Matt Osborne – in love with the imperfection of film

23 March 2018

“Shooting film inspired me to create images that will hopefully still look good in 50-100 years’ time.”

Matt Osborne strives to create tasteful, timeless photographs that look as though they weren’t taken in this age. He does this by styling his models in simple garments and posing them naturally to create the illusion of “real life” even though they’re 100% styled.

Black and white film photo of girl applying make-up by Matthew Osborne

Imperfection is perfect

Somewhere along his photographic journey Matt found himself applying basic texture layers in Photoshop to give the images “life”. He realised that film photos come off the scanner looking pre-photoshopped with all of the imperfection already in place. “I was immediately converted to analogue.” It wasn’t long after he starting shooting film that he decided to develop black and white film at home. A few years later, he finally made the jump to develop colour film with C41 chemicals and found it was much easier than he had anticipated, wishing he had done it sooner.

After the film is developed and dry, he scans the negatives using an Epson V800 flatbed scanner and opens the images he wants to process in Photoshop. For black and white film he’ll usually adjust contrast curves, increase sharpness and clone out any dust particles. He repeats the same process with colour film yet where needed, colour grades the film scan to get the colours back to how he remembers them in the scene.

“I use many different films and try to match the film stock to the light levels, colours and mood of the shoot.” Film with fine grain can give a more digitally smooth look whereas film with a traditional grain structure (more obvious grain) gives a classic look. To accentuate greens and purples in a scene, he’ll use Fuji Pro 400H and overexpose slightly. For colour film, such as a beach shot, where a lot of latitude is needed, he’ll use Kodak Portra 160 and 400. To capture the most detail and colour, his number one choice is Fuji Provia 100 slide film. When it comes to black and white film, he prefers Ilford Delta 100 and Ilford Pan F 50, provided there’s enough light.

Black and white film photograph of a classy model in the city by Matthew Osborne
Black and white film photograph of stylish woman leaning against a wall by Matthew Osborne

Black and white or colour?

Matt prefers black and white. It helps define the image and creates a potentially “more” classic look. It simplifies a busy scene and removes the distraction colour can bring. Everyone and everything looks great in black and white, but not everything looks good in colour. But colour shouldn’t be underestimated as it can add a lot of “mood” to an image. Warm yellow and orange tones give a completely different feel to cooler blues and cyan, for example. My current frustration with colour film is that it takes a lot of time to colour grade an image after the colour film is scanned whereas black and white film normally requires very little postprocessing. “I’m still experimenting with colour photography but in my opinion, when colour looks good, it looks really good.”

Colour film photograph of Parisian looking woman smoking by Matthew Osborne
Black and white film photograph of a glamorous model by Matthew Osborne

Matt’s list of analogue photo gear

  • Leica M3 + Leica Noctilux 50mm f/1.0 v2 lens
  • Hasselblad 501C + Zeiss 180mm f/4 CF lens
  • Mamiya RZ67 Pro II + 110mm f/2.8 lens
  • Pacemaker Speedgraphic + Kodak Aero Ektar 178mm f/2.5 lens
  • Rolleiflex SL66E + 80mm f/2.8 lens

Matt has accumulated many lights and light modifiers over the years, but he’s equally happy using daylight. To have and understand multiple light sources comes as an advantage since you can create light anywhere. “That being said, if I lived somewhere more sunny than the UK I would really enjoy using direct sunlight more”, so he tends to use supplementary light sources to provide directional lighting.

Black and white film shot of young girl with Leica camera by photographer Matthew Osborne

Often clients aren’t even aware that the photos are taken using film – they just like the look. And since he prefers film, he’ll always try to persuade clients to have at least some film images, “as I truly believe the client will like the film photos more than the digital once they see them”. Film is much kinder to the skin than digital, therefore produces far more flattering portraits. Some wedding clients trust film and request film only; however, in the fashion industry, clients want to see the image appearing on a monitor in real time from the tethered digital camera. Although he understands this, he dreams of one day shooting a big brand fashion campaign using film only.

If you’ve ever experienced the magic of film you’re one of the lucky ones. Go through Matt’s work on his website and Instagram and be inspired to sweep the dust off your analogue camera and go shoot some film.

Colour film portrait of model with horse by Matthew Osborne

About the Author:

Wouda Mc Micken is a self-confessed klutz and can be easily bribed with a stylish pair of jeans or good food. The privilege of doing interviews with professional photographers from all over the world is what makes her get up in the mornings, excited for a new day’s work.

Leave a Comment