How to Start a Business in Analog Photography on Instagram – Bloomberg

The two cousins behind Take It Easy Film Lab grew their analog dream into an aspiring cult brand—complete with merchandise.
A few photographic items that have been collected by or gifted to the lab.
A decade ago, Joe Singleton and his cousin Liam Henry salvaged a film-development machine from a faltering photo shop, planning to start a photography business. But the hulking Noritsu V30—similar in size and look to a big office photocopier—was soon relegated to a storage unit as the world snapped into a digital future supercharged by Instagram and billions of smartphone cameras.
Then last year in lockdown, the cousins decided to give it another shot. Singleton and Henry, who studied photography at Leeds University in northern England, flicked the Noritsu back to life, betting on a renaissance in the arcane art of loading a small canister into a camera, snapping at best a few dozen pictures, and dropping the film off at a lab with the hope for decent results when the prints come back.
Fast-forward one year, and the pair have turned their analog dream into Take It Easy Film Lab, a company that processes more than 200 rolls a day for a devout following, unexpectedly built almost entirely on Instagram. Take It Easy employs eight people and—like any aspiring cult brand—sells merchandise.
The most popular option is a service in which the film is developed and transferred to a digital file that’s emailed back to customers, giving them the film experience without the usual pile of out-of-focus prints. We caught up with Singleton to understand what it takes to build a business based on analog technology in the interconnected world. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How do you compete with billions of mobile phones?
In the same way vinyl records have become popular again, film has a tangibility that you don’t get from digital photography. Having this film you have to send off and waiting for the pictures—you have no idea what to expect. There is an excitement and anticipation you just don’t get in digital photography. People will dig their granddad’s camera out of the loft and start using it, and it still works. That isn’t something that will happen with the vast majority of digital cameras.
What role has the pandemic played in building the business?
So many people were working from home and wanted to make the most of the time they spent outside. A lot of people picked up hobbies related to the outdoors in some way, and photography—especially film photography—seems to have been one of those. We thought maybe it’s time we get the developer working again.
Are you concerned about the longevity of your business?
The only thing we do worry about is that film is a niche. There are only two or three companies that produce color film and a few more that produce black and white. If one of them were to go under, it could send the cost of film soaring, and people might lose interest in the hobby.
What’s your edge over physical shops?
Mail order is a convoluted process, and we changed that. Our main platform is Instagram, and there is a big community of film and analog photographers there. We knew how powerful social media can be for finding an audience, and it is working for us.
Do you have any vision for where this goes?
We want to do everything a traditional film lab would. There are certain processes that we can’t yet do, such as large-size printing for exhibitions. Also, we really want to do more community-based things such as events. We like that we are an independent company and people have started to really identify with the brand.