Film resurgence captures photographers seeking to ‘slow down’ and hone their art

A black and white photo of a man skateboarding, with the strip of film in the foreground


Treading water off a beach on Queensland’s Gold Coast, Calin Jones is waiting for the right moment.

A professional photographer, Jones would usually be snapping hundreds of photos a second as boardriders pass the lens of his digital camera.

Now, using an old film camera, he only has one chance.

“It’s so much more challenging,” he said.

“You’ve only got 36 shots on the roll, especially when you’re out in the water, so you’ve really got to make it last and watch for good moments, not just take a photo of everything that moves.”

A black and white image of a surfer on a wave
Calin Jones says film photos remind him of his childhood.(Supplied: calinshootsfilm/Calin Jones)

Jones has been taking photos for 13 years. But two years ago, he swapped his digital camera for an old film rig.

“Digital cameras are so advanced; you can literally just hold the trigger and take 100 photos in a couple of seconds,” he said.

“It didn’t feel authentic. It just felt like cheating.

“It felt like I wasn’t a photographer. I was just using a camera and it was doing all the work for me.”

A black and white griany photo of a skateboarder
Calin Jones develops his own black and white film at home.(Supplied: calinshootsfilm/Calin Jones)

The challenge of film

The first photo from the moon was taken with a film camera.

Entitled Earthrise it was developed in 1968 by Kodak, the world’s largest film producer at the time.

Since then, digital cameras have stormed the market, taking away the perceived pain of winding, printing and waiting.

But for Jones, it was his return to film that “re-sparked” his passion for the art.

A grainy black and white image of a swimmer underwater
Jones says “little mishaps” while developing his own film are part of the reason he enjoys it.(Supplied: calinshootsfilm/Calin Jones)

“I was getting quite bored [with the digital camera]. I just found it too easy,” he said.

“With film … you really learn about how to capture those moments and watch what people are doing because you can’t just sit there and hold the trigger.

“It feels raw. It feels real.”

Blake Tate co-owns Lazarus Lab on the Gold Coast, one of the few businesses in the country that specialises in digitising film photos.

He said the lab gets orders from all over the world.

“In the [last three years] I’ve definitely seen a pretty big upward trajectory on all levels,” Mr Tate said.

“Big brands are demanding the film aesthetic, so it’s come back in on the higher-up commercial level, too.” 

 A film photo of a gloved hand printing brown negatives on film
The team at Lazarus Lab specialise in digitising film.(Supplied: Lazarus Lab)

Film is a ‘culture’

Digitised film photos have flooded the social media feeds of hobby photographers, wedding photographers and even businesses in recent years.

Jones said it was the feeling of nostalgia some of his clients were drawn to. For others, it was an aesthetic.

Packages of film lined up hanging from a coat rack
Blake Tate says demand is high for digitised prints.(Supplied: Lazarus Lab)

For many who have their film developed with Mr Tate, it is about the process.

“It is a whole culture,” Mr Tate said.

“Back in the day, it’s all that there was, so it wasn’t considered this special thing.

“Nowadays, with the whole resurgence, it’s a niche thing that is cool and there’s a whole culture around it.”

The Lazarus Lab team mix the chemicals, develop and scan the images into digital photos.

A black and white film photo of a bucket full of rolls of film
Blake Tate says film rolls can be expensive, but it did not disuade hobbyists.(Supplied: Lazarus Lab)

Mr Tate said it can take up to half an hour to develop a roll of black and white by hand.

“It’s weird, but people love that it takes so long and that it’s way more difficult than digital. They love what’s involved and that’s what’s keeps it interesting,” he said.

“It’s something that’s hard to replicate authentically with digital gear, which is why it’s still popular.”

Jones has been developing his own film at home after taking an online tutorial.

“It’s actually been so good for my mental health, sitting there focusing on something … being hands-on, touching the film, feeling it,” he said.

“Doing it myself now, I think, ‘I did that. I did all of that’.

“The rawness and being able to slow down, that was a huge one for me.”

In with the old …

Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after 130 years in business. It had not embraced modern digital technologies.

A blurred image of a female surfer on a wave
Jones says the “rawness and being able to slow down” are his favourite parts of film photography.(Supplied: calinshootsfilm/Calin Jones)

But for Jones, it was the simplicity he loved.

“The technology [now] is too good; auto-focus is just next level,” he said.

“It just takes away what photography means to me.

“I think capturing moments [with film means] waiting for moments and really involving yourself in the surroundings and whatever you’re shooting.

“[You’re] being present there — not just holding a camera and holding down the button.”

Jones believes film will only grow in popularity.

“I am waiting for big [camera] brands … to bring a new film camera out,” he said.

“It’s been 20 years since they brought out a film camera. I think that’s what’s to come.”