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Keeping film photography alive: One Tampa photographer's passion for the medium

The owner of Coastal Flim Lab says film photography is making a comeback and it's here to stay

TAMPA, Fla. — You probably remember dropping off a roll of film to get it developed at the store.

It's a past time that might bring back memories from when you were growing up, but in the past decade, there's been a shift towards digital photography.

Except for inside the walls of one Tampa film lab that is looking to keep the old ways alive.

Coastal Film Lab is a one-stop film shop with all the resources to help you get back to or maybe even develop a new and beautiful hobby.

“The older generation of photographers was maybe a bit confused at first, because why would you do film again? We're already done with that,” Owner of Coastal Film Lab Stephen Swett said.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

Swett’s passion for film photography started 12 years ago. The idea of opening a film lab began when he started to see demand and lab bills add up. 

“I ended up buying small volume lab production equipment so I can cut down on my cost,” said Swett. “After a few months of doing that, I decided to start offering it to a few of my friends. Then over time, that became something that started to grow and it became a business.”

Now, five years later his business venture is thriving.

With the dominance of digital photography, photo labs have disappeared and the services weren't as readily available to photographers.

“Our city hasn't had a place where you could get this done for a long time. And so I think this was just me kind of wanting to have that as an option here,” said Swett. “Photo labs in the past were something that photographers would kind of all meet at and be able to congregate.”

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

In March of 2020, Swett was working as a full-time photographer. Just like the rest of the world, the pandemic put his job at a halt. 

In the intervening months of the lockdown, many people took advantage of the free time and dusted off their film cameras from the closet, and started using them again. With that, he saw a 50-percent surge in business that gave him a kickstart to move his company out of his home and into a storefront.

Coastal Film Lab opened in July 2021 at 1704 N. Nebraska Avenue in Tampa.

“We now are able to really expand into a proper photography business to much more thoroughly support the local photography community that wants to shoot analog and wants to enjoy this medium,” said Swett.

Film photography slowly faded within the last decade until it received a resurgence from the younger generation looking to document their lives in a different format.

“Instead of necessarily using their phones they're using a film camera,” said Swett. “So that they can basically disconnect a little bit more from the social media hustle and communicate something a little bit different than what a digital does. And it's, you know, it's got that physical quality to it.”

Swett says that they have focused on helping people figure out how to get back into film photography and ways of adapting it to modern life.

“We scan all the negatives into a digital format,” said Swett. “That way it gives them the best of both worlds. They get the film experience and you also get a bit of digital experience, too.”

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

Coastal Film Lab offers many in-house services: film developing, negative scans to digital, prints from local photographers, film camera sales and repairs and film archiving.

“So, I think film is here to stay, I think it's going to stay because it's just fundamentally different from the other ways that you can capture the world around you,” said Swett. “I suppose, you know, it's a physical medium. So it has this permanence that, you know, digital doesn't really seem to.”

Coastal Film Lab plans to expand its formats and offer studio rental, online film courses and monthly artist gallery showcases.

You can check out the company's website here.