I am Matt Stoffel and this is why I shoot film
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome! I’ve been waiting for today’s interviewee for a while (mostly my fault). Now he’s here, I’m going to zip it and hand over to him. It’s over to you, Matt!
Hi Matt, what’s this picture, then?
MS: I was walking around a town here in the Finger Lakes region of New York and happened upon this beautiful classic car. I had been shooting some KODAK EKTACHROME 100VS and just knew that the red would literally jump out of the frame once processed.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
The short version? I’m a film enthusiast.
MS: The long version? I was born, raised, and now reside in Rochester, NY, the home of Eastman Kodak Company. My schooling was focused on information science and technical communications. I’m an avid photographer, though it’s primarily a hobby. I also dabble in graphic design and play drums.
I have always been intrigued with the intersection of art and science. This led me to a job at the “big yellow box” as a web developer. I’m a third generation Kodaker (that’s what people who work at Kodak call themselves). Fast forward to today and I’m now the manager of a development team tasked with strategizing and building awesome experiences for the web, mobile apps, and more.
I’ve been given the opportunity to share my love of imaging by recently restarting the KODAK Camera Club. The best part is we’ve opened up the programming to the general public.
I also have a passion for the outdoors and adventuring. Exploring new places with my camera is my happy place.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
MS: I know what you’re thinking. He works for Kodak. Of course he’s been shooting film forever. I actually didn’t begin to take photography seriously until 2001…and it was all digital.
Working for the company that invented digital photography offered me unique access to the latest in consumer and professional photo gear. One such camera was the versatile KODAK DC4800. I purchased one and was hooked with the manual controls that weren’t present on most other point and shoot cameras at that time.
I then got my hands on the professional digital SLR cameras that Kodak was making. I was, like many, completely entranced by the control and immediate feedback. I bought a digital SLR and began investing time and money in getting better at making images. I learned a tremendous amount about light and how to control it.
Then I moved into a new job.
I was now working in Kodak’s Motion Picture Film Group and I knew very little about film. I’ve got a thirst for knowledge and I quickly threw myself into all the information I could find. I went on tours of all our manufacturing sites here in Rochester to fully understand what it means to make film. I wanted to know everything about it, and there are no better people in the world to learn from than the folks here at Kodak. Always giving of their time and insanely knowledgable, I owe the team in film manufacturing huge.
Around this time I also received two incredible gifts. One was a Bronica ETRs 645 medium format camera and the other was a Nikon N90s 35mm camera. To top it all off, I now sat near some folks from the still photo group. They were nice enough to share some sample rolls with me and I’ve been shooting film ever since!
I now shoot film for the majority of my images.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
MS: I think I approach things with 60% right brain and 40% left brain. I begin by analyzing and really getting comfortable with the how and why. I then apply the aesthetic.
Therefore, when I first started I was focused on the technical aspects of exposure and composition. You know, always trying to apply the rule of thirds because every blog tells you that’s what makes a good photograph.
I poured over blogs, videos, magazines, etc. The internet was a big influence. I saw the images that others were making and thought my work should look like that. I bounced from one style to the next. This fad to that. I was just trying to be “good”.
Once I became comfortable and confident enough with exposure I went in search of my own aesthetic. It’s just now dawning on me that it was around the same time I began shooting film. I do thank digital photography for that. It’s a great learning tool and immediate feedback is very powerful. It gave me the confidence to leave the preview screen behind and not leave me wondering after each shutter release, “did I get it?”
I still browse around Instagram and see work that I wish I could create, but I don’t feel compelled to go out and produce it just to be accepted. I can appreciate it while making images that make me happy. I think it actually allows you to appreciate other artists more because there’s less of a sense of competition. Being a member of the film community is where I want to be, and there’s a huge one on Instagram. It’s really great to see #film hashtags increasing in popularity!
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
MS: My personal work is all film. I do shoot digital for some projects that require it, but those are few and far between.
I try to find a way to make film work for projects if I can. I enjoy the challenge. I think that’s what motivates me most. I want to see if I can do it.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
MS: If I had to prioritise all of the things I could improve on, I would say exposure. I rely on the light meter to expose my shots and understand how to modify my shot to get what I personally want instead of the 18% gray the meter thinks I want. But I wish I could meter by eye.
I know a few people who can walk into a room, take a quick look, dial in their aperture and shutter speed, and nail it every time. I aspire to be that good some day. George Eastman once said, “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” He knew what he was talking about.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
MS: I very much enjoy shooting classic cars. I’m always drawn to the vintage aesthetic, chrome, and vivid colors that adorn these beautiful machines. They are works of art in their own right.
Any chance I get to make an image of one, I do! I’ll be driving along and pull over to spend 15 or 20 minutes shooting a couple frames of one sitting in a parking lot. Big thanks to my family for putting up with this constantly!
I really enjoy shooting classic cars on EKTACHROME. It’s aptly named. I just love the way blues and reds come through the chrome bumpers, headlights, grills, everything! E100 really highlights the best qualities and has a nostalgic look that fits the era. It’s also pretty cool to know that there are original slides of these cars from the year they were made shot on EKTACHROME sitting around somewhere.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What do you take with you and why?
MS: I was recently traveling and needed to go light on camera gear so I went through a similar scenario, albeit with a little more prep time! I netted out choosing the Hasselblad H1 with 80mm lens.
This is my main camera and I’m extremely comfortable with it. It has super quick autofocus, great metering capabilities, and one of my favorite features is the programmable edge printer. I use it all the time to record info about the job and shot.
The lens is great for portraits as well as scenery. It’s a little tight for landscapes but as long as you’re shooting at some distance it works well. Sometimes the 80mm can be a good thing. If you’re too close it forces you to look at the subject differently and compose something interesting. It often makes you more aware of details and you can be a bit more abstract by isolating them.
The film? Well of course I’m bringing KODAK EKTACHROME 100VS with me! It’s got a hyper-real quality to it that seems more like what I remember seeing with my eye without looking fake. I’ve already gushed about it so I’ll stop there.
The other film I’d bring along would be KODAK PORTRA 400. This film is extremely versatile and can be pushed and pulled with ease. The color rendition is very pleasing and it has almost a painterly quality to it. The grain is also extremely fine. The latitude makes it very forgiving for exposures that didn’t quite nail it, which makes it the perfect choice for anyone who wants to get started with film. It also means that detail is retained in very challenging lighting situations. It’s fantastic.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, where do you go and why?
MS: I think by now you know what my answer would be for film. I’ll never tire of holding a slide in my hand! As for the location, that’s a tough one. I would love to explore every inch of Yosemite National Park. I think it probably would take at least the rest of my life to do that job accurately! I traveled there recently and I’m entranced with the beauty and splendor of that area. Need to go back soon!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
MS: I would shoot slides of my family. Having those images means more to me than anything. Flipping through my binders and coming across those photos… I always stop to look at them. They are the memory savers of the most important things in my life.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
MS: I hear people say that it’s hard to shoot film. What does that mean?
Is it technically hard to use a film camera? There are so many cameras out there that cover the full spectrum of manual to fully automatic. Plus, there are extremely forgiving films out there that make it easy to create an image.
Is it hard to get film? The channels may have changed, but a quick search online provides a multitude of options for buying film.
Is it hard to get processed? This too has changed. Most of the 1-hour labs are gone but for many, dropping their film in the mail has become commonplace.
So I ask again, what’s hard? I don’t really think anyone who actually shoots film thinks that. I think it’s just different or unknown.
This is exactly why I restarted the KODAK Camera Club. The first class I gave was on medium format photography. I wanted to show people that it wasn’t hard to load a film back, set your shutter and aperture manually, and produce some beautiful photographs.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
MS: What I can say is, it’s up to you. And me. We hold the future of film photography in our hands. As long as there is a sufficient market for film it will remain available.
My hope is that interest continues to grow and we usher in a whole new generation of film shooters, people who didn’t go through the whole film vs. digital fight and are free to appreciate the medium for what it is. Magic.
~ Matt Stoffel
Matt’s answer to the misconception question above got me thinking: “I hear people say that it’s hard to shoot film. What does that mean?”
Am I allowed to answer for myself? I think I am.
In my experience people asking if “film is hard”, are really questioning the equipment rather than the results. We’ve all been sold the easy of digital photography – snap and it’s there; and if you think about it, there are really only three dedicated camera options most interested consumers can or will choose from:
- Point and shoots
- Bridge cameras
- “ones where you can change the lens”
Yes there are more but think about your non-photographer family and friends and what they’d be aware of. Film cameras, whilst loosely fitting into the same bands (forgetting TLRs and large format gear for a second) are a little different. With the buttons, levers and dials of cameras most people are used to when thinking about film, it’s no wonder that new entrants to film photography think of film photography as complicated (Mrs EM will attest to that).
It’s made me think about the kinds of cameras I recommend to people when they ask that famous, “which camera should I use” question. Now, instead of first asking what kind of photography they’re interested in, I lead with asking people about the kinds of cameras they’re used to shooting.
What about you? How do you deal with the “what film camera should I buy question?
A huge thanks to Matt for stepping yup to take part and if you’re aren’t already, please give him a follow over on Twitter. While you’re there, go check out the Kodak Camera Club too, or check out the website at www.kodak.com/go/cameraclub.
With that, let me wrap up this week’s fresh interview and assure you that another photographer will be waiting for you the same time next week.
Thanks for reading and as ever, keep shooting, folks.
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