Exploring exactly why film photography is on the rise

Photo of film cameras
Ethan Lejano/Staff

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As I scroll through Instagram these days, I notice an interesting trend of film photography. Surely I am not the only one who sees this. It seems like a lot of posts nowadays either are taken on film or are iPhone photos edited to mimic film. This trend can be seen in the grain, overexposed faces and dark backgrounds of the photos. But why is this?

One could argue that digital photography is superior to film photography in pretty much every single way. First, you can take as many photos as you want (at least until your device’s memory runs out). Second, the photos are much clearer — sometimes point-and-click film cameras produce very blurry results if the lens is out of focus. Finally, the price per photo is free (or at least included in the cost of whatever device you’re using), whereas a cheap film roll of 36 photos is about $5.

I have a couple of theories as to why, despite these clear benefits of digital photos, we’re still seeing film photos all over the place. First, the overexposure and graininess remove facial flaws. Just like that, you can say goodbye to your pimples. I for one always feel I look far better in film photos than through the legendary iPhone X lens. Second, taking candid photos with a film camera is much less awkward than using your phone because the use of the camera clearly signals that you’re there to take a photo.

Aside from these, my more serious theory as to why film photography has come back is that film is nostalgic. Nostalgia is a great way to sell a product: The value is not in the product’s utility itself but in how it makes the user feel, even if the service is totally inferior. Film, despite its technical inferiority, feels more real, valuable and genuine. Each photo actually costs money, and you can’t take 100 versions of the same photo — the picture that’s developed is what you get. On the flip side, with a digital camera such as your iPhone, you can take as many pictures as you want. The value of each photo is greatly decreased here, making it feel artificial and distant. That’s what I felt, anyway, after I hopped on the film bandwagon.

If you can, give film a try. It’s not too expensive, it’s fun and it makes for great memories!

Contact Kristel Fung at [email protected].