Marcus Bell's Timeless Impressions

by Jacqueline Tobin

All images by Marcus Bell

March 06, 2013

Aussie native Marcus Bell is a busy, busy man. Right after this interview, Bell was gearing up for another long stretch of activity in his 17-year, storied career: a three-day, online wedding photography workshop presented by creativeLIVE [which took place in February], as well as presentations of Plus and Platform classes at WPPI this month. Not to mention his daily routine of running a super-successful, six-person, 80-to-100 weddings-a-year wedding and portrait business, Studio Impressions, out of Brisbane, Australia (studioimpressions.com.au).

If Bell were a less modest man, he might admit outright that his endless successes and awards are due to the fact that his imagery is timeless and truly captivating. But no words are necessary here. Instead, one merely needs to glance through his online portfolio to confirm that Bell has an innate ability to capture moments on a couple’s wedding day that, in real life, go by in the blink of an eye.

This sentiment is echoed in the tagline of Studio Impressions’ website: “Moments come and go in a heartbeat—but what if these moments could last a lifetime? The pride in your father’s eye; the depth of love a couple has for each other; the celebration with family and friends. These moments can never be repeated. Capture them forever.” And Bell and his team do. “Our most favorite client moments,” he adds, “are the intimate ones.”

Bell himself bore witness as a young boy to an intimate moment he says set in motion his career—and passion—for photography, for the rest of his life. “When I was eight years old, I attended my older brother’s wedding, which is where I saw my grandfather—not a very demonstrative man by nature—go up to him and touch his arm,” Bell describes. “It was very subtle but also amazing. It changed me forever.”

The passing of his father when Bell was just 16 also changed the way he would later capture memories and moments with his camera. In that vein, Studio Impressions, he says, is an extension of himself. “We all strive to capture relationships full of meaning, of joy, of things that are expressions of what we experience in our own lives as well as what we haven’t yet experienced.

“I wanted Studio Impressions to be about storytelling,” he continues. “Each bride and groom come together with their own lives and histories, and along the way, the two merge…it’s like a community coming together, and that translates into incredible stories for us to shoot.” Bell credits his three young sons with helping him see more clearly the moments that emerge during the course of a wedding—anticipation, excitement, love, pride, joy, happiness and togetherness.

As far as Bell is concerned, the key to capturing weddings that fulfill your clients’ needs is all about observing relationships. In fact, he advises fellow photographers who are just starting out to, “Go to a friend or family member’s wedding one time without your camera and just observe what each participant—daughter, brother, mother, father, etc.—is feeling and try to put yourself in that moment.”



What Digital Can Do

Once he does capture those moments, Bell brings these stories to life in his final prints by combining Lightroom and Photoshop techniques to give his images that “competitive edge.” He likes to do what he calls “subtle alterations in Photoshop,” whether it be lightening the center of interest or darkening distracting elements. He uses (and sells to other photographers under the name Instant Effects) presets to create different effects.

“The presets not only improve the overall look of an image, they also improve mine and my team’s workflow,” he explains. “We may shoot over 800 to 1,000 images at one wedding at time, but we also pride ourselves on the fact that we deliver images for online proofing from at least 600 images through in just a few hours. This type of workflow is definitely empowering and helps us concentrate more on the actual photography.”

It was about eight years ago, says Bell, when he and his team first got into digital photography. “We started by getting our film digitally scanned. Having creative control over the developing was such an amazing tool because our work just looked so fantastic,” he says “The only problem was we were spending four to five days a week preparing images to show clients. We worked out the back end of actions and processes and refined these from year to year.” Now the studio has the presets to manipulate the raw data from a creative angle to give new looks to their images. They also have, says Bell, a quickflow processing system so they can save each file several different ways. “We reproduce an image for every application possible and for how that image will be used, including a hi-res version for an album print, an image for Facebook, a blog image and one to burn to DVD—every one of those file formats wants different pixel ratios, color profiling, etc. We created a workflow situation and a script that allows us to produce all those files at once.”



Beauty in the Backdrop

Workflow aside, at the heart of what Bell and his studio does, of course, is still the beauty and esthetic of the image itself. And that is, after all, what the bride and groom are after: emotion-filled images that tell the story of their day.

One type of shot on which Bell thrives is larger-than-life environmental portraits where the landscape is an integral part of the image’s subject. “I’ll often go to a location and look for scenes that could stand out and act as amazing backdrops,” he explains. “I mentally prepare my mind for all the opportunities that may come my way, all the possible events that will happen. I might take actual photographs and then put together little diagrams of where the people should be, using different lighting. I do prep a lot before the wedding to make sure I will be capturing the event perfectly. So even though I’ll approach each image with a documentary style and capture the moments as they’re happening, I always have a concept in mind ahead of time of the type of image I can create for the wedding couple.”

Take, for example, a wedding he shot in Bali, where he wanted to have the bride on a cliff at sunset with some really dark clouds behind her. “I arranged for a lighting assistant to come with me. He ended up standing in waist-deep water with a Profoto light, lighting the bride on top of the cliff. As I start thinking artistically more and more, it allows more distinction for each client’s images.”

So what’s on the horizon for Bell and Studio Impressions? “I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a workaholic,” he sums up.

“Photography really is a passion of mine and I love every aspect of it. I’m always so inspired to learn new things all the time. And by delving into other things [i.e. offering video or digital presets], I think my business and my photography is always better for it because I’m always fresh and always learning.”

Accolades and Applause
Marcus Bell, one of Australia’s most awarded and published photographers, was named in 2011 by American Photo as one of the “Top 10 Wedding Photographers in the World” (as well as BBC Television). The Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) awarded him the level of Grand Master of Photography—the youngest Grand Master to date. He’s been named Australian Wedding Photographer of the Year three times, Queensland Professional Photographer of the Year twice, and Queensland Wedding Photographer of the Year four times. He’s won numerous international awards including the Grand Award for Photojournalism at the Wedding and Portrait Photographer’s International Awards (WPPI) in Las Vegas, and the International Wedding Print of the Year at the Prix de la Photographie in Paris. (For a full list of Bell’s accomplishments, visit
http://studioimpressions.com.au/wedding/about/who-we-are/ ).

Marcus Bell’s Gear Bag

Cameras:
Nikon D4 and D800

Lenses:
Nikon 24-70/2.8
Nikon 70-200/2.8
Nikon 85/1.4
Nikon 35/1.4

Miscellaneous:

Three Pocket Wizards
Two SB900s
Profoto AcuteB battery flash
Softbox (2 x 3)
Profoto beauty dish
Two Manfrotto Nano Stands

Jacqueline Tobin is the Editor-in-Chief of Rangefinder magazine. She is also the author of Wedding Photography Unveiled (Amphoto Books, 2009) and the co-author of The Luminous Portrait (Amphoto Books 2012) with wedding photographer Elizabeth Messina. Email her at Jacqueline.Tobin@nielsen.com.

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