Choosing Film in a Digital Era with East Made Co.

Today we’re excited to feature @eastmadeco, an amazing fine art wedding designer and stylist, who challenged herself to learn how to shoot film in quarantine. We love her insights on shooting film as a stylist and we believe her encouragement for fellow creatives is sorely needed in the industry right now! Let’s dive in:

What are your thoughts on shooting film as a stylist?

I've had "Learn Film" on my goals list since 2015 when I started East Made Co and became a fine art wedding designer and stylist. Working with some of the most talented and renowned film photographers in the wedding industry over the past five years, I've served as the creative and art director of countless editorials up until the shutter clicks—but I never quite had the time to really sit down and concentrate on learning the logistics of film. That is, until quarantine 2020.

It happened slowly. Our planned weddings started rescheduling from Spring to Fall. Then to 2021. Then, it was June 2020 and I realized, wow—what am I going to actually accomplish this year? So, I purchased a little, inexpensive 35mm film camera on eBay and started asking my friend Nikki at Curved & Co. (who happens to live close by) LOTS of questions. Within a month, I'd upgraded to a Contax 645, and this bridal portrait session was my first time shooting on medium format film. I was hooked all over again. Learning film has completely rejuvenated my passion for creating, styling and art.

When shooting photos on film, I'm slow and intentional. I'll only click the shutter when I absolutely love everything about an image, and only when I know it's an image I would share proudly online. I do consider composition and lighting, but as a stylist, I'm also checking the dress, the hair, the makeup and the lines. Film rewards me with that true-to-life light, but dreamier—and it's thrilling to photograph something that I have styled myself. As a designer, I always have hero images in my head and certain crops and angles I've been dreaming of throughout the design process. Being able to actually photograph those visions now and bring a project to life from start to finish is just electrifying.

I have to say, though, photography is hard. Learning film has given me a much higher appreciation for all of the hours of work, learning, grueling physicality, editing and business building that photographers do. Every established photographer I know has hustled, hard, for years.

Why do you shoot film?

Since the beginning of my wedding planning business, I've prioritized a film aesthetic for all of the work I show because of the true-to-life coloring, dreamy quality and timeless elegance. Film wedding images will always withstand time and they portray our work in the most elegant way. The way light dances through trees and on a subject's face, the way bokeh fades, the way skin tones look perfectly soft—all of these aspects of film have made me fall in love with it. When deciding to purchase my own camera, I was initially drawn to the more vintage 35mm look of travel photos along the Italian Riviera—kind of like old magazine ads you imagine would be in Vogue. I'm very interested in heirlooms, antiques and history, so the enduring visual stories film photography has amassed for decades feel powerful. In a way, I'm drawn to contributing to this cumulative body of work—not only in the wedding/fashion/brand worlds but also as a creative visual artist and art director.

Film photo of a model in a white skirt against a white background by Elizabeth Gopal of @eastmadeco.East Made Co | Fuji400H | Contax645 | Frontier SP3000 | Rated at 200 ISO and processed normal. | As seen on @thewhitewren. | With @fujifilm_profilm @hihellocole @nicole_bridal @julievinobridal @pomona.floral @curatedbehavior @curvedandco⁠

The Story Behind the Shots

In this photo, I actually pulled the skirt up to our model's neck, with the illusion that the skirt is a dress. There was a gorgeous feather applique detail at the waistline of the skirt, and I wanted that to look like a neckpiece near our model's face. In the second photo, I tied a veil in a bow around our model's neck—also playing a bit with fashion statements in this simple session. The veil we used was actually the model’s own wedding veil. The bow naturally billowed and created this pouf, which I only fluffed even more to create some drama. The first image I envisioned coming into this shoot, knowing that we were borrowing a skirt. I wanted to play around with an open back look, creating a bit of feminine sensuality, yet still playing with the movement of the feathers. This is still my favorite image I've taken to date.

Your Inspiration / Vision

With this particular session, I was longing for Paris. Our model did her own hair and makeup (thanks, COVID!) and we borrowed a lovely Julie Vino skirt with feather appliqué from Nicole Bridal. I loved how the feathers fluttered in the breeze from the air conditioning vent—just imagine a breeze along the Seine! This bridal session was photographed in Curved & Co's Baltimore studio space very simply, guided by the restrictions of quarantine, but the light was lovely and film always makes everything luminous. Although confined to Baltimore, we created our own City of Light in studio, and it was incredibly rejuvenating.

Film photo of a model in a white skirt against a white background by Elizabeth Gopal of @eastmadeco.East Made Co | Fuji400H | Contax645 | Frontier SP3000 | Rated at 200 ISO and processed normal. | As seen on @thewhitewren. | With @fujifilm_profilm @hihellocole @nicole_bridal @julievinobridal @pomona.floral @curatedbehavior @curvedandco⁠

Your Best Photography Advice

Take your time, be intentional and be assured that nothing happens overnight. Learning is a lifelong process, and if you can stay humble and keep learning from everyone around you, your life will always be interesting. Stay curious. Also, know that every established photographer has spent years figuring out their own method for creating their own style of imagery. It's okay if something that works well for someone else doesn't work as well for you. Think first and foremost about your own ideal style/vision, and focus on your own path. Also, communicate a ton with your film lab, even if you don't know exactly how to describe something. :)

Favorite Aspects of Images

I love how the little feathers are just slightly blurred on film. There was no way to really still them between the in-studio breeze and the breathing of the model, and their movement in person was just so light and delicate. Film captures this ethereal feeling beautifully. I also love how these images are so simple. This was definitely the most no-frills session I've ever styled.

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