Kevin Moriarty

(Missoula Current) Missoula’s only photography store, The Darkroom, opened in 1978 and features used camera gear spanning several decades.

Current owner Michael Patterson bought the store in 2006 just before the economy took a downturn. He was able to weather the economic recession and his business is now booming, due in part to the resurgence of film photography.

Popular camera manufacturers Nikon and Canon released their last film cameras in the early 2000’s. As photographers began embracing digital technology, many never looked back to the days of film. Digital offered some major advancements for photographers including instant feedback of shots and the ability to store hundreds of shots at a time on a memory card.

However, film photography has captured the hearts of a younger generation who grew up with digital technology. “85% of my film customers are under the age of 30,” said Paterson

It’s 2022, but Patterson said he is selling 5-6 film cameras a week.

Film photography has exploded in popularity over the last handful of years and especially since the pandemic. The once dying art has made a comeback in today's digital world with many users enjoying the analog experience that film photography offers.

Knowing there is a very limited number of shots on a roll of film forces users to slow down and really think about what they are doing and the moment they are capturing.

“The downside to film is that it does cost you for every picture. But on the other hand, it makes you kind of think about them a little more,” said Patterson.

Another intriguing aspect of film is not knowing what a photo is going to look like for several weeks until it is developed. The element of anticipation and surprise is another factor that has drawn some to film photography

Patterson estimates his store is developing well over 150 rolls of film a week, Before the pandemic, that number was closer to 60.

“People were locked up. They got new hobbies. They got into other things,” said Patterson.

His store also saw an influx of used gear as people cleaned out their garages and storage rooms during the pandemic.

For Patterson, photography started out as a hobby and slowly turned into a money-making hobby. Patterson shot weddings and portraits for several years, all on film.

“Shooting a wedding on film was stressful because you didn’t know what you got until you developed the film,” he said.

Originally located on Third Street near the Good Food Store, the Darkroom has moved to several locations since opening, but now resides underground on the corner of Higgins Avenue and Main St. downtown.

Aside from the wide selection of used cameras and lenses, the Darkroom offers photo retouching services, photo printing and will develop film.