Why film photography is making a comeback among youths

These youths share how film photography is an outlet for their creativity.

Low Jia Ying

Published: 10 August 2020, 8:59 PM

Film photography has been making a comeback, and no, it isn’t among your parents who are reviving their old cameras again.

With its signature grain and aesthetic plastering everyone’s Instagram feeds recently, as well as a boom of secondhand film camera shops, film photography has taken off among youths in Singapore.

For a generation of people who grew up in the digital age, why are youths hooked onto film photography?

I spoke to two youths who are passionate about film photography to find out why they picked up this hobby:

Recreating vivid dreams with film photography

Ahmad Adham, 25, first picked up film photography a year ago after hearing about the challenges of shooting on film.

“As a person, I love taking risks. People often say that for film it’s really ‘One shot, one kill’, where it’s either you get the shot or you don’t. I’m always down for these kinds of challenges,” said Ahmad, a filmmaker who also runs his own videography company.

However, he didn’t have the smoothest entry into the hobby.

“My first couple of rolls I shot turned out blank! It was really disappointing when I realised that I didn’t load the rolls correctly,” he said.

Since overcoming the initial hiccups, Ahmad has ventured into trying out different effects with his film camera like long exposures and double exposures.

“Film photography is a whole different world. Digital photography captures ‘reality’ well but with film I can create some really mesmerising visuals without relying on editing,” said Ahmad.


Long exposure portrait of a bride after her wedding. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/AHMAD ADHAM


The source of his inspiration? His dreams.

“I have these very vivid dreams. There are some frames that I remember which are so beautiful that I want to share them with the world. I like to revisit my dreams by recreating them in film photography. Looking at the developed photos is like recalling fragments of what I saw,” Ahmad said.

What Ahmad loves most about film photography is the surprise he gets when he finally develops his rolls.

He said: “I’m never sure about how the rolls will turn out until I develop them because I play around so much with the double and long exposures.

“It’s like my own version of watching football or buying 4D, the anticipation for the results is what really makes me love film.”


A double exposure Ahmad took of a couple at the beach. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/AHMAD ADHAM


Ahmad never anticipated that his hobby would end up becoming an additional source of income for him.

He said that it started after he posted some pictures he took with his film camera on Instagram.

He shared: “People kept asking me for a photography package, but I wasn’t charging for my film photography then.

“It took off really fast. It’s become another forte for me. Apart from video, I can do photography now. My clients now sometimes only request for a film photography shoot.”

Ahmad loves taking candid shots and has a knack for capturing genuine moments from people.

“I don’t like staged photography where I tell people “Okay now laugh”. I try to connect with them by telling jokes, and when they laugh at each other, I try to capture that moment,” he said.


Double exposure portrait of Ahmad’s friend at a birthday party. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/AHMAD ADHAM


As finicky as his experience with film was when he started out, with rolls that came out blank, or shots that didn’t turn out as planned, Ahmad embraced all his failures and learnt from them.

He said: “Shooting film has really taught me patience. It’s made me realise that there’s no reason to be worried about things that are outside of my control, and to just enjoy the process of shooting.

“I really like that as young people we are constantly trying out new things, and it is through this that we discover who we are and what we love.”

Running a film camera business

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Posted by Youth.SG on Thursday, August 13, 2020

The one antique camera that started it all

When Firdaus Firlany set his eyes on a Yashica J-3 at an antique market in Boston where he was on his student exchange last year, he knew he had to buy it.

“I had already heard about film photography, but I never had the inclination to try it out until I saw that camera. It was very pretty, sturdy, and in great condition, although it was produced in 1963. It was also very worth it at just US$50,” said the 25-year-old.

Little did he know that this one purchase would lead him to buying almost 100 film cameras over the course of his exchange semester.

“Two out of three of my luggage back to Singapore were just filled with film cameras and I was so worried that I would exceed the weight limit at the airport,” he said.


The Yashica J-3 Firdaus bought came loaded with film which he later discovered to contain photos from decades ago. PHOTO CREDIT: FIRDAUS FIRLANY


Firdaus said: “Prior to this, I was already a photographer and I had just spent $3,000 on a new DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera, thinking that I would use it a lot. But after discovering film photography, I barely touched it.

“I felt like this new obsession of mine was a way for me to cope with being alone overseas. I would spend my free time bidding for cameras on eBay and going to garage sales or thrift stores to try to find old cameras. By the end of my student exchange, I managed to visit all the thrift stores in Boston.”


An empty beach near Boston where Firdaus visited in the fall. PHOTO CREDIT: FIRDAUS FIRLANY


Since returning to Singapore, Firdaus branched out into other aspects of film photography, such as developing and scanning his own film… and selling the many cameras he bought.

“Cost is a huge factor in film photography, which makes people reluctant to get into it. But I discovered that it’s actually very accessible and can be quite affordable,” he said.

Firdaus purchased most of his secondhand film cameras for between USD$10-20, while most DSLRs would often sell for close to S$1,000.

He sells his film cameras after fixing up any faulty parts and testing out a roll of film on each camera. He prices them so affordably that he sometimes gets messages from interested buyers thinking it is a scam.

Another way he kept costs low is to shoot with expired film, which typically sells for much cheaper. After reading up on how to treat expired film such that the quality of the photo is maintained, he found that he could get good results from it.


A roast shop in San Francisco shot with an expired roll of film. PHOTO CREDIT: FIRDAUS FIRLANY


His newfound hobby also led him to start a film interest club in his university hall, which has almost 60 members now.

“I started the club because I discovered that there were quite a number of people in my hall who are interested in film. I thought it would be a good place for us to share resources and tips with each other,” said Firdaus.

Firdaus shared that he loves film because it forces him to be present in the moment while shooting.

He said: “One of the problems with our generation is that we want everything instantly. With phone and digital cameras you can immediately see your results on the screen and decide whether or not you like the shot, and then keep retaking it until you’re happy.

“Film forces me to slow down and be more intentional with my shots. This has also made me a better photographer in general because I now care so much more about setting up the shot and making sure everything looks good in the viewfinder before clicking shoot.”

Firdaus likes taking photos on black and white film and has recently completed a portrait series of his friends. And he intends to keep the series for a long time.


He also enjoys visiting less explored places in Singapore like Lim Chu Kang to take pictures. PHOTO CREDIT: NICOLE WONG


Firdaus said: “I love film because of how it feels like I’m creating something physical that will be there for years to come. With digital photography, it usually just gets stored on Facebook or Instagram but once those servers stop running, your photos will be gone with them too.

“If you keep the negatives well, they can really last for a very long time.”

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