everything you do is on film, then you need to shoot film. If everything you do is on Leica and reportage style, then you need to do it on Leica’s and reportage style! Apparently your goal is to stop doing things that you do not enjoy for money, so why would you start this venture by trying to offer professional services on a format and in a style that you aren’t passionate about? Give people what you do best and care about most. Those are your strongest assets! Even during the worst part of the worst gig, if you shooting the way you want, you will still be happy.
Yes, most photographers who are looking to hire digital shooters who do posed work. But there are plenty of photographers who shoot film AND digital and might want a B shooter to specialize in 100% film and candids. That is basically how my wife and I work; I’m the B to her A! You need to find people like us in your area. You might have to convince someone that they could use a candid film shooter on their team. But don’t just crumple and buy a digital camera and because you think you have to do what everyone else is doing.
Finally, and I imagine you don’t fully mean it, but I want to address this because I think it’s crucial. If you truly view digital as a “safety net” for film, I’m sorry to say it but you are not ready to shoot weddings on film.
Let’s say that I’m shooting the bride and groom kissing for the first time after their vowels. Let’s say I take those shots on film. Am I going to stop shooting these critical few seconds and miss more film photos to switch bodies? I mean, you can. I sometimes switch bodies at an appropriate moment in order to change focal lengths or film types. But you can’t shoot two cameras at once so this isn’t a true back-up. Realistically, you’re just putting your choices of film and digital shots at risk out of fear of not doing your job correctly.
Sure, less time-critical shots like table arrangements can be taken on both formats without risk.
But if nothing goes wrong with your film shots or your digital shots (and nothing should be going wrong with either), all you’re doing is lugging unnecessary equipment, making more editing time for yourself and wasting hard drive space just so that you can give the couple a bunch of repetitive ambiguous photos.
Now if you tell me that you want to shoot on film and digital because you love them both and want to exploit the advantages of each, that’s an entirely different story.
And if you’re covering a larger/more expensive wedding, two photographers provide safety nets for one another. But digital should not be a safety net for film if you’re shooting film proficiently.
I hope I didn’t come down too heavy handed on the last comment but that whole safety net thing drives me mad. Alot of people say it. It implies that film photography is somehow inferior to digital. If you believe that, you don’t believe in yourself as a film photographer.
See? I can’t stop going on about it! Anyway enough of my crazy rants.
Thanks to Paul for this and all of your engaging questions. I wish you the best of luck in continuing to pursue your passion as a Leica reportage photographer, paid or unpaid. I hope my comments have been useful to everyone reading. And hey, if any of you get yourself established as wedding photographers, let me know when you’re hiring! I’d love to come work with you!
And if you have any other questions you’d like me to answer in the form of a blog post, go ahead and write me at JohnnyMartyr@Hotmail.com
Thanks for reading, happy shooting!
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The safety net idea is interesting to me. I did wedding photography from 2002-2003, mostly as a second shooter. The fellow I worked for did “reportage” style, so he worked mostly with black and white, while I took more conventional shots with his Bronica rangefinder. Towards the end of my tenure with my mentor, he purchased the first viable Canon DSLR and had me use it as an experiment. Then we thought of his film SLRs as the safety net. After I left him, I did several weddings solo before deciding that the people management aspect was something I hated. If I were to jump back in, I think I’d be most nervous about manual cameras and flash photography. I’d be tempted to pick up a pair of Nikon F100s or something.
Hey Johnny! Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my question and for covering all the points. I’m happy to hear your rants too – it just shows your passion!
Re the digital back up comment: I actually think it was a flippant remark to pre-emtively protect myself from replies of ‘dedicated film shooter? You must be mad!’, which was probably not required. I have no desire to buy a digital camera as I feel so much satisfaction (still) from correctly exposed images. Funnily enough, one of your points here has actually come about in the last couple of weeks. I contacted a well-known local photographer with a similar question and have been offered the chance to work as his second shooter at a wedding. I’ve not discussed terms with him yet but am definitely going to follow up. Along similar lines of the back up question though: is one body enough for a wedding or is it more helpful to have two bodies with a 50 / 90 (or other) combo? Thanks again and if you’re ever in the UK you must let me know!
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Glad this was helpful! And awesome you’ve already found someone to shadow – congrats!
I knew when I was writing it that my reaction to the digital camera thing might have been somewhat unnecessary but it was a point that comes up alot and wanted to address.
As for two cameras – yes, absolutely essential.
Keep me up to date with how things go!
One other, related, question is around low light shooting for things like wedding receptions. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether my f2 summicron would cut it. I had a mixed experience when I recently shot a friend’s reception (for fun, not as the main shooter). I have been thinking about a few options to get a little extra speed without moving too far away from my preferred vintage style. Canon 50 1.2 or 1.4, Summilux 1.4, Summarit 1.5 and Nokton LTM 1.5. I’m just not sure if that extra reach makes that much difference when using high speed films. Any thoughts on that would be appreciated! Anyway, it’s a Saturday so it’s time to take more photos of children running after a dog!
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I find that a 50/2 is adequate probably 80% of the time but it’s important to have something faster for dark receptions. I try to coordinate light levels with the venue before an event but it is sometimes not possible or socially acceptable to control them as I’d prefer. So for those situations, I use a 35,40 or 50 1.4 or 1.5.
I also have a 50/1.2 but I have come to prefer slower 50’s or to go to a 35 or 40 1.4 because, even if I can focus correctly, the DoF is too shallow when shooting subjects at close distance. For paid work, I feel it’s more important to get an entire face in focus than just a part of it. And by using a slower/wider lens, I also just increase my ratio of correct focus shots.
I don’t like the Summarit 1.5 for paid work if I have to stay at 1.5 for long bc it is very dreamy at close distance/full aperture. I like it in some situations but I don’t see it as a go-to bc I need consistency no matter what the quality of light is that I’m walking into.
I used to use a 50/1.5 Nokton LTM but it kept falling apart. A new copy would probably be nice bc I love the performance but even the latest version seems larger than comparable Leica lenses.
Today, I like the 40/1.4 MC Nokton. Tiny, cheap, fast very good wide open performance with a bit more DoF than 50. I would prefer a 35/1.4 but the Voigt 35/1.4 distorts too much for photos of people in my opinion, this is corrected in their 40mm version of the lens.
I can’t speak to the Canons or Summilux from personal experience but if money were no object, I’d be using a fairly recent 35 and a 50 Lux instead of a 50/2 Cron and 40/1.4 combo. The newer Summilux’s perform strongly at full aperture, aren’t too big and can probably serve as go-to lenses (meaning that they perform consistently in variety of lighting situations.)
If you want to define yourself as having a “vintage look,” the Summarit will be a good lens though. It was my main fast 50 for years before my copy began exhibiting balsam separation.
Got here from reading a jump on Jim Greys site about the Pentax K1000. As a 50+ years in the business as a professional photographer that barely made it to retirement, let me say enter the business of professional photography at your own risk! We have a saying: “….how do you make a million dollars in photography? Start with two million!”
I recently found three young lads who did wonderful wedding photography, and got so tired of people searching for people to shoot their weddings for free on Craigslist, and portfolio showings where the potential client/couple would walk out after they heard the price; they became very successful business owners of a craft beer/craft coffee lounge!
As a creative department manager of photography, I watched the photo community salaries drop by 10k between 2004 and 2014, and slip even more since then! Do yourself a favor, do NOT put your survival in jeopardy getting involved in a business filled with people who will give work away, or work for very little, and with potential clients that can’t judge good images from the marginal!