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Say cheese! Film photography is back

Do you remember the days of taking photographs on film? If you are over the age of 35, you likely have shot with film at some point in your life. While the advent of the digital camera nearly killed the film industry in the early 2000s, a growing number of people are shooting with film once again.

The resurgence of film photography began in the mid-2010s but gained major momentum during the pandemic. The reasoning behind its resurrection varies from person to person, but most are drawn to the unmatched aesthetics, nostalgia factors, and stronger image quality.

“Originally it was the only option,” said Jason Thomas, a local photographer who has been shooting with film since the early 1990s. “What kept me shooting it in the age of digital was how it looked, how it slowed me down, and for awhile, how you could still pull a lot more detail from it in a scan. These days, digital is like the house wine and film is the bottle you save for a special event.”

While digital photography allows you to shoot as many photographs as your SD card will hold, film limits you to only a handful of images at a time. The process of analog photography forces the photographer to slow down and think before pressing the shutter button, which some say is part of its appeal in the 21st century.

“It’s a medium that requires you to accept the results,” said Travis Patterson, a local photographer who's been shooting film since the early 2000s but became more involved during the pandemic. “Maybe it’s perfect, or maybe you blew your exposure. All you can do is learn and be more mindful next roll.”

Sydney Negus
"I had just finished up the first month on the road and had to fly back to Alaska to pack up my belongings, as my roommates were moving out of our apartment. It was a big moment on the road trip as the realization that I didn’t have a home to come back to finally sunk in. It was the first snow of that winter that stuck and didn’t melt away the next day, and I was sitting in that Carrs parking lot feeling very lost, but also hopeful about where I would end up next. I haven’t been back since and I don’t see myself heading back anytime soon."
Sydney Negus

Many young film photographers, who are beginning to dominate the industry, were introduced to the craft with disposable and 35mm film cameras. Similar to the rebirth of vinyl records, shooting with film provides a sort of authenticity that photos captured on digital cameras or cell phones can’t. This authenticity is something that millennials and Gen Z crave.

Andrew Tesdahl

“I choose to shoot film because it provides simplicity, creativeness due to limitations, a disconnection from a fast demanding modern world, connection between the photographer’s skill and the results, and it seems to be easier to have a conversation and less distracted with your subject or the people you come across,” said Colby Baldwin, a 25-year-old local photographer who has been shooting with film for six years. “The colors from film feel warmer, less manufactured, and more sensual.”

Another young film photographer, Sydney Negus, reflects on the tangible nature of the medium.

“I bought a disposable camera because I couldn't take photos of my friends on my flip phone,” saidNegus. “I fell in love with how they looked, and having physical copies of my photos to give to friends was really fun. I started a photo album full of all the photos I took on those disposables, which is fun to look at and always brings back great memories.”

“My initial draw to film was how beautiful it was and how simple it was to make a picture,” said Alena Swango, who is new to film photography. “I have a connection with film because my grandma is my best friend. I'm basically her clone and she has shot my entire large family on film our whole lives, so the duty has now been passed on to me to save all of our memories in a beautiful way.”

Although 35mm is one of the most popular styles of film to shoot with, film preference can vary from person to person. Some analog photographers also shoot with cameras that utilize 120, 135, 220, and Polaroid film.

Colby Baldwin

“It's honestly ten times more satisfying than shooting digitally, especially when you have to wait seven to ten days just to see the image you hoped you nailed,” said Andrew Tesdahl, a local photographer who shoots with a variety of film types. “Oftentimes, it turns out better than expected.”

With the revival of film photography, companies that once specialized in selling film are now struggling to keep up. The unprecedented demand for film and cameras, coupled with inflation, has caused prices to skyrocket. Many photographers have been forced to limit the number of rolls they shoot and develop, keeping their digital cameras close.

“People like to eat and pay their rent,” Thomas said. “That old adage, ‘stay poor, shoot film’ has never been more true.”

Once you shoot a roll of film, you must also develop and scan your photographs, which costs money. Taking matters into their own hands, some local analog photographers develop film at home, utilizing bathrooms or closets as makeshift darkrooms. While doing so can be time-consuming and frustrating to some, others enjoy the tedious process of it.

“I don’t think that everyone has to learn how to shoot, develop, and print film to be a good photographer,” said Scott Rust, a local photographer who has been shooting with film for over 30 years. “But film is what I prefer when I’m doing my thing. I like the process, the steps, taking a little more time to compose and execute the shot, and of course, the delayed gratification of seeing the results by developing and scanning.”

“While it takes time to do the developing and scanning, it's so cheap that it allows me to buy more film instead of spending it on developing,” he added.

Josh Warner
"Walking down Palafox Street with my camera, I stumbled across this talented man playing guitar and harmonica at the same time while also using his foot to play the tambourine. I found it fascinating and I loved the energy he was giving off. I asked this man for his portrait and I snapped this photo of Kent Stanton. I didn't know at the time who this man was until I found out he passed away later in the year. Turns out Kent was loved by many people in the punk scene here in Pensacola. I wish I got to know him better."
Josh Warner

In the fast-paced age of social media and 24/7 new coverage, many are searching for a sense of calm and nostalgia. Some photographers say that shooting with film restrains the unending distractions of the modern day and reminds its enjoyers to live in the moment.

“I believe film photography is making a comeback due to the warm photos it’s able to capture, in the moment atmosphere it generates, and a lower expectation on what to expect compared to digital,” Baldwin said. “You’re not able to retake film photos compared to digital which makes people more comfortable with the results. Plus it’s always a surprise when seeing the developed images come back after an extended period of time has passed.”

While young people are purchasing film and cameras in droves, the hobby has a cross-generational appeal. Film photography allows people of all ages to talk shop, share stories, and connect in a way that inspires.

“There's a physical record of you being in a place at a specific time, a chemical reaction, a result of your decision to stamp a two-dimensional view of reality onto this delicate three-dimensional flat layer cake of solid chemistry,” Thomas said. “It's harder to erase than clicking ‘format.’”

“It slows me down,” Patterson added. “I have to be intentional. But I also really like the community I’ve met in our area. They are wonderful, talented artists.”

Photos from Jason Thomas (left) and Travis Patterson (right).
Photos from Jason Thomas (left) and Travis Patterson (right).

To see more of their work, be sure to check out these photographers on Instagram:










Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.