A focus on film: Memories captured in photos


RED IN DARKROOM — Palo Alto High School photography teacher Kenna Gallagher flips through films. Film photos are developed in rooms lit with red lights. “I don’t feel like there’s this much permanence [in digital photos],” Gallagher said. “You can’t hold it. You can’t feel it.” Photo: Austin Eng

“DARKROOM IN USE.” This sign flicks on as piercing red light fills Palo Alto High School’s dark room. This red light prevents exposure to other lights, which could affect the resulting photos. Vaguely smelling of chemicals, one wall of the room is lined with film cameras, each of which has taken dozens of film photos.

Although digital cameras are becoming increasingly advanced and accessible, some still prefer film cameras because film photos have a unique look and ability to convey emotion. 

“There’s a specific grit and rawness that you can see [in film photos],” Paly photography teacher Kenna Gallagher said. “It just has a different feeling.”

Unlike smartphones that can take and store thousands of photos, film rolls limit the number of photos then require them to be carefully developed.

“Film is intentional,” Gallagher said. “You have to get your chemistry perfect in order to get a good exposure, in order to print it well. It takes a little more thought and focus to hone your craft.”

Because photographers must pay special attention when taking film photos, Gallagher values the sense of time, effort and energy felt in film photos.

Verde asked three students why they enjoy film photography and the backstory behind some of their favorite photos. 

Photo: Lowell Kurtz

Lowell Kurts

Senior Lowell Kurtz said he likes film for many of the same reasons as Gallagher — the sense of purpose and deeper emotion it carries. 

“A roll of film is limited, so each shot is worth more, which means I have to be meticulous with how I frame a shot,” Kurtz said. “I like to focus on materials and textures.”

When Kurtz captured the photo above during a photography day trip with his friend Liam, he said he decided to snap a shot because of the different visual elements in the frame.

“That day was an extremely hot summer day, so we were taking a break under a tree,” Kurtz said. “When he stood up to take a photo, I liked the silhouette that was made with the sky behind Liam, and the shade covering his body.”

Photo: Lydia Mitz

Lydia Mitz

For sophomore Lydia Mitz, film photography was a popular trend on social media that she wanted to try out.

“I got into [film] photography because I saw a lot of people taking film photos on Instagram,” Mitz  said. “I thought they looked super cool and would be nice to put up in my room.”

Now, however, Mitz is motivated by how film photos enable her to capture some of her favorite memories to look back on when she is older.

“These were taken on backpacking trips which were both super fun,” Mitz said. “I love bringing film on trips because I can look back at these film photos and remember exactly what I was doing and where I was.”

Photo: Zeke Morrison

Zeke Morrison

Another aspect of film photography that appeals to many people is the mystery of how the photos will turn out, according to junior Zeke Morrison, who enjoys taking photos of others in action.

“You click the shutter, and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Morrison said. “You might even forget about the day. And then when you see these photos two weeks later, you just think, ‘Oh, that was a really fun memory.’”

Sometimes, Morrison said he fails to get the correct lighting for his photos and the photos turn out completely black or white or only capture a strip of light.

“It’s a surprise,” Morrison said. “You never know what the photos are gonna look like until the end.”