Matthew Schell on film vs. digital

The highly contested debate around film versus digital photography is one that is ongoing and that die-hard film aficionados or technologically advanced digital photographers always feel they have to partake in. But the question on everyone’s lips still remains – which one is the best? Ask the darkroom technician at ORMS. Actually, don’t do that, unless you have two hours to waste.

After reading close to my 20th blog post on the subject, (comments included – those are the juiciest) I decided that enough blog posts had been written by professional photographers about the topic. I decided to conduct a sort of experiment. I wanted the objective perspective of someone who was only familiar with one of the mediums of either film or digital photography. I wanted to ask them to experiment with the medium that was unfamiliar to them, and to provide feedback. Because this blog focuses on young photographers from Cape Town, Matthew Schell was the perfect fit. His photos are incredible, I mean really good, especially for someone who is self taught. But they’re exclusively digital, or at least they were until I asked him to help me with my ‘experiment’.

Matthew is a 20 year old photographer studying creative brand communication and graphic design at AAA School of Advertising in Cape Town. Matthew had previously only been shooting with digital cameras and his experience with film photography was very limited.  The images he creates are vivid and captivating – very high fashion. They are the type of photos you’d expect to see in the pages of i-D magazine. I asked him to shoot a roll of film instead of digital and afterwards I met up with him to discuss the differences he noticed and the difficulties he faced.

Any good photographer will relate to the connection you feel to an image when shooting with a medium that is familiar and comfortable. Matthew is a photographer that thrives off that connection. “With film,” he explains, “that connection is broken and it’s easier to feel disconnected from the subject you’re shooting or the image you wish to create”. For most photographers who are experimenting with film for the first time, the challenge comes when, as Matthew elaborated, “you don’t have that aha moment when you can say ‘that’s the one‘”. You don’t get to look back over your shots to see if you’ve captured exactly the right moment.

The vivid imagery and visceral nature of Matthew’s photos come from being able to pick the perfect moment – the image where the model’s eyes are most piercing or the light is hitting just right. “With film it felt like I only had one shot”, he explains, and for the most part this is true.

Film is much more expensive to shoot with than digital, and it can be a pain in the ass to develop correctly. Many photographers don’t develop their own photos when they shoot on film, but rather have someone else develop the negatives for them. The technician has all the control over the final exposure, and often times the final product can be very different from what you wanted. In Matthew’s case, his roll of film developed a lot differently to what he expected.

As a student of graphic design, Matthew had some valuable insights about the importance of digital photography in the media and design world. “Digital photographs are safer when it comes to shooting for a magazine or publication, because you need to know if you’re getting the perfect shots.” In a highly strung media world where bulletins and editorials need to be put together overnight, digital photography affords a convenience and aspect of safety that film photography simply does not. There is a confidence in digital photography that with film is reserved only for the veteran.

If the argument is about convenience, even with digital, it’s all relative. You might be able to shoot film with ease and develop your own photos within an hour. You might also suck at Photoshop. When it comes down to it, there is no real winner in the debate about the best medium for photography. There is only the captivating image and the mind of a brilliant photographer behind it. Whether you prefer to shoot digital or film, switch it up every now and again. Who knows, you might just be the next Matthew Schell in the making.


Images Matthew shot on film alongside those he shot on digital.

Left is digital, right is film. Shot and styled by Matthew Schell.
film on the left, digital on the right. Shot and styled by Matthew Schell.
film on the left, digital on the right. Shot and styled by Matthew Schell.
film on the left, digital on the right. Shot and styled by Matthew Schell.

All images are the property of Matthew Schell.

Visit his wesbite to view more of his work:

His Instagram:





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